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Hymns Of The Marshes.

Written by: Sidney Lanier | Biography
 | Quotes (2) |
 I.
Sunrise.
In my sleep I was fain of their fellowship, fain Of the live-oak, the marsh, and the main.
The little green leaves would not let me alone in my sleep; Up-breathed from the marshes, a message of range and of sweep, Interwoven with waftures of wild sea-liberties, drifting, Came through the lapped leaves sifting, sifting, Came to the gates of sleep.
Then my thoughts, in the dark of the dungeon-keep Of the Castle of Captives hid in the City of Sleep, Upstarted, by twos and by threes assembling: The gates of sleep fell a-trembling Like as the lips of a lady that forth falter `Yes,' Shaken with happiness: The gates of sleep stood wide.
I have waked, I have come, my beloved! I might not abide: I have come ere the dawn, O beloved, my live-oaks, to hide In your gospelling glooms, -- to be As a lover in heaven, the marsh my marsh and the sea my sea.
Tell me, sweet burly-bark'd, man-bodied Tree That mine arms in the dark are embracing, dost know From what fount are these tears at thy feet which flow? They rise not from reason, but deeper inconsequent deeps.
Reason's not one that weeps.
What logic of greeting lies Betwixt dear over-beautiful trees and the rain of the eyes? O cunning green leaves, little masters! like as ye gloss All the dull-tissued dark with your luminous darks that emboss The vague blackness of night into pattern and plan, So, (But would I could know, but would I could know,) With your question embroid'ring the dark of the question of man, -- So, with your silences purfling this silence of man While his cry to the dead for some knowledge is under the ban, Under the ban, -- So, ye have wrought me Designs on the night of our knowledge, -- yea, ye have taught me, So, That haply we know somewhat more than we know.
Ye lispers, whisperers, singers in storms, Ye consciences murmuring faiths under forms, Ye ministers meet for each passion that grieves, Friendly, sisterly, sweetheart leaves, Oh, rain me down from your darks that contain me Wisdoms ye winnow from winds that pain me, -- Sift down tremors of sweet-within-sweet That advise me of more than they bring, -- repeat Me the woods-smell that swiftly but now brought breath From the heaven-side bank of the river of death, -- Teach me the terms of silence, -- preach me The passion of patience, -- sift me, -- impeach me, -- And there, oh there As ye hang with your myriad palms upturned in the air, Pray me a myriad prayer.
My gossip, the owl, -- is it thou That out of the leaves of the low-hanging bough, As I pass to the beach, art stirred? Dumb woods, have ye uttered a bird? * * * * * Reverend Marsh, low-couched along the sea, Old chemist, rapt in alchemy, Distilling silence, -- lo, That which our father-age had died to know -- The menstruum that dissolves all matter -- thou Hast found it: for this silence, filling now The globed clarity of receiving space, This solves us all: man, matter, doubt, disgrace, Death, love, sin, sanity, Must in yon silence' clear solution lie.
Too clear! That crystal nothing who'll peruse? The blackest night could bring us brighter news.
Yet precious qualities of silence haunt Round these vast margins, ministrant.
Oh, if thy soul's at latter gasp for space, With trying to breathe no bigger than thy race Just to be fellow'd, when that thou hast found No man with room, or grace enough of bound To entertain that New thou tell'st, thou art, -- 'Tis here, 'tis here thou canst unhand thy heart And breathe it free, and breathe it free, By rangy marsh, in lone sea-liberty.
The tide's at full: the marsh with flooded streams Glimmers, a limpid labyrinth of dreams.
Each winding creek in grave entrancement lies A rhapsody of morning-stars.
The skies Shine scant with one forked galaxy, -- The marsh brags ten: looped on his breast they lie.
Oh, what if a sound should be made! Oh, what if a bound should be laid To this bow-and-string tension of beauty and silence a-spring, -- To the bend of beauty the bow, or the hold of silence the string! I fear me, I fear me yon dome of diaphanous gleam Will break as a bubble o'er-blown in a dream, -- Yon dome of too-tenuous tissues of space and of night, Over-weighted with stars, over-freighted with light, Over-sated with beauty and silence, will seem But a bubble that broke in a dream, If a bound of degree to this grace be laid, Or a sound or a motion made.
