Henry Alford

(1810-1871 / England)

A Dream


The night that is now past hath been to me
A time of wakeful, sleepful fancies: oft
Have I been whirled aloft and rapt away
By some fierce gale: oft in some garden--plot
Laid, in the scent of woodbine and of lilac,
While the laburnum hung its yellow locks
Above me, prisoning in, with flowery chains,
A slumbrous nook, aglow with golden light
Before that night a weary time had past,
A night of anxious thoughts and frequent prayers:
And they have left their traces on my spirit,
Now that pure calm hath come, and thankful joy.
But most of all, one dream I will relate,
Of import not obscure:--'tis a strange tale--
An errant, broken tale; and as the tale,
The measure wanders. Listen: it ran thus.

The Dream

I.

Light was upon the sea,
The calm unbroken mirror
Of the level sea:
And ye might look around
For many a league each way,
And ye should see no moving thing,
Nor object that had shape:
But light upon the sea,--
The calm unbroken mirror
Of the level sea.

A dimple in the centre of the view:
And then a spreading circle,
One and then another,
Onward, outward spreading:
Even to the verge of heaven
Do those circles calmly roll;
And the sleeping light
Is all disquieted,
And leaps among the shining furrows
Of the waveful sea.

From the centre rising
Is a pillar mist--enwrapt,
A shining chrysalis
Of some being beautiful;
For, lo, the mist is clearing,
And a perfect form
Is hovering o'er the gently swelling waves;
A perfect form, but small
As is some fairy sprite
Of mediaeval tales.

II.

The mighty sea again.
And now the eastern sun
Shone freshly on the water,
That leapt and sparkled bright,
As joyous for the sheen;
Each wavelet had its crest
Of dancing shivering foam;
And far as ye might see
Into the glowing south
They chased each other merrily.
Not as before, unbounded
Was the gladsome sea:
A shore with beetling cliffs
Hung o'er the breaking spray,
And pure white sands beneath
Bordered a breezy bay;
And sporting on those sands
That same fair form I saw.

Now would he lie and gaze
Up to the deep--blue heaven;
Now count the sparkling stones
Within his infant reach;
Now listen the curved shells
Answering the ocean's roar;
Now would he tempt those waters
Unclothed and beautiful
As is some ancient marble
Of love's wingèd god,
And float in ecstasy
Over the floating waves,
And let them bear him onward
To the smooth sand's verge.

III.

I saw the sea again:
But it was now once more
The great unbounded ocean,
But not mirror--calm,
Nor in wavelets broken:
It was in tumult dire
Of angry tossing billows,
Like unquiet monsters
Rolling in their agony
Over their watery couch.

And ere I long had looked,
Again appeared that form,
Now stronger knit, and grown
Even to years mature.
His strength had trial sore;
For in that plunge of waters
A little boat he guided,
Rowing with all his power,
And guiding while he rowed.
Loud creaked his burdened barque
Not long: a crested billow
Fell headlong, and the vessel
Was seen no more; but him
I saw with vigorous stroke
Mounting the valley--sides
Between the towering waves.

IV.

Still the cliff--bounded sea.
And it was summer noon,
And all the land was still;
But on the water's face
The merry breeze was playing,
Whitening a chance wave here and there;
And the dipping sea--birds
Sported, and screamed around;
And numberless white sails
Spotted the pleasant water.
It was a sight of joy,
That made the bosom full.

Anon a gay and gallant boat
Flew by with canvas stretched
And straining to the wind,
Crushing each wave and making music harsh
As on its way it sped.
In it was that same form,
The spectre of my dream,
Now in mid years, and pale
Methought, and over--watched;
But he was not alone:
A light and lovely shape
Beside him sitting there
Steered that his boat along.

Right joyously she went,
And merry was the sound
Of voice, and voice replying,
Just wafted to my ears
As the trim vessel passed.

V.

'Tis evening on the sea.
The fiery orb of heaven
Hath hid his last bright twinkle
Under yon western line;
And no star yet looks forth
From the blank unvaried sky.
Again 'tis breathless calm
Upon the ocean's face;
And the gray mournful light
Lies still upon the water,
Save where the cliff high--turreted
Is imaged deep beneath.

Among the rocks surf--whitened,
Sitting, or wandering slow,
Was that same form again,
Alone, and sorrow--marked;
His eye was lustreless,
And ever and anon
He raised his hands aloft,
And spoke to one above him;
But, as it seemed, none heard,
For still he wandered sad,
And I could see the tears
Spring from his brimming eyes,
And fall upon those rocks.

And once again he looked
Into the fading sky,
Where one scarce--visible star
Had lit its twinkling lamp;
Which when he saw, he smiled,
And a more copious flood
Of tears rained down his cheek;
Till on those barren stones,
For very weariness of grief,
He laid him down to die.

VI.

It was the noon of night.
Upon the ocean's breast
The vast concave of heaven
Was downward imaged, bright
With throbbing stars: no rest
The roving eye might find;
Horizon there was none,
But vast infinitude
Spread over and below.

Down from the upper air
Self--poised a pillar glided,
Such as I saw erewhile,
But dark and mournful all:
Then first was manifest
The polished ocean--surface;
For into its calm breast
Passed this array of woe;
And I could see, as slow
It sunk, that same appearance,
But in a dismal garb
Of death--array. The sea
Closed over without noise.

My dream was done. But as I woke, clear sounds
As of celestial music were around me;
And spite of that last scene of death and woe,
My spirit was all--joyous; and the day
Throughout, some voice was sounding in my ear,
``He is not here, but risen!''

My dream was, Life!

Submitted: Monday, April 19, 2010

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