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Percy Bysshe Shelley

(1792-1822 / Horsham / England)

The Boat On The Serchio


Our boat is asleep on Serchio's stream,
Its sails are folded like thoughts in a dream,
The helm sways idly, hither and thither;
Dominic, the boatman, has brought the mast,
And the oars, and the sails; but ’tis sleeping fast,
Like a beast, unconscious of its tether.

The stars burnt out in the pale blue air,
And the thin white moon lay withering there;
To tower, and cavern, and rift, and tree,
The owl and the bat fled drowsily.
Day had kindled the dewy woods,
And the rocks above and the stream below,
And the vapours in their multitudes,
And the Apennine’s shroud of summer snow,
And clothed with light of aery gold
The mists in their eastern caves uprolled.

Day had awakened all things that be,
The lark and the thrush and the swallow free,
And the milkmaid’s song and the mower’s scythe
And the matin-bell and the mountain bee:
Fireflies were quenched on the dewy corn,
Glow-worms went out on the river’s brim,
Like lamps which a student forgets to trim:
The beetle forgot to wind his horn,
The crickets were still in the meadow and hill:
Like a flock of rooks at a farmer’s gun
Night’s dreams and terrors, every one,
Fled from the brains which are their prey
From the lamp’s death to the morning ray.

All rose to do the task He set to each,
Who shaped us to His ends and not our own;
The million rose to learn, and one to teach
What none yet ever knew or can be known.
And many rose
Whose woe was such that fear became desire;--
Melchior and Lionel were not among those;
They from the throng of men had stepped aside,
And made their home under the green hill-side.
It was that hill, whose intervening brow
Screens Lucca from the Pisan’s envious eye,
Which the circumfluous plain waving below,
Like a wide lake of green fertility,
With streams and fields and marshes bare,
Divides from the far Apennines—which lie
Islanded in the immeasurable air.

‘What think you, as she lies in her green cove,
Our little sleeping boat is dreaming of?’
‘If morning dreams are true, why I should guess
That she was dreaming of our idleness,
And of the miles of watery way
We should have led her by this time of day.’--

‘Never mind,’ said Lionel,
‘Give care to the winds, they can bear it well
About yon poplar-tops; and see
The white clouds are driving merrily,
And the stars we miss this morn will light
More willingly our return to-night.--
How it whistles, Dominic’s long black hair!
List, my dear fellow; the breeze blows fair:
Hear how it sings into the air--’

--‘Of us and of our lazy motions,’
Impatiently said Melchior,
‘If I can guess a boat’s emotions;
And how we ought, two hours before,
To have been the devil knows where.’
And then, in such transalpine Tuscan
As would have killed a Della-Cruscan,

...

So, Lionel according to his art
Weaving his idle words, Melchior said:
‘She dreams that we are not yet out of bed;
We’ll put a soul into her, and a heart
Which like a dove chased by a dove shall beat.’

...

‘Ay, heave the ballast overboard,
And stow the eatables in the aft locker.’
‘Would not this keg be best a little lowered?’
‘No, now all’s right.’ ‘Those bottles of warm tea--
(Give me some straw)—must be stowed tenderly;
Such as we used, in summer after six,
To cram in greatcoat pockets, and to mix
Hard eggs and radishes and rolls at Eton,
And, couched on stolen hay in those green harbours
Farmers called gaps, and we schoolboys called arbours,
Would feast till eight.’

...

With a bottle in one hand,
As if his very soul were at a stand
Lionel stood—when Melchior brought him steady:--
‘Sit at the helm—fasten this sheet--all ready!’

The chain is loosed, the sails are spread,
The living breath is fresh behind,
As with dews and sunrise fed,
Comes the laughing morning wind;--
The sails are full, the boat makes head
Against the Serchio’s torrent fierce,
Then flags with intermitting course,
And hangs upon the wave, and stems
The tempest of the...
Which fervid from its mountain source
Shallow, smooth and strong doth come,--
Swift as fire, tempestuously
It sweeps into the affrighted sea;
In morning’s smile its eddies coil,
Its billows sparkle, toss and boil,
Torturing all its quiet light
Into columns fierce and bright.

The Serchio, twisting forth
Between the marble barriers which it clove
At Ripafratta, leads through the dread chasm
The wave that died the death which lovers love,
Living in what it sought; as if this spasm
Had not yet passed, the toppling mountains cling,
But the clear stream in full enthusiasm
Pours itself on the plain, then wandering
Down one clear path of effluence crystalline
Sends its superfluous waves, that they may fling
At Arno’s feet tribute of corn and wine;
Then, through the pestilential deserts wild
Of tangled marsh and woods of stunted pine,
It rushes to the Ocean.

Submitted: Thursday, April 01, 2010

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