But no: it is made: list! somewhere, -- mystery, where? In the leaves? in the air? In my heart? is a motion made: 'Tis a motion of dawn, like a flicker of shade on shade.
In the leaves 'tis palpable: low multitudinous stirring Upwinds through the woods; the little ones, softly conferring, Have settled my lord's to be looked for; so; they are still; But the air and my heart and the earth are a-thrill, -- And look where the wild duck sails round the bend of the river, -- And look where a passionate shiver Expectant is bending the blades Of the marsh-grass in serial shimmers and shades, -- And invisible wings, fast fleeting, fast fleeting, Are beating The dark overhead as my heart beats, -- and steady and free Is the ebb-tide flowing from marsh to sea -- (Run home, little streams, With your lapfulls of stars and dreams), -- And a sailor unseen is hoisting a-peak, For list, down the inshore curve of the creek How merrily flutters the sail, -- And lo, in the East! Will the East unveil? The East is unveiled, the East hath confessed A flush: 'tis dead; 'tis alive: 'tis dead, ere the West Was aware of it: nay, 'tis abiding, 'tis unwithdrawn: Have a care, sweet Heaven! 'Tis Dawn.
Now a dream of a flame through that dream of a flush is uprolled: To the zenith ascending, a dome of undazzling gold Is builded, in shape as a bee-hive, from out of the sea: The hive is of gold undazzling, but oh, the Bee, The star-fed Bee, the build-fire Bee, Of dazzling gold is the great Sun-Bee That shall flash from the hive-hole over the sea.
Yet now the dew-drop, now the morning gray, Shall live their little lucid sober day Ere with the sun their souls exhale away.
Now in each pettiest personal sphere of dew The summ'd morn shines complete as in the blue Big dew-drop of all heaven: with these lit shrines O'er-silvered to the farthest sea-confines, The sacramental marsh one pious plain Of worship lies.
Peace to the ante-reign Of Mary Morning, blissful mother mild, Minded of nought but peace, and of a child.
Not slower than Majesty moves, for a mean and a measure Of motion, -- not faster than dateless Olympian leisure Might pace with unblown ample garments from pleasure to pleasure, -- The wave-serrate sea-rim sinks unjarring, unreeling, Forever revealing, revealing, revealing, Edgewise, bladewise, halfwise, wholewise, -- 'tis done! Good-morrow, lord Sun! With several voice, with ascription one, The woods and the marsh and the sea and my soul Unto thee, whence the glittering stream of all morrows doth roll, Cry good and past-good and most heavenly morrow, lord Sun.
O Artisan born in the purple, -- Workman Heat, -- Parter of passionate atoms that travail to meet And be mixed in the death-cold oneness, -- innermost Guest At the marriage of elements, -- fellow of publicans, -- blest King in the blouse of flame, that loiterest o'er The idle skies yet laborest fast evermore, -- Thou, in the fine forge-thunder, thou, in the beat Of the heart of a man, thou Motive, -- Laborer Heat: Yea, Artist, thou, of whose art yon sea's all news, With his inshore greens and manifold mid-sea blues, Pearl-glint, shell-tint, ancientest perfectest hues Ever shaming the maidens, -- lily and rose Confess thee, and each mild flame that glows In the clarified virginal bosoms of stones that shine, It is thine, it is thine: Thou chemist of storms, whether driving the winds a-swirl Or a-flicker the subtiler essences polar that whirl In the magnet earth, -- yea, thou with a storm for a heart, Rent with debate, many-spotted with question, part From part oft sundered, yet ever a globed light, Yet ever the artist, ever more large and bright Than the eye of a man may avail of: -- manifold One, I must pass from thy face, I must pass from the face of the Sun: Old Want is awake and agog, every wrinkle a-frown; The worker must pass to his work in the terrible town: But I fear not, nay, and I fear not the thing to be done; I am strong with the strength of my lord the Sun: How dark, how dark soever the race that must needs be run, I am lit with the Sun.
