Sea Dreams. An Idyll.

A city clerk, but gently born and bred ;1
His wife, an unknown artist’s orphan child—2
One babe was theirs, a Margaret, three years old :3
They, thinking that her clear germander eye4
Droopt in the giant-factoried city-gloom,5
Came, with a month’s leave given them, to the sea :6
For which his gains were dock’d, however small :7
His gains were small, and hard his work ; besides,8
Their slender household fortunes (for the man9
Had risk’d his little) like the little thrift,10
Trembled in perilous places o’er a deep :11
And oft, when sitting all alone, his face12
Would darken, as he cursed his credulousness,13
And that one unctuous mouth which lured him, rogue,14
To buy wild shares in some Peruvian mine.15
Now seaward-bound for health they gain’d a coast,16
All sand and cliff and deep-inrunning cave,17
At close of day ; slept, woke, and went the next,18
The Sabbath, pious variers from the church,19
To chapel ; where a heated pulpiteer,20
Not preaching simple Christ to simple men,21
Announced the coming doom, and fulminated22
Against the scarlet woman and her creed :23
For sideways up he swung his arms, and shriek’d24
Thus, thus with violence,’ ev’n as if he held25
The Apocalyptic millstone, and himself26
Were that great Angel ; ‘ Thus with violence27
Shall Babylon be cast into the sea ;28
Then comes the close.’ The gentle-hearted wife29
Sat shuddering at the ruin of a world ;30
He at his own : but when the wordy storm31
Had ended, forth they moved and paced the sand,32
Ran in and out the long sea-framing caves,33
Drank the large air, and saw, but scarce believed34
(The sootflake of so many a summer still35
Clung to their fancies) that they saw, the sea.36
So now on sand they walk’d, and now on cliff,37
Lingering about the thymy promontories,38
Until the sails were darken’d in the west39
And rosed in the east : then homeward and to bed :40
Where she, who kept a tender Christian hope41
Haunting a holy text, and still to that42
Returning, as the bird returns, at night,43
Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,’44
Said, ‘ Love, forgive him :’ but he did not speak ;45
And silenced by that silence lay the wife,46
Remembering our dear Lord who died for all,47
And musing on the little lives of men,48
And how they mar this little by their feuds.49
But while the two were sleeping, a full tide50
Rose with ground-swell, which, on the foremost rocks51
Touching, upjetted in spirits of wild sea-smoke,52
And scaled in sheets of wasteful foam, and fell53
In vast sea-cataracts—ever and anon54
Dead claps of thunder from within the cliffs55
Heard thro’ the living roar. At this the babe,56
Their Margaret cradled near them, wail’d and woke57
The mother, and the father suddenly cried,58
A wreck, a wreck !’ then turn’d, and groaning said,59
Forgive !  How many will say, “ forgive,” and find60
A sort of absolution in the sound61
To hate a little longer ! No ; the sin62
That neither God nor man can well forgive,63
Hypocrisy, I saw it in him at once.64
It is not true that second thoughts are best,65
But first, and third, which are a riper first ;66
Too ripe, too late ! they come too late for use.67
Ah love, there surely lives in man and beast68
Something divine to warn them of their foes :69
And such a sense, when first I lighted on him,70
Said, “ trust him not ;” but after, when I came71
To know him more, I lost it, knew him less ;72
Fought with what seem’d my own uncharity ;73
Sat at his table ; drank his costly wines ;74
Made more and more allowance for his talk ;75
Went further, fool! and trusted him with all,76
All my poor scrapings from a dozen years77
Of dust and deskwork : there is no such mine,78
None ; but a gulf of ruin, swallowing gold,79
Not making. Ruin’d ! ruin’d ! the sea roars80
Ruin : a fearful night !’
Not fearful ; fair,81
Said the good wife, ‘ if every star in heaven82
Can make it fair : you do but hear the tide.83
Had you ill dreams ?’
O yes,’ he said, ‘ I dream’d84
Of such a tide swelling toward the land,85
And I from out the boundless outer deep86
Swept with it to the shore, and enter’d one87
Of those dark caves that run beneath the cliffs.88
I thought the motion of the boundless deep89
Bore through the cave, and I was heaved upon it90
In darkness : then I saw one lovely star91
Larger and larger. “ What a world,” I thought,92
To live in !” but in moving on I found93
Only the landward exit of the cave,94
Bright with the sun upon the stream beyond :95
And near the light a giant woman sat,96
All over earthy, like a piece of earth,97
A pickaxe in her hand: then out I slipt98
Into a land all sun and blossom, trees99
As high as heaven, and every bird that sings :100
And here the night-light flickering in my eyes101
Awoke me.’
