A Swimmer's Dream

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November 4, 1889
Somno mollior unda


     Dawn is dim on the dark soft water,
       Soft and passionate, dark and sweet.
     Love's own self was the deep sea's daughter,
       Fair and flawless from face to feet,
     Hailed of all when the world was golden,
     Loved of lovers whose names beholden
     Thrill men's eyes as with light of olden
       Days more glad than their flight was fleet.

     So they sang: but for men that love her,
       Souls that hear not her word in vain,
     Earth beside her and heaven above her
       Seem but shadows that wax and wane.
     Softer than sleep's are the sea's caresses,
     Kinder than love's that betrays and blesses,
     Blither than spring's when her flowerful tresses
       Shake forth sunlight and shine with rain.

     All the strength of the waves that perish
       Swells beneath me and laughs and sighs,
     Sighs for love of the life they cherish,
       Laughs to know that it lives and dies,
     Dies for joy of its life, and lives
     Thrilled with joy that its brief death gives--
     Death whose laugh or whose breath forgives
       Change that bids it subside and rise.


     Hard and heavy, remote but nearing,
       Sunless hangs the severe sky's weight,
     Cloud on cloud, though the wind be veering
       Heaped on high to the sundawn's gate.
     Dawn and even and noon are one,
     Veiled with vapour and void of sun;
     Nought in sight or in fancied hearing
       Now less mighty than time or fate.

     The grey sky gleams and the grey seas glimmer,
       Pale and sweet as a dream's delight,
     As a dream's where darkness and light seem dimmer,
       Touched by dawn or subdued by night.
     The dark wind, stern and sublime and sad,
     Swings the rollers to westward, clad
     With lustrous shadow that lures the swimmer,
       Lures and lulls him with dreams of light.

     Light, and sleep, and delight, and wonder,
       Change, and rest, and a charm of cloud,
     Fill the world of the skies whereunder
       Heaves and quivers and pants aloud
     All the world of the waters, hoary
     Now, but clothed with its own live glory,
     That mates the lightning and mocks the thunder
       With light more living and word more proud.


     Far off westward, whither sets the sounding strife,
       Strife more sweet than peace, of shoreless waves whose glee
       Scorns the shore and loves the wind that leaves them free,
     Strange as sleep and pale as death and fair as life,
       Shifts the moonlight-coloured sunshine on the sea.

     Toward the sunset's goal the sunless waters crowd,
       Fast as autumn days toward winter: yet it seems
       Here that autumn wanes not, here that woods and streams
     Lose not heart and change not likeness, chilled and bowed,
       Warped and wrinkled: here the days are fair as dreams.


     O russet-robed November,
       What ails thee so to smile?
     Chill August, pale September,
       Endured a woful while,
     And fell as falls an ember
       From forth a flameless pile:
     But golden-girt November
         Bids all she looks on smile.

     The lustrous foliage, waning
       As wanes the morning moon,
     Here falling, here refraining,
       Outbraves the pride of June
     With statelier semblance, feigning
       No fear lest death be soon:
     As though the woods thus waning
       Should wax to meet the moon.

     As though, when fields lie stricken
       By grey December's breath,
     These lordlier growths that sicken
       And die for fear of death
     Should feel the sense requicken
       That hears what springtide saith
     And thrills for love, spring-stricken
       And pierced with April's breath.

     The keen white-winged north-easter
       That stings and spurs thy sea
     Doth yet but feed and feast her
       With glowing sense of glee:
     Calm chained her, storm released her,
       And storm's glad voice was he:
     South-wester or north-easter,
       Thy winds rejoice the sea.


     A dream, a dream is it all--the season,
       The sky, the water, the wind, the shore?
     A day-born dream of divine unreason,
       A marvel moulded of sleep--no more?
     For the cloudlike wave that my limbs while cleaving
     Feel as in slumber beneath them heaving
     Soothes the sense as to slumber, leaving
       Sense of nought that was known of yore.

     A purer passion, a lordlier leisure,
       A peace more happy than lives on land,
     Fulfils with pulse of diviner pleasure
       The dreaming head and the steering hand.
     I lean my cheek to the cold grey pillow,
     The deep soft swell of the full broad billow,
     And close mine eyes for delight past measure,
       And wish the wheel of the world would stand.

     The wild-winged hour that we fain would capture
       Falls as from heaven that its light feet clomb,
     So brief, so soft, and so full the rapture
       Was felt that soothed me with sense of home.
     To sleep, to swim, and to dream, for ever--
     Such joy the vision of man saw never;
     For here too soon will a dark day sever
       The sea-bird's wing from the sea-wave's foam.

     A dream, and more than a dream, and dimmer
       At once and brighter than dreams that flee,
     The moment's joy of the seaward swimmer
       Abides, remembered as truth may be.
     Not all the joy and not all the glory
     Must fade as leaves when the woods wax hoary;
     For there the downs and the sea-banks glimmer,
       And here to south of them swells the sea.