At Sea.


“ There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour ”
(Rev. viii. 1).
Old Ocean rolls like time, each billow passing1
Into another melts, and is no more,2
Whilst the indwelling spirit works on, massing3
The great whole as before.4
The separate waves are swift to come and go,5
But the deep smiles, as they die one by one,6
In lazy pleasure lifting from below7
His foam-flecked purple to the sun,8
Eve comes, the floods race past, we see their white9
Thrilled through by weird sea-fires, a burning shiver10
Which for one moment lives in eager light11
And then is quenched for ever.12
Even so, alas. The bright chiefs of our race,13
Lost under the interminable years,14
Homer, or Shakespeare—each in his own place,15
Just flashes forth, then disappears ;16
For what we call their Immortality17
Is a brief spark, born but to be destroyed,18
As the long ruin of all things that be19
Moves down the Godless void.20
Such is the creed our wise ones of the earth21
Engrave now on the slowly-waning skies ;22
Ice, night, and death—death with no second birth23
Even now before their prescient eyes,24
Pale in the lone abysses of existence,25
World hangs on world, system on system, dead,26
Whilst over all out-wearied life’s resistance27
Vast wings of blackness spread ;28
Till that proud voice, “ Let there be light,” whose breath29
Came, as we deemed, from Heaven old glooms to chase,30
Hath passed unfelt through a dim waste of death,31
To cease at length upon deaf space.32
Darkness, eternal darkness, darkness bare33
Of warmth, of life, of thought, with orbs that run,34
Like sad ghosts of the shining years that were,35
Each round its frozen sun.36
Sages may scoff, “ What matters this to you37
Who will rest. well whatever may befall ?38
Why care in what strange garb of horrors new39
Is clothed the doom that waits us all ?40
What if some fresh unfailing age of gold,41
Should fill each radiant galaxy with bloom ?42
The man whose race is run, whose tale is told,43
Owns nothing but his tomb.44
Thus whether Nature still uphold her powers,45
Or all things die at last, as men have died ;46
Stop not to ask if that sure grave of ours47
Be coffin-narrow, or world-wide.”48
We answer thus—The cloud before us spread49
Stains with its shadow all that nursed our prime ;50
Hope is the world’s best blood, which, chilled or shed,51
Palsies the heart of Time ;52
Your grim futurity we cannot bear,53
It shakes us now, like earthquake tides inrolling,54
Imagination has her own despair,55
And hears your distant death-bell tolling ;56
She droops even now beneath those evil dreams,57
That like hearse-plumes, wind-swept, around her nod,58
And shrinks from that lost universe, which seems59
To her the corpse of God.60
Let her still therefore guard her lamp, and fling61
Away the terror under which she cowers,62
Trusting in trance to feel the touch of spring,63
And the young struggle of the flowers,64
Trusting that when the days are full, some thought,65
Some presence, may dawn round us by and by,66
So that, as prophets and as bards have taught,67
We men may live, not die.68
Then if that hope which science off has thrown,69
Be but our nurse’s lullaby and kiss,70
If Nature round the edge her seeds have sown,71
Only to hide the near abyss ;72
If all her visioned flowers and fruits, that smile73
And fade not, where the living water gleams,74
Be but as desert phantoms which beguile,75
Mirrored on phantom streams ;76
Though none the promised amaranth may reap,77
We yet accept the boon—believing still78
That the great mother means us well—and sleep79
In faith, according to her will.80