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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Sea Longings

By Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907)

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 trancèd 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.