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

Miscellaneous: The Ocean

The Ocean in Calm

By John Wilson (1720–1789)

IT is the midnight hour;—the beauteous sea,

Calm as the cloudless heaven, the heaven discloses,

While many a sparkling star, in quiet glee,

Far down within the watery sky reposes.

As if the ocean’s heart were stirred

With inward life, a sound is heard,

Like that of dreamer murmuring in his sleep;

’T is partly the billow, and partly the air

That lies like a garment floating fair

Above the happy deep.

The sea, I ween, cannot be fanned

By evening freshness from the land,

For the land it is far away;

But God hath willed that the sky-born breeze

In the centre of the loneliest seas

Should ever sport and play.

The mighty moon she sits above,

Encircled with a zone of love,

A zone of dim and tender light

That makes her wakeful eye more bright:

She seems to shine with a sunny ray,

And the night looks like a mellowed day!

The gracious Mistress of the Main

Hath now an undisturbéd reign,

And from her silent throne looks down,

As upon children of her own,

On the waves that lend their gentle breast

In gladness for her couch of rest!

My spirit sleeps amid the calm

The sleep of a new delight;

And hopes that she ne’er may wake again,

But forever hang o’er the lovely main,

And adore the lovely night.

Scarce conscious of an earthly frame,

She glides away like a lambent flame,

And in her bliss she sings;

Now touching softly the ocean’s breast,

Now mid the stars she lies at rest,

As if she sailed on wings!

Now bold as the brightest star that glows

More brightly since at first it rose,

Looks down on the far-off flood,

And there, all breathless and alone,

As the sky where she soars were a world of her own

She mocketh that gentle mighty one

As he lies in his quiet mood.

“Art thou,” she breathes, “the tyrant grim

That scoffs at human prayers,

Answering with prouder roar the while,

As it rises from some lonely isle,

Through groans raised wild, the hopeless hymn

Of shipwrecked mariners?

Oh, thou art harmless as a child

Weary with joy, and reconciled

For sleep to change its play;

And now that night hath stayed thy race,

Smiles wander o’er thy placid face

As if thy dreams were gay.”

And can it be that for me alone

The main and heavens are spread?

Oh, whither, in this holy hour,

Have those fair creatures fled,

To whom the ocean-plains are given

As clouds possess their native heaven?

The tiniest boat, that ever sailed

Upon an inland lake,

Might through this sea without a fear

Her silent journey take,

Though the helmsman slept as if on land,

And the oar had dropped from the rowers’ hand.

How like a monarch would she glide,

While the husht billow kissed her side

With low and lulling tone,

Some stately ship, that from afar

Shone sudden, like a rising star,

With all her bravery on!

List! how in murmurs of delight

The blessed airs of heaven invite

The joyous bark to pass one night

Within their still domain!

O grief! that yonder gentle moon,

Whose smiles forever fade so soon,

Should waste such smiles in vain.

Haste! haste! before the moonshine dies

Dissolved amid the morning skies,

While yet the silvery glory lies

Above the sparkling foam;

Bright mid surrounding brightness, thou,

Scattering fresh beauty from thy prow,

In pomp and splendor come!

And lo! upon the murmuring waves

A glorious shape appearing!

A broad-winged vessel, through the shower

Of glimmering lustre steering!

As if the beauteous ship enjoyed

The beauty of the sea,

She lifteth up her stately head

And saileth joyfully.

A lovely path before her lies,

A lovely path behind;

She sails amid the loveliness

Like a thing with heart and mind.

Fit pilgrim through a scene so fair,

Slowly she beareth on;

A glorious phantom of the deep,

Risen up to meet the moon.

The moon bids her tenderest radiance fall

On her wavy streamer and snow-white wings,

And the quiet voice of the rocking sea

To cheer the gliding vision sings.

Oh, ne’er did sky and water blend

In such a holy sleep,

Or bathe in brighter quietude

A roamer of the deep.

So far the peaceful soul of heaven

Hath settled on the sea,

It seems as if this weight of calm

Were from eternity.

O world of waters! the steadfast earth

Ne’er lay entranced like thee!