That was then your dream,’ she said,102
Not sad, but sweet.’
So sweet, I lay,’ said he,103
And mused upon it, drifting up the stream104
In fancy, till I slept again, and pieced105
The broken vision ; for I dream’d that still106
The motion of the great deep bore me on,107
And that the woman walk’d upon the brink :108
I wonder’d at her strength, and ask’d her of it :109
It came,” she said, “ by working in the mines :”110
O then to ask her of my shares, I thought ;111
And ask’d ; but not a word ; she shook her head.112
And then the motion of the current ceas’d,113
And there was rolling thunder ; and we reach’d114
A mountain, like a wall of burs and thorns ;115
But she with her strong feet up the steep hill116
Trod out a path : I follow’d ; and at top117
She pointed seaward : there a fleet of glass,118
That seem’d a fleet of jewels under me,119
Sailing along before a gloomy cloud120
That not one moment ceased to thunder, past121
In sunshine : right across its track there lay,122
Down in the water, a long reef of gold,123
Or what seem’d gold : and I was glad at first124
To think that in our often-ransack’d world125
Still so much gold was left ; and then I fear’d126
Lest that gay navy there should splinter on it,127
And fearing waved my arm to warn them off ;128
An idle signal, for the brittle fleet129
(I thought I could have died to save it) near’d,130
Touch’ a clink’d, and clash’d, and vanish’d, and I woke,131
I heard the clash so clearly. Now I see132
My dream was Life ; the woman honest Work ;133
And my poor venture but a fleet of glass134
Wreck’d on a reef of visionary gold.’135
Nay,’ said the kindly wife to comfort him,136
You raised your arm, you tumbled down and broke137
The glass with little Margaret’s medicine in it ;138
And, breaking that, you made and broke your dream :139
A trifle makes a dream, a trifle breaks.’140
No trifle’ groan’d the husband ; ‘ yesterday141
I met him suddenly in the street, and ask’d142
That which I ask’d the woman in my dream.143
Like her, he shook his head.  “ Show me the books !”144
He dodged me with a long and loose account.145
The books, the books !” but he, he could not wait,146
Bound on a matter he of life and death :147
When the great Books (see Daniel seven, the tenth)148
Were open’d, I should find he meant me well ;149
And then began to bloat himself, and ooze150
All over with the fat affectionate smile151
That makes the widow lean.  My dearest friend,152
Have faith, have faith !  We live by faith,” said he ;153
And all things work together for the good154
Of those”—it makes me sick to quote him—last155
Gript my hand hard, and with God-bless-you went.156
I stood like one that had received a blow :157
I found a hard friend in his loose accounts,158
A loose one in the hard grip of his hand,159
A curse in his God-bless-you : then my eyes160
Pursued him down the street, and far away,161
Among the honest shoulders of the crowd,162
Read rascal in the motions of his back,163
And scoundrel in’ the supple-sliding knee.’164
Was he so bound, poor soul ?’ said the good wife ;165
So are we all : but do not call him, love,166
Before you prove him, rogue, and proved, forgive.167
His gain is loss ; for he that wrongs his friend168
Wrongs himself more, and ever bears about169
A silent court of justice in his breast,170
Himself the judge and jury, and himself171
The prisoner at the bar, ever condemn’d :172
And that drags down his life : then comes what comes173
Hereafter : and he meant, he said he meant,174
Perhaps he meant, or partly meant, you well.175
With all his conscience and one eye askew ’—176
Love, let me quote these lines, that you may learn177
A man is likewise counsel for himself,178
Too often, in that silent court of yours—179
With all his conscience and one eye askew,180
So false, he partly took himself for true ;181
Whose pious talk, when most his heart was dry,182
Made wet the crafty crowsfoot round his eye ;183
Who, never naming God except for gain,184
So never took that useful name in, vain ;185
Nor deeds of gift, but gifts of grace he forged,186
And snakelike slimed his victim ere he gorged ;187
And oft at Bible meetings, o’er the rest188
Arising, did his holy oily best,189
Dropping the too rough H in Hell and Heaven,190
To spread the word by which himself had thriven.”191
How like you this old satire ?’
