Oliver Wendell Holmes

(1809-1894 / United States)

A Sea Dialogue - Poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Cabin Passenger:
FRIEND, you seem thoughtful. I not wonder much
That he who sails the ocean should be sad.
I am myself reflective. When I think
Of all this wallowing beast, the Sea, has sucked
Between his sharp, thin lips, the wedgy waves,
What heaps of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls;
What piles of shekels, talents, ducats, crowns,
What bales of Tyrian mantles, Indian shawls,
Of laces that have blanked the weavers' eyes,
Of silken tissues, wrought by worm and man,
The half-starved workman, and the well-fed worm;
What marbles, bronzes, pictures, parchments, books;
What many-lobuled, thought-engendering brains;
Lie with the gaping sea-shells in his maw,--
I, too, am silent; for all language seems
A mockery, and the speech of man is vain.
O mariner, we look upon the waves
And they rebuke our babbling. 'Peace!' they say,--
'Mortal, be still!' My noisy tongue is hushed,
And with my trembling finger on my lips
My soul exclaims in ecstasy--

MAN AT WHEEL.
Belay!

CABIN PASSENGER.
Ah yes! 'Delay,'--it calls, 'nor haste to break
The charm of stillness with an idle word!'
O mariner, I love thee, for thy thought
Strides even with my own, nay, flies before.
Thou art a brother to the wind and wave;
Have they not music for thine ear as mine,
When the wild tempest makes thy ship his lyre,
Smiting a cavernous basso from the shrouds
And climbing up his gamut through the stays,
Through buntlines, bowlines, ratlines, till it shrills
An alto keener than the locust sings,
And all the great Aeolian orchestra
Storms out its mad sonata in the gale?
Is not the scene a wondrous and--

MAN AT WHEEL.
A vast!

CABIN PASSENGER.
Ah yes, a vast, a vast and wondrous scene!
I see thy soul is open as the day
That holds the sunshine in its azure bowl
To all the solemn glories of the deep.
Tell me, O mariner, dost thou never feel
The grandeur of thine office,--to control
The keel that cuts the ocean like a knife
And leaves a wake behind it like a seam
In the great shining garment of the world?

MAN AT WHEEL.
Belay y'r jaw, y' swab! y' hoss-marine!
(To the Captain.)
Ay, ay, Sir! Stiddy, Sir! Sou'wes' b' sou'!


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 6, 2010



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