Oh, never the mast-high run of the seas Of traffic shall hide thee, Never the hell-colored smoke of the factories Hide thee, Never the reek of the time's fen-politics Hide thee, And ever my heart through the night shall with knowledge abide thee, And ever by day shall my spirit, as one that hath tried thee, Labor, at leisure, in art, -- till yonder beside thee My soul shall float, friend Sun, The day being done.
____ Baltimore, December, 1880.
II.
Individuality.
Sail on, sail on, fair cousin Cloud: Oh loiter hither from the sea.
Still-eyed and shadow-brow'd, Steal off from yon far-drifting crowd, And come and brood upon the marsh with me.
Yon laboring low horizon-smoke, Yon stringent sail, toil not for thee Nor me; did heaven's stroke The whole deep with drown'd commerce choke, No pitiless tease of risk or bottomry Would to thy rainy office close Thy will, or lock mine eyes from tears, Part wept for traders'-woes, Part for that ventures mean as those In issue bind such sovereign hopes and fears.
-- Lo, Cloud, thy downward countenance stares Blank on the blank-faced marsh, and thou Mindest of dark affairs; Thy substance seems a warp of cares; Like late wounds run the wrinkles on thy brow.
Well may'st thou pause, and gloom, and stare, A visible conscience: I arraign Thee, criminal Cloud, of rare Contempts on Mercy, Right, and Prayer, -- Of murders, arsons, thefts, -- of nameless stain.
(Yet though life's logic grow as gray As thou, my soul's not in eclipse.
) Cold Cloud, but yesterday Thy lightning slew a child at play, And then a priest with prayers upon his lips For his enemies, and then a bright Lady that did but ope the door Upon the storming night To let a beggar in, -- strange spite, -- And then thy sulky rain refused to pour Till thy quick torch a barn had burned Where twelve months' store of victual lay, A widow's sons had earned; Which done, thy floods with winds returned, -- The river raped their little herd away.
What myriad righteous errands high Thy flames MIGHT run on! In that hour Thou slewest the child, oh why Not rather slay Calamity, Breeder of Pain and Doubt, infernal Power? Or why not plunge thy blades about Some maggot politician throng Swarming to parcel out The body of a land, and rout The maw-conventicle, and ungorge Wrong? What the cloud doeth The Lord knoweth, The cloud knoweth not.
What the artist doeth, The Lord knoweth; Knoweth the artist not? Well-answered! -- O dear artists, ye -- Whether in forms of curve or hue Or tone your gospels be -- Say wrong `This work is not of me, But God:' it is not true, it is not true.
Awful is Art because 'tis free.
The artist trembles o'er his plan Where men his Self must see.
Who made a song or picture, he Did it, and not another, God nor man.
My Lord is large, my Lord is strong: Giving, He gave: my me is mine.
How poor, how strange, how wrong, To dream He wrote the little song I made to Him with love's unforced design! Oh, not as clouds dim laws have plann'd To strike down Good and fight for Ill, -- Oh, not as harps that stand In the wind and sound the wind's command: Each artist -- gift of terror! -- owns his will.
For thee, Cloud, -- if thou spend thine all Upon the South's o'er-brimming sea That needs thee not; or crawl To the dry provinces, and fall Till every convert clod shall give to thee Green worship; if thou grow or fade, Bring on delight or misery, Fly east or west, be made Snow, hail, rain, wind, grass, rose, light, shade; What matters it to thee? There is no thee.
Pass, kinsman Cloud, now fair and mild: Discharge the will that's not thine own.
I work in freedom wild, But work, as plays a little child, Sure of the Father, Self, and Love, alone.
____ Baltimore, 1878-9.
III.
Marsh Song -- At Sunset.
Over the monstrous shambling sea, Over the Caliban sea, Bright Ariel-cloud, thou lingerest: Oh wait, oh wait, in the warm red West, -- Thy Prospero I'll be.
