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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI. 1876–79.

Miscellaneous: The Ocean

A Hymn of the Sea

By William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)

THE SEA is mighty, but a mightier sways

His restless billows. Thou, whose hands have scooped

His boundless gulfs and built his shore, thy breath,

That moved in the beginning o’er his face,

Moves o’er it evermore. The obedient waves

To its strong motion roll, and rise and fall.

Still from that realm of rain thy cloud goes up,

As at the first, to water the great earth,

And keep her valleys green. A hundred realms

Watch its broad shadow warping on the wind,

And in the dropping shower with gladness hear

Thy promise of the harvest. I look forth

Over the boundless blue, where joyously

The bright crests of innumerable waves

Glance to the sun at once, as when the hands

Of a great multitude are upward flung

In acclamation. I behold the ships

Gliding from cape to cape, from isle to isle,

Or stemming toward far lands, or hastening home

From the Old World. It is thy friendly breeze

That bears them, with the riches of the land,

And treasure of dear lives, till, in the port,

The shouting seaman climbs and furls the sail.

But who shall bide thy tempest, who shall face

The blast that wakes the fury of the sea?

O God! thy justice makes the world turn pale,

When on the armed fleet, that royally

Bears down the surges, carrying war, to smite

Some city, or invade some thoughtless realm,

Descends the fierce tornado. The vast hulks

Are whirled like chaff upon the waves; the sails

Fly, rent like webs of gossamer; the masts

Are snapped asunder; downward from the decks,

Downward are slung, into the fathomless gulf,

Their cruel engines; and their hosts, arrayed

In trappings of the battle-field, are whelmed

By whirlpools, or dashed dead upon the rocks.

Then stand the nations still with awe, and pause

A moment from the bloody work of war.

These restless surges eat away the shores

Of earth’s old continents; the fertile plain

Welters in shallows, headlands crumble down,

And the tide drifts the sea-sand in the streets

Of the drowned city. Thou, meanwhile, afar

In the green chambers of the middle sea,

Where broadest spread the waters, and the line

Sinks deepest, while no eye beholds thy work,

Creator! thou dost teach the coral worm

To lay his mighty reefs. From age to age

He builds beneath the waters, till, at last,

His bulwarks overtop the brine, and check

The long wave rolling from the southern pole

To break upon Japan. Thou bidd’st the fires,

That smoulder under ocean, heave on high

The new-made mountains, and uplift their peaks,

A place of refuge for the storm-driven bird.

The birds and wafting billows plant the rifts

With herb and tree; sweet fountains gush; sweet airs

Ripple the living lakes that, fringed with flowers,

Are gathered in the hollows. Thou dost look

On thy creation, and pronounce it good.

Its valleys, glorious with their summer green,

Praise thee in silent beauty, and its woods,

Swept by the murmuring winds of ocean, join

The murmuring shores in a perpetual hymn.