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William Morris (1834-1896)

Iceland First Seen


              1Lo from our loitering ship a new land at last to be seen;
              2Toothed rocks down the side of the firth on the east guard a weary wide lea,
              3And black slope the hillsides above, striped adown with their desolate green:
              4And a peak rises up on the west from the meeting of cloud and of sea,
              5Foursquare from base unto point like the building of Gods that have been,
              6The last of that waste of the mountains all cloud-wreathed and snow-flecked and grey,
              7And bright with the dawn that began just now at the ending of day.

              8Ah! what came we forth for to see that our hearts are so hot with desire?
              9Is it enough for our rest, the sight of this desolate strand,
            10And the mountain-waste voiceless as death but for winds that may sleep not nor tire?
            11Why do we long to wend forth through the length and breadth of a land,
            12Dreadful with grinding of ice, and record of scarce hidden fire,
            13But that there 'mid the grey grassy dales sore scarred by the ruining streams
            14Lives the tale of the Northland of old and the undying glory of dreams?

            15O land, as some cave by the sea where the treasures of old have been laid,
            16The sword it may be of a king whose name was the turning of fight;
            17Or the staff of some wise of the world that many things made and unmade,
            18Or the ring of a woman maybe whose woe is grown wealth and delight.
            19No wheat and no wine grows above it, no orchard for blossom and shade;
            20The few ships that sail by its blackness but deem it the mouth of a grave;
            21Yet sure when the world shall awaken, this too shall be mighty to save.

            22Or rather, O land, if a marvel it seemeth that men ever sought
            23Thy wastes for a field and a garden fulfilled of all wonder and doubt,
            24And feasted amidst of the winter when the fight of the year had been fought,
            25Whose plunder all gathered together was little to babble about;
            26Cry aloud from thy wastes, O thou land, "Not for this nor for that was I wrought.
            27Amid waning of realms and of riches and death of things worshipped and sure,
            28I abide here the spouse of a God, and I made and I make and endure."

            29O Queen of the grief without knowledge, of the courage that may not avail,
            30Of the longing that may not attain, of the love that shall never forget,
            31More joy than the gladness of laughter thy voice hath amidst of its wail:
            32More hope than of pleasure fulfilled amidst of thy blindness is set;
            33More glorious than gaining of all thine unfaltering hand that shall fail:
            34For what is the mark on thy brow but the brand that thy Brynhild doth bear?
            35Love once, and loved and undone by a love that no ages outwear.

            36Ah! when thy Balder comes back, and bears from the heart of the Sun
            37Peace and the healing of pain, and the wisdom that waiteth no more;
            38And the lilies are laid on thy brow 'mid the crown of the deeds thou hast done;
            39And the roses spring up by thy feet that the rocks of the wilderness wore:
            40Ah! when thy Balder comes back and we gather the gains he hath won,
            41Shall we not linger a little to talk of thy sweetness of old,
            42Yea, turn back awhile to thy travail whence the Gods stood aloof to behold?

Notes

1] Morris visited Iceland in 1871 and 1873.

36] Balder is the god of light, whose death is the prelude to that of the rest of the gods.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Morris, Poems by the Way (London: Reeves and Turner, 1891). end M677 P64 1891 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto)
First publication date: 1891
RPO poem editor: P. F. Morgan
RP edition: 3RP 3.366.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Rhyme: ababacc


Other poems by William Morris