Loch Torridon

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Loch Torridon
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
This poem is from the collection Astrophel and Other Poems, Book I of The Collected Poetical Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Vol. VI.

To E.H.


     The dawn of night more fair than morning rose,
     Stars hurrying forth on stars, as snows on snows
     Haste when the wind and winter bid them speed.
     Vague miles of moorland road behind us lay
     Scarce traversed ere the day
     Sank, and the sun forsook us at our need,
     Belated. Where we thought to have rested, rest
     Was none; for soft Maree's dim quivering breast,
     Bound round with gracious inland girth of green
     And fearless of the wild wave-wandering West,
     Shone shelterless for strangers; and unseen
     The goal before us lay
     Of all our blithe and strange and strenuous day.

     For when the northering road faced westward--when
     The dark sharp sudden gorge dropped seaward--then,
     Beneath the stars, between the steeps, the track
     We followed, lighted not of moon or sun,
     And plunging whither none
     Might guess, while heaven and earth were hoar and black,
     Seemed even the dim still pass whence none turns back:
     And through the twilight leftward of the way,
     And down the dark, with many a laugh and leap,
     The light blithe hill-streams shone from scaur to steep
     In glittering pride of play;
     And ever while the night grew great and deep
     We felt but saw not what the hills would keep
     Sacred awhile from sense of moon or star;
     And full and far
     Beneath us, sweet and strange as heaven may be,
     The sea.

     The very sea: no mountain-moulded lake
     Whose fluctuant shapeliness is fain to take
     Shape from the steadfast shore that rules it round,
     And only from the storms a casual sound:
     The sea, that harbours in her heart sublime
     The supreme heart of music deep as time,
     And in her spirit strong
     The spirit of all imaginable song.

     Not a whisper or lisp from the waters: the skies were not silenter.
           Peace
     Was between them; a passionless rapture of respite as soft as
           release.
     Not a sound, but a sense that possessed and pervaded with patient
           delight
     The soul and the body, clothed round with the comfort of limitless
           night.
     Night infinite, living, adorable, loved of the land and the sea:
     Night, mother of mercies, who saith to the spirits in prison, Be
           free.
     And softer than dewfall, and kindlier than starlight, and keener
           than wine,
     Came round us the fragrance of waters, the life of the breath of
           the brine.
     We saw not, we heard not, the face or the voice of the waters: we
           knew
     By the darkling delight of the wind as the sense of the sea in it
           grew,
     By the pulse of the darkness about us enkindled and quickened, that
           here,
     Unseen and unheard of us, surely the goal we had faith in was near.
     A silence diviner than music, a darkness diviner than light,
     Fulfilled as from heaven with a measureless comfort the measure of
           night.

     But never a roof for shelter
       And never a sign for guide
         Rose doubtful or visible: only
           And hardly and gladly we heard
     The soft waves whisper and welter,
       Subdued, and allured to subside,
         By the mild night's magic: the lonely
           Sweet silence was soothed, not stirred,
     By the noiseless noise of the gleaming
       Glad ripples, that played and sighed,
         Kissed, laughed, recoiled, and relented,
           Whispered, flickered, and fled.
     No season was this for dreaming
       How oft, with a stormier tide,
         Had the wrath of the winds been vented
           On sons of the tribes long dead:
     The tribes whom time, and the changes
       Of things, and the stress of doom,
         Have erased and effaced; forgotten
           As wrecks or weeds of the shore
     In sight of the stern hill-ranges
       That hardly may change their gloom
         When the fruits of the years wax rotten
           And the seed of them springs no more.
     For the dim strait footway dividing
       The waters that breathed below
         Led safe to the kindliest of shelters
           That ever awoke into light:
     And still in remembrance abiding
       Broods over the stars that glow
         And the water that eddies and welters
           The passionate peace of the night.

     All night long, in the world of sleep,
     Skies and waters were soft and deep:
     Shadow clothed them, and silence made
     Soundless music of dream and shade:
     All above us, the livelong night,
     Shadow, kindled with sense of light;
     All around us, the brief night long,
     Silence, laden with sense of song.
     Stars and mountains without, we knew,
     Watched and waited, the soft night through:
     All unseen, but divined and dear,
     Thrilled the touch of the sea's breath near:
     All unheard, but alive like sound,
     Throbbed the sense of the sea's life round:
     Round us, near us, in depth and height,
     Soft as darkness and keen as light.

     And the dawn leapt in at my casement: and there, as I rose, at my
           feet
     No waves of the landlocked waters, no lake submissive and sweet,
     Soft slave of the lordly seasons, whose breath may loose it or
           freeze;
     But to left and to right and ahead was the ripple whose pulse is
           the sea's.
     From the gorge we had travelled by starlight the sunrise, winged
           and aflame,
     Shone large on the live wide wavelets that shuddered with joy as it
           came;
     As it came and caressed and possessed them, till panting and
           laughing with light
     From mountain to mountain the water was kindled and stung to
           delight.
     And the grey gaunt heights that embraced and constrained and
           compelled it were glad,
     And the rampart of rock, stark naked, that thwarted and barred it,
           was clad
     With a stern grey splendour of sunrise: and scarce had I sprung to
           the sea
     When the dawn and the water were wedded, the hills and the sky set
           free.
     The chain of the night was broken: the waves that embraced me and
           smiled
     And flickered and fawned in the sunlight, alive, unafraid,
           undefiled,
     Were sweeter to swim in than air, though fulfilled with the
           mounting morn,
     Could be for the birds whose triumph rejoiced that a day was born.

     And a day was arisen indeed for us. Years and the changes of years
     Clothed round with their joys and their sorrows, and dead as their
           hopes and their fears,
     Lie noteless and nameless, unlit by remembrance or record of days
     Worth wonder or memory, or cursing or blessing, or passion or
           praise,
     Between us who live and forget not, but yearn with delight in it
           yet,
     And the day we forget not, and never may live and may think to
           forget.
     And the years that were kindlier and fairer, and kindled with
           pleasures as keen,
     Have eclipsed not with lights or with shadows the light on the face
           of it seen.
     For softly and surely, as nearer the boat that we gazed from drew,
     The face of the precipice opened and bade us as birds pass through,
     And the bark shot sheer to the sea through the strait of the sharp
           steep cleft,
     The portal that opens with imminent rampires to right and to left,
     Sublime as the sky they darken and strange as a spell-struck dream,
     On the world unconfined of the mountains, the reign of the sea
           supreme,
     The kingdom of westward waters, wherein when we swam we knew
     The waves that we clove were boundless, the wind on our brows that
           blew
     Had swept no land and no lake, and had warred not on tower or on
           tree,
     But came on us hard out of heaven, and alive with the soul of the
           sea.