Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.

Alum Bay


By Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795–1854)

Written at the Needles Hotel, Alum Bay, Isle of Wight

HOW simple in their grandeur are the forms

That constitute this picture! Nature grants

Scarce more than sternest cynic might desire,—

Earth, sea, and sky, and hardly lends to each

Variety of color; yet the soul

Asks nothing fairer than the scene it grasps

And makes its own forever! From the gate

Of this home-featured Inn, which nestling cleaves

To its own shelf among the downs, begirt

With trees which lift no branches to defy

The fury of the storm, but crouch in love

Round the low snow-white walls whence they receive

More shelter than they lend,—the heart-soothed guest

Views a furze-dotted common, on each side

Wreathed into waving eminences, clothed

Above the furze with scanty green, in front

Indented sharply to admit the sea,

Spread thence in softest blue,—to which a gorge

Sinking within the valley’s deepening green

Invites by grassy path; the Eastern down

Swelling with pride into the waters, shows

Its sward-tipped precipice of radiant white,

And claims the dazzling peak beneath its brow

Part of its ancient bulk, which hints the strength

Of those famed pinnacles that still withstand

The conquering waves, as fortresses maintained

By death-devoted troops, hold out awhile

After the game of war is lost, to prove

The virtue of the conquered.—Here are scarce

Four colors for the painter; yet the charm

Which permanence, mid worldly change, confers,

Is felt, if ever, here; for he who loves

To bid this scene refresh his inward eye

When far away, may feel it keeping still

The very aspect that it wore for him,

Scarce changed by Time or Season: Autumn finds

Scant boughs on which the lustre of decay

May tremble fondly; Storms may rage in vain

Above the clumps of sturdy furze, which stand

The Forest of the Fairies; Twilight gray

Finds in the landscape’s stern and simple forms

Naught to conceal; the Moon, although she cast

Upon the element she sways a track

Like that which slanted through young Jacob’s sleep

From heaven to earth, and fluttered at the soul

Of Shadow’s mighty Painter, who thence drew

Hints of a glory beyond shape, reveals

The clear-cut framework of the sea and downs

Shelving to gloom, as unperplexed with threads

Of pallid light, as when the summer’s noon

Bathes them in sunshine; and the giant cliffs

Scarce veiling more their lines of flint that run

Like veins of moveless blue through their bleak sides,

In moonlight than in day, shall tower as now

(Save when some moss’s slender stain shall break

Into the samphire’s yellow in mid-air,

To tempt some trembling life), until the eyes

Which gaze in childhood on them shall be dim.

Yet deem not that these sober forms are all

That Nature here provides, although she frames

These in one lasting picture for the heart.

Within the foldings of the coast she breathes

Hues of fantastic beauty. Thread the gorge,

And, turning on the beach, while the low sea,

Spread out in mirrored gentleness, allows

A path along the curving edge, behold

Such dazzling glory of prismatic tints

Flung o’er the lofty crescent, as assures

The orient gardens where Aladdin plucked

Jewels for fruit no fable,—as if earth,

Provoked to emulate the rainbow’s gauds

In lasting mould, had snatched its floating hues

And fixed them here; for never o’er the bay

Flew a celestial arch of brighter grace

Than the gay coast exhibits; here the cliff

Flaunts in a brighter yellow than the stream

Of Tiber wafted; then with softer shades

Declines to pearly white, which blushes soon

With pink as delicate as Autumn’s rose

Wears on its scattering leaves; anon the shore

Recedes into a fane-like dell, where stained

With black, as if with sable tapestry hung,

Light pinnacles rise taper; further yet

Swells out in solemn mass a dusky veil

Of purple crimson,—while bright streaks of red

Start out in gleam-like tint, to tell of veins

Which the slow-winning sea, in distant times,

Shall bare to unborn gazers.
If this scene

Grow too fantastic for thy pensive thought,

Climb either swelling down, and gaze with joy

On the blue ocean, poured around the heights,

As it embraced the wonders of that shield

Which the vowed Friend of slain Patroclus wore,

To grace his fated valor; nor disdain

The quiet of the vale, though not endowed

With such luxurious beauty as the coast

Of Undercliff embosoms;—mid those lines

Of scanty foliage, thoughtful lanes and paths,

And cottage roofs, find shelter; the blue stream,

That with its brief vein almost threads the isle,

Flows blest with two gray towers, beneath whose shade

The village life sleeps trustfully,—whose rites

Touch the old weather-hardened fisher’s heart

With childlike softness, and shall teach the boy

Who kneels, a sturdy grandson, at his side,

When his frail boat amidst the breakers pants,

To cast the anchor of a Christian hope

In an unrippled haven. Then rejoice,

That in remotest point of this sweet isle,

Which with fond mimicry combines each shape

Of the Great Land that, by the ancient bond

(Sea-parted once, and sea-united now),

Binds her in unity,—a Spirit breathes

On cliff and tower and valley, by the side

Of cottage-fire, and the low grass-grown grave,

Of home on English earth, and home in heaven!