Thomas Bailey Aldrich

(November 11, 1836 – March 19, 1907 / Portsmouth, New Hampshire)

Sea Longings - Poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

The first world-sound that fell upon my ear
Was that of the great winds along the coast
Crushing the deep-sea beryl on the rocks--
The distant breakers' sullen cannonade.
Against the spires and gables of the town
The white fog drifted, catching here and there
At overleaning cornice or peaked roof,
And hung--weird gonfalons. The garden walks
Were choked with leaves, and on their ragged biers
Lay dead the sweets of summer--damask rose,
Clove-pink, old-fashioned, loved New England flowers
Only keen salt-sea odors filled the air.
Sea-sounds, sea-odors--these were all my world.
Hence is it that life languishes with me
Inland; the valleys stifle me with gloom
And pent-up prospect; in their narrow bound
Imagination flutters futile wings.
Vainly I seek the sloping pearl-white sand
And the mirage's phantom citadels
Miraculous, a moment seen, then gone.
Among the mountains I am ill at ease,
Missing the stretched horizon's level line
And the illimitable restless blue.
The crag-torn sky is not the sky I love,
But one unbroken sapphire spanning all;
And nobler than the branches of a pine
Aslant upon a precipice's edge
Are the strained spars of some great battle-ship
Plowing across the sunset. No bird's lilt
So takes me as the whistling of the gale
Among the shrouds. My cradle-song was this,
Strange inarticulate sorrows of the sea,
Blithe rhythms upgathered from the Sirens' caves.
Perchance of earthly voices the last voice
That shall an instant my freed spirit stay
On this world's verge, will be some message blown
Over the dim salt lands that fringe the coast
At dusk, or when the tranced midnight droops
With weight of stars, or haply just as dawn,
Illumining the sullen purple wave,
Turns the gray pools and willow-stems to gold.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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