Over the humped and fishy sea, Over the Caliban sea O cloud in the West, like a thought in the heart Of pardon, loose thy wing, and start, And do a grace for me.
Over the huge and huddling sea, Over the Caliban sea, Bring hither my brother Antonio, -- Man, -- My injurer: night breaks the ban; Brother, I pardon thee.
____ Baltimore, 1879-80.
IV.
The Marshes of Glynn.
Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs, -- Emerald twilights, -- Virginal shy lights, Wrought of the leaves to allure to the whisper of vows, When lovers pace timidly down through the green colonnades Of the dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods, Of the heavenly woods and glades, That run to the radiant marginal sand-beach within The wide sea-marshes of Glynn; -- Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire, -- Wildwood privacies, closets of lone desire, Chamber from chamber parted with wavering arras of leaves, -- Cells for the passionate pleasure of prayer to the soul that grieves, Pure with a sense of the passing of saints through the wood, Cool for the dutiful weighing of ill with good; -- O braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine, While the riotous noon-day sun of the June-day long did shine Ye held me fast in your heart and I held you fast in mine; But now when the noon is no more, and riot is rest, And the sun is a-wait at the ponderous gate of the West, And the slant yellow beam down the wood-aisle doth seem Like a lane into heaven that leads from a dream, -- Ay, now, when my soul all day hath drunken the soul of the oak, And my heart is at ease from men, and the wearisome sound of the stroke Of the scythe of time and the trowel of trade is low, And belief overmasters doubt, and I know that I know, And my spirit is grown to a lordly great compass within, That the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn Will work me no fear like the fear they have wrought me of yore When length was fatigue, and when breadth was but bitterness sore, And when terror and shrinking and dreary unnamable pain Drew over me out of the merciless miles of the plain, -- Oh, now, unafraid, I am fain to face The vast sweet visage of space.
To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn, Where the gray beach glimmering runs, as a belt of the dawn, For a mete and a mark To the forest-dark: -- So: Affable live-oak, leaning low, -- Thus -- with your favor -- soft, with a reverent hand, (Not lightly touching your person, Lord of the land!) Bending your beauty aside, with a step I stand On the firm-packed sand, Free By a world of marsh that borders a world of sea.
Sinuous southward and sinuous northward the shimmering band Of the sand-beach fastens the fringe of the marsh to the folds of the land.
Inward and outward to northward and southward the beach-lines linger and curl As a silver-wrought garment that clings to and follows the firm sweet limbs of a girl.
Vanishing, swerving, evermore curving again into sight, Softly the sand-beach wavers away to a dim gray looping of light.
And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high? The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky! A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade, Green, and all of a height, and unflecked with a light or a shade, Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain, To the terminal blue of the main.
Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea? Somehow my soul seems suddenly free From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin, By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.
Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea! Tolerant plains, that suffer the sea and the rains and the sun, Ye spread and span like the catholic man who hath mightily won God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain.
As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod, Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God: I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies In the freedom that fills all the space 'twixt the marsh and the skies: By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God: Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.
And the sea lends large, as the marsh: lo, out of his plenty the sea Pours fast: full soon the time of the flood-tide must be: Look how the grace of the sea doth go About and about through the intricate channels that flow Here and there, Everywhere, Till his waters have flooded the uttermost creeks and the low-lying lanes, And the marsh is meshed with a million veins, That like as with rosy and silvery essences flow In the rose-and-silver evening glow.
Farewell, my lord Sun! The creeks overflow: a thousand rivulets run 'Twixt the roots of the sod; the blades of the marsh-grass stir; Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whirr; Passeth, and all is still; and the currents cease to run; And the sea and the marsh are one.
How still the plains of the waters be! The tide is in his ecstasy.
The tide is at his highest height: And it is night.
And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep Roll in on the souls of men, But who will reveal to our waking ken The forms that swim and the shapes that creep Under the waters of sleep? And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.



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