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Hymn to the Sea*

By William Watson


GRANT, O regal in bounty, a subtle and delicate largess ;
    Grant an ethereal alms, out of the wealth of thy soul :
Suffer a tarrying minstrel, who finds and not fashions his
    Who, from the commune of air, cages the volatile
Here to capture and prison some fugitive breath of thy
    Thine and his own as thy roar lisped on the lips of a
Now while the vernal impulsion makes lyrical all that hath
    While, through the veins of the Earth, riots the ichor
    of Spring,


* Copyright in America by John Lane.

                        12 Hymn to the Sea

While, with throes, with raptures, with loosing of bonds,
    with unsealings,—
    Arrowy pangs of delight, piercing the core of the
Tremors and coy unfoldings, reluctances, sweet agitations,—
    Youth, irrepressibly fair, wakes like a wondering rose.


Lover whose vehement kisses on lips irresponsive are squan-
    Lover that wooest in vain Earth’s imperturbable heart ;
Athlete mightily frustrate, who pittest thy thews against
    Locked with fantastical hosts, bodiless arms of the
    sky ;
Sea that breakest for ever, that breakest and never art broken,
    Like unto thine, from of old, springeth the spirit of
Nature’s wooer and fighter, whose years are a suit and a
    All their hours, from his birth, hot with desire and with
    fray ;


                        By William Watson 13

Amorist agonist man, that immortally pining and striving,
    Snatches the glory of life only from love and from
    war ;
Man that, rejoicing in conflict, like thee when precipitate
    Charge after thundering charge, clangs on thy resonant
Seemeth so easy to shatter, and proveth so hard to be
    cloven ;
    Man whom the gods, in his pain, curse with a soul that
    endures ;
Man whose deeds, to the doer, come back as thine own
    Into thy bosom return, weepings of mountain and vale ;
Man with the cosmic fortunes and starry vicissitudes tangled,
    Chained to the wheel of the world, blind with the dust
    of its speed,
Even as thou, O giant, whom trailed in the wake of her
    Night’s sweet despot draws, bound to her ivory car ;
Man with inviolate caverns, impregnable holds in his nature,
    Depths no storm can pierce, pierced with a shaft of the
    sun ;


                        14 Hymn to the Sea

Man that is galled with his confines, and burdened yet more
    with his vastness,
    Born too great for his ends, never at peace with his
Man whom Fate, his victor, magnanimous, clement in
    Holds as a captive king, mewed in a palace divine :
Wide its leagues of pleasance, and ample of purview its
    windows ;
    Airily falls, in its courts, laughter of fountains at play ;
Nought, when the harpers are harping, untimely reminds
    him of durance ;
    None, as he sits at the feast, whisper Captivity’s name ;
But, would he parley with Silence, withdraw for awhile
    Forth to the beckoning world ‘scape for an hour and be
Lo, his adventurous fancy coercing at once and provoking,
    Rise the unscalable walls, built with a word at the
    prime ;
Lo, immobile as statues, with pitiless faces of iron,
    Armed at each obstinate gate, stand the impassable guards.


                        By William Watson 15


Miser whose coffered recesses the spoils of eternity cumber,
    Spendthrift foaming thy soul wildly in fury away,—
We, self-amorous mortals, our own multitudinous image
    Seeking in all we behold, seek it and find it in
    thee :
Seek it and find it when o’er us the exquisite fabric of
    Briefly perfect hangs, trembles and dulcetly falls ;
When the aërial armies engage amid orgies of music,
    Braying of arrogant brass, whimper of querulous reeds;
When, at his banquet, the Summer is purple and drowsed
    with repletion ;
    When, to his anchorite board, taciturn Winter repairs ;
When by the tempest are scattered magnificent ashes of
    Autumn ;
    When, upon orchard and lane, breaks the white foam
    of the Spring :
When, in extravagant revel, the Dawn, a bacchante up-
    Spills, on the tresses of Night, vintages golden and red ;


                        16 Hymn to the Sea

When, as a token at parting, munificent Day, for remem-
    Gives, unto men that forget, Ophirs of fabulous
    ore ;
When, invincibly rushing, in luminous palpitant deluge,
    Hot from the summits of Life, poured is the lava of
    noon ;
When, as yonder, thy mistress, at height of her mutable
    Wise from the magical East, comes like a sorceress
Ah, she comes, she arises,—impassive, emotionless, blood-
    Wasted and ashen of cheek, zoning her ruins with
Once she was warm, she was joyous, desire in her pulses
    abounding :
    Surely thou lovedst her well, then, in her conquering
    youth !
Surely not all unimpassioned, at sound of thy rough seren-
    She, from the balconied night, unto her melodist


                        By William Watson 17

Leaned unto thee, her bondsman, who keepest to-day her
    All for the sake of old love, dead at thy heart though it


Yea, it is we, light perverts, that waver, and shift our alle-
    giance ;
    We, whom insurgence of blood dooms to be barren
    and waste ;
We, unto Nature imputing our frailties, our fever and
    tumult ;
    We, that with dust of our strife sully the hue of her
Thou, with punctual service, fulfillest thy task, being con-
    stant ;
    Thine but to ponder the Law, labour and greatly
    obey :
Wherefore, with leapings of spirit, thou chantest the chant
    of the faithful,
    Chantest aloud at thy toil, cleansing the Earth of her
    stain ;


                        18 Hymn to the Sea

Leagued in antiphonal chorus with stars and the populous
    Following these as their feet dance to the rhyme of the
    Suns ;
Thou thyself but a billow, a ripple, a drop of that Ocean,
    Which, labyrinthine of arm, folding us meshed in its
Shall, as now, with elations, august exultations and ardours,
    Pour, in unfaltering tide, all its unanimous waves,
When, from this threshold of being, these steps of the
    Presence, this precinct,
    Into the matrix of Life darkly divinely resumed,
Man and his littleness perish, erased like an error and can-
Man and his greatness survive, lost in the greatness of

MLA citation:

Watson, William. “Hymn to the Sea.” The Yellow Book, vol. 5, April 1895, pp. 11-18. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.