July 28, 2013

Bryant: O restless Sea

The July 28, 1860 issue of the New York Ledger included the poem "The Tides" by local poet William Cullen Bryant (who wrote the poem at his home in Roslyn, Long Island). It was one of several poems Bryant published in the Ledger that year, most of which had nature as a theme. Nature, after all, is one of Bryant's most frequent focuses, though he also often used maritime themes and images. In "The Tides," Bryant describes an evening by the ocean by personifying the Deep as an entity which desperately tries to reach the moon but fails with every attempt:

The moon is at her full, and, riding high,
         Floods the calm fields with light;
The airs that hover in the summer-sky
         Are all asleep to-night.

There comes no voice from the great woodlands round
         That murmured all the day;
Beneath the shadow of their boughs the ground
         Is not more still than they.

But ever heaves and moans the restless Deep;
         His rising tides I hear,
Afar I see the glimmering billows leap;
         I see them breaking near.

Each wave springs upward, climbing toward the fair
         Pure light that sits on high—
Springs eagerly, and faintly sinks, to where
         The mother-waters lie.

Upward again it swells; the moonbeams show
         Again its glimmering crest;
Again it feels the fatal weight below,
         And sinks, but not to rest.

Again and yet again; until the Deep
         Recalls his brood of waves;
And, with a sullen moan, abashed, they creep
         Back to his inner caves.

Brief respite! they shall rush from that recess
         With noise and tumult soon,
And fling themselves, with unavailing stress,
         Up toward the placid moon.

O restless Sea, that, in thy prison here,
         Dost struggle and complain;
Through the slow centuries yearning to be near
         To that fair orb in vain;

The glorious source of light and heat must warm
         Thy billows from on high,
And change them to the cloudy trains that form
         The curtain of the sky.

Then only may they leave the waste of brine
         In which they welter here,
And rise above the hills of earth, and shine
         In a serener sphere.

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