How still it was! The clouds above 57
Paused quietly and did not move;
The waves lay down like lambs—the air
Was hush’d in sad suspense of prayer—
While coming closer with no sound
She hover’d pale and golden crown’d
And named his name! And even as one
Who from dark dreams of night doth stir,
And fronts the shining of the sun,
With haggard eyes, he look’d on her!
But as he gazed his sense grew clear,
His dazzled brain shook off its fear,
And all his spirit fever-fraught
From agonies of cruel thought,
Rose up again in callous scorn—
‘Vision or ghost, whate’er you be,
Welcome afloat this Sabbath morn,
Bright shining Wonder of the Sea!
Methinks I seem to know,’ he said,
‘That face so fine, that form so fair,—
They hung in childhood o’er my bed,
And from the village altar shed
Soft influence over folk at prayer.
And yet, I know, ’tis only fancy,
Some bright delusion of the brain,
Poor Nature plays such necromancy
To cheat our reason, all in vain.
I would each optical illusion 58
That sets poor mortals in confusion
Were beautiful and bright and pleasant
As that which haunts my sight at present!
Rose of a Maid, I bend in duty
Before thy miracle of beauty!
Speak, let me hear thee—if a spirit
Is capable of conversation,
By Venus, I would gladly hear it
’Mid these dull gulfs of desolation?’ [l.x]
How still it was!—and could it be
A voice that answer’d, or the Sea
Just stirring softly in surcease
Of tempest into throbs of peace?
Low as his own heart’s beat, yet clear
And sweet, there stole upon his ear
An answer faint like Sabbath bells
Heard far away from leafy dells
Buried in leaves and haze, so still
And soft it only seems the thrill
Of silence through the summer air—
A sigh of rapture and of prayer!
Child of the Storm, whose spirit knows
No reverence and no repose,
Who disbelievest God the Lord 59
And holdest Humankind abhorr’d,
Knowest thou Me?
How oft thy radiant loveliness
Has shone upon me with soft eyes
In earthly picture-galleries!
By Raphael’s and Murillo’s brushes,
So skilled to catch thy lightest blushes,
By Tintoretto and the rest,
Thou’rt even fairer than I guess’d!
Dost thou believe in God my Son?
A categoric question, one
Most difficult to answer rightly
And, at the same time, quite politely!
Frankly, Spinoza’s text has showed
The impersonality of God;
And for thy Son, well, I opine 60
No mortal man can be Divine,
Nor may a maid who takes a mate
Conceive yet be immaculate!
Blasphemer! Is there man or woman,
Or any shape divine or human,
Or any thing, save Death and Sin,
Thy wicked soul believeth in?
Madonna, no! I grieve to tell
I question Heaven and smile at Hell,
Believe all human creatures are
Accurst in each particular,
Especially the sex of madam
Who gave the fruit to falling Adam!
Christ help thee! Hast thou never loved?
Never known woman’s love, or proved
The depth of faith that dwelleth in her?
Never, as sure as I’m a sinner!
I like the sex, ’neath sun and moon
Have found full many a bonne fortune;
But that deep faith have never met.
Yet woman’s love might save thee yet!
Madonna, how? Though now, I fear,
Past saving, I would gladly hear!
Then listen! By the charity
Of Him who loveth even thee,
By Him whose feet flash’d down on dust
Shall bruise the hydra heads of Lust,
By Him, my Son, who cannot rest
E’en in the Gardens of the Blest,
But ever listening strains His ears
To catch the sound of human tears,
From Him, who fain would kiss thy brow,
I offer thee redemption.
Thy doom it is to wildly beat
Without a home to rest thy feet,
Monster, yet featured like a man,
And lonely as Leviathan.
So far thy doom hath been fulfill’d
And found thee stubborn and self-will’d,
But now my Son shall suffer thee,
One short year out of every ten,
To leave thy Ship upon the Sea
And wander ’mong thy fellow-men.
There shalt thou seek (and mayst thou find!)