Nay,’ she said,192
I loathe it : he had never kindly heart,193
Nor ever cared to better his own kind,194
Who first wrote satire, with no pity in it.195
But will you hear my dream, for I had one196
That altogether went to music ? still,197
It awed me. Well—I dream’d that round the north198
A light, a belt of luminous vapour, lay,199
And ever in it a low musical note200
Swell’d up and died ; and, as it swell’d, a ridge201
Of breaker came from out the belt, and still202
Grew with the growing note, and when the note203
Had reach’d a thunderous fullness, on these cliffs204
Broke, mixt with awful light (the same as that205
Which lived within the belt) by which I saw206
That all these lines of cliffs were cliffs no more,207
But huge cathedral fronts of every age,208
Grave, florid, stern, as far as eye could see,209
One after one : and then the great ridge drew,210
Lessening to the lessening music, back,211
And past into the belt and swell’d again212
To music : ever when it broke I saw213
The statues, saint, or king, or founder fall ;214
Then from the gaps of ruin which it left215
Came men and women in dark clusters round,216
Some crying, “ Set them up ! they shall not fall !”217
And others “ Let them lie, for they have fall’n.”218
And still they strove and wrangled : and I grieved219
In my strange dream, I knew not why, to find220
Their wildest wailings never out of tune221
With that sweet note ; and ever when their shrieks222
Ran highest up the gamut, that great wave223
Returning, tho’ none mark’d it, on the crowd224
Broke, mix’d with awful light, and show’d their eyes225
Glaring, and passionate looks, and swept away226
The men of flesh and blood, and men of stone,227
To the waste deeps together : and I fixt228
My wistful eyes on two fair images,229
Both crown’d with stars and high among the stars,—230
The Virgin Mother standing with her child231
High up on one of those dark minster-fronts—232
Till she began to totter, and the child233
Clung to the mother, and sent out a cry234
Which mix’d with little Margaret’s, and I woke,235
And my dream awed me :— well—but what are dreams ?236
Yours came but from the breaking of a glass,237
And mine but from the crying of a child.’238
Child ?  No !’ said he, but this tide’s roar, and his,239
Our Boanerges with his threats of doom,240
And lound-lung’d Antibabylonianisms241
(Altho’ I grant but little music there)242
Went both to make your dream : but were there such243
A music, harmonizing our wild cries,244
Sphere-music such as that you dream’d about,245
Why, that would make our Passions far too like246
The discords dear to the musician. No—247
One shriek of hate would jar all the hymns of heaven :248
True Devils with no ear, they howl in tune249
With nothing but the Devil !’
True” indeed !250
One of our town, but later by an hour251
Here than ourselves, spoke with me on the shore ;252
While you were running down the sands, and made253
The dimpled flounce of the sea-furbelow flap,254
Good man, to please the child ; she brought strange news.255
I would not tell you then to spoil your day.256
But he, at whom you rail so much, is dead.’257
Dead ? who is dead ?’
The man your eye pursued.258
A little after you had parted with him,259
He suddenly dropt dead of heart-disease.’260
Dead ? he ? of heart-disease ? what heart had he261
To die of ? dead !’
Ah, dearest, if there be262
A devil in man, there is an angel too,263
And if he did that wrong you charge him with,264
His angel broke his heart. But your rough voice265
(You spoke so loud) has roused the child again.266
Sleep, little birdie, sleep ! will she not sleep267
Without her “ little birdie ?” well then, sleep,268
And I will sing you “ birdie.” ’
Saying this,269
The woman half turn’d round from him she loved,270
Left him one hand, and reaching through the night271
Her other, found (for it was close beside)272
And half embraced the basket cradle-head273
With one soft arm, which, like the pliant bough274
That moving moves the nest and nestling, sway’d275
The cradle, while she sang this baby song.276
What does little birdie say277
In her nest at peep of day ?278
Let me fly, says little birdie,279
Mother, let me fly away.280
Birdie, rest a little longer,281
Till the little wings are stronger.282
So she rests a little longer,283
Then she flies away.284
What does little baby say,285
In her bed at peep of day ?286
Baby says, like little birdie,287
Let me rise and fly away.288
Baby, sleep a little longer,289
Till the little limbs are stronger.290
If she sleeps a little longer,291
Baby too shall fly away.292
She sleeps : let us too, let all evil, sleep.293
He also sleeps—another sleep than ours.294
He can do no more wrong : forgive him, dear,295
And I shall sleep the sounder !’
Then the man,296
His deeds yet live, the worst is yet to come.297
Yet let your sleep for this one night be sound :298
I do forgive him !’
Thanks, my love,’ she said,299
Your own will be the sweeter,’ and they slept.300