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  Sleep At Sea  

 

Sound the deep waters:--
    Who shall sound that deep?--
Too short the plummet,
    And the watchmen sleep.
Some dream of effort
    Up a toilsome steep;
Some dream of pasture grounds
    For harmless sheep.

White shapes flit to and fro
    From mast to mast;
They feel the distant tempest
    That nears them fast:
Great rocks are straight ahead,
    Great shoals not past;
They shout to one another
    Upon the blast.

O, soft the streams drop music
    Between the hills,
And musical the birds' nests
    Beside those rills:
The nests are types of home
     Love-hidden from ills,
The nests are types of spirits
    Love-music fills.

So dream the sleepers,
    Each man in his place;
The lightning shows the smile
    Upon each face:
The ship is driving, driving,
    It drives apace:
And sleepers smile, and spirits
    Bewail their case.

The lightning glares and reddens
    Across the skies;
It seems but sunset
    To those sleeping eyes.
When did the sun go down
    On such a wise?
From such a sunset
    When shall day arise?

"Wake," call the spirits:
    But to heedless ears;
They have forgotten sorrows
    And hopes and fears;
They have forgotten perils
    And smiles and tears;
Their dream has held them long,
    Long years and years.

"Wake," call the spirits again:
    But it would take
A louder summons
    To bid them awake.
Some dream of pleasure
    For another's sake;
Some dream, forgetful
    Of a lifelong ache.

One by one slowly,
    Ah, how sad and slow!
Wailing and praying
    The spirits rise and go:
Clear stainless spirits,
    White,--as white as snow;
Pale spirits, wailing
    For an overthrow.

One by one flitting,
    Like a mournful bird
Whose song is tired at last
    For no mate heard.
The loving voice is silent,
    The useless word;
One by one flitting,
    Sick with hope deferred.

Driving and driving,
    The ship drives amain:
While swift from mast to mast
    Shapes flit again,
Flit silent as the silence
    Where men lie slain;
Their shadow cast upon the sails
    Is like a stain.

No voice to call the sleepers,
    No hand to raise:
They sleep to death in dreaming
    Of length of days.
Vanity of vanities,
    The Preacher says:
Vanity is the end
    Of all their ways.

       - Christina G. Rossetti


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