Some gentle shape of womankind,
Who in the end shall freely give
Her life to death that thou mayst live;
Who loving thee, and thee alone,
Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,
Heart of thy heart, content to share
Thy loneliness and thy despair,
Shall from the fountains of her soul
Baptize thy brows and make thee whole.
Then, with that woman, hand in hand,
Shalt thou before the Master stand,
Saying, ‘By her thy love hath sent, 63
Lord, I believe, and I repent!’
Madonna, this thy boon to me
Seems somewhat of a mockery!
Have I not proved, do I not know,
By long experience here below,
No woman, howsoever tender,
So capable of self-surrender?
Love comes, love goes, and is the one
Sweet conquering thing beneath the sun,
But never have I seen or noted
One human creature so devoted
That I could say, ‘Her soul is mine,
And God is good, and Love divine!’
Spare me the respite, if you please,
And let me stop upon the seas.
Not so! The Lord, my Son, commands,
And thou shalt search through many lands,
Yea, search and search, though it should be
Through most forlorn Eternity.
Thy manhood, in immortal prime
Shall triumph over Death and Time, 64
Thy face into the very Tomb
Shall peer, yet keep its living bloom;
Nature shall aid, from Earth’s dark breast
Shalt thou take gold to aid thy quest.
Begin thy search whene’er thou wilt,
Pass on through clouds of sin and guilt,
Range every clime, search every nation,
Until thou light on thy salvation!
So saying, as a star grows bright
Then flashes into sudden night,
She vanish’d! and the sleeping Main
Awaken’d monster-like again,
Shook the loose brine from its fierce hair,
And shriek’d in tempest-toss’d despair,
Then crouching for a moment, roar’d
Before the Lightning’s sudden sword,
Thrust thro’ and thro’ and thro’ it, and then
Drawn flashing up to the heavens again!
With whistling shroud and thundering sail,
The Ship sped on before the gale,
The seamen lifting spectral faces
With ‘Hillo! hillo!’ took their places,
And on the poop, while on they flew,
The Captain thunder’d to his crew.
From night to day, from day to night,
Through gulfs of gloom the ship took flight, 65
Until, although the bitter blast
Shriek’d still, and the great waves made moan,
The troubled heavens grew clear at last,
And through the storm-mist drifting fast
A cold wan Moon was wildly blown,
And on the surge-vex’d ocean ways
Shed down her melancholy rays.
Then gazing southward through the night
They saw, o’er seas that blackly roll’d,
A starry beal-fire blazing bright— [l.xi]
The Southern Cross of glistening gold!
Suddenly, as they look’d thereon,
The blast fell still—the Storm had gone!
And though the waves, too sad for rest,
Still heaved as one tumultuous breast,
The wind grew faint and stirr’d like dim
Breath on a mirror o’er the Sea,
While near the heaving ocean-rim
The great Cross crimson’d balefully!
Then while deep dread and dim eclipse
Lay on the watery solitude,
And on the decks with soundless lips
And awe-struck hearts the outcasts stood,
Out of the ghostly twilight stole
Great frozen Spectres from the Pole.
Silent and dim and marble pale, 66
Like ship on ship with frozen sail,
They crept from out the vaporous gloom,
Each misted with its own cold breath,
And cluster’d round the Ship of Doom
Like shrouded giant shapes of Death.
Still grew the Deep with scarce a stir—
Still lay the Barque while all around
The Bergs, like one vast Sepulchre,
Closed in upon it with no sound!
Small as a shallop floating lone
Under great mountain-peaks of stone,
Seem’d the great Ship, while o’er it rose
Crag beyond crag of ice and snows!
And now the little light had fled,
Chill shadows fill’d the air with dread,
And on the cold decks kneeling dumb,
Thinking the end of all had come,
With haggard faces seam’d with tears
Gather’d the woe-worn marineres.
But in their midst, erect and tall,
The Captain stood without emotion—
He whom God’s wrath could ne’er appal
Smiled at those Spectres of the Ocean.
Still unsubdued and undismay’d,
Calm and superior, he survey’d