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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Christus: A Mystery

Part II. The Golden Legend. V. V. The Inn at Genoa

A terrace overlooking the sea. Night.

IT is the sea, it is the sea,

In all its vague immensity,

Fading and darkening in the distance!

Silent, majestical, and slow,

The white ships haunt it to and fro,

With all their ghostly sails unfurled,

As phantoms from another world

Haunt the dim confines of existence!

But ah! how few can comprehend

Their signals, or to what good end

From land to land they come and go!

Upon a sea more vast and dark

The spirits of the dead embark,

All voyaging to unknown coasts.

We wave our farewells from the shore,

And they depart, and come no more,

Or come as phantoms and as ghosts.

Above the darksome sea of death

Looms the great life that is to be,

A land of cloud and mystery,

A dim mirage, with shapes of men

Long dead, and passed beyond our ken.

Awe-struck we gaze, and hold our breath

Till the fair pageant vanisheth,

Leaving us in perplexity,

And doubtful whether it has been

A vision of the world unseen,

Or a bright image of our own

Against the sky in vapors thrown.

LUCIFER, singing from the sea.
Thou didst not make it, thou canst not mend it,

But thou hast the power to end it!

The sea is silent, the sea is discreet,

Deep it lies at thy very feet;

There is no confessor like unto Death!

Thou canst not see him, but he is near;

Thou needst not whisper above thy breath,

And he will hear;

He will answer the questions,

The vague surmises and suggestion,

That fill thy soul with doubt and fear!

The fisherman, who lies afloat,

With shadowy sail, in yonder hoat,

Is singing softly to the Night!

But do I comprehend aright

The meaning of the words he sung

So sweetly in his native tongue?

Ah yes! the sea is still and deep.

All things within its bosom sleep!

A single step, and all is o’er;

A plunge, a bubble, and no more;

And thou, dear Elsie, wilt be free

From martyrdom and agony.

ELSIE, coming from her chamber upon the terrace.
The night is calm and cloudless,

And still as still can be,

And the stars come forth to listen

To the music of the sea.

They gather, and gather, and gather,

Until they crowd the sky,

And listen, in breathless silence,

To the solemn litany.

It begins in rocky caverns,

As a voice that chants alone

To the pedals of the organ

In monotonous undertone;

And anon from shelving beaches,

And shallow sands beyond,

In snow-white robes uprising

The ghostly choirs respond.

And sadly and unceasing

The mournful voice sings on,

And the snow-white choirs still answer

Christe eleison!

Angel of God! thy finer sense perceives

Celestial and perpetual harmonies!

Thy purer soul, that trembles and believes,

Hears the archangel’s trumpet in the breeze,

And where the forest rolls, or ocean heaves,

Cecilia’s organ sounding in the seas,

And tongues of prophets speaking in the leaves.

But I hear discord only and despair,

And whispers as of demons in the air!