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Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)

The Marshes of Glynn


              1Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven
              2With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
              3   Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs, --
              4          Emerald twilights, --
              5          Virginal shy lights,
              6Wrought of the leaves to allure to the whisper of vows,
              7When lovers pace timidly down through the green colonnades
              8Of the dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods,
              9Of the heavenly woods and glades,
            10That run to the radiant marginal sand-beach within
            11The wide sea-marshes of Glynn; --

            12Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire, --
            13Wildwood privacies, closets of lone desire,
            14Chamber from chamber parted with wavering arras of leaves, --
            15Cells for the passionate pleasure of prayer to the soul that grieves,
            16Pure with a sense of the passing of saints through the wood,
            17Cool for the dutiful weighing of ill with good; --

            18O braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine,
            19While the riotous noon-day sun of the June-day long did shine
            20Ye held me fast in your heart and I held you fast in mine:
            21But now when the noon is no more, and riot is rest,
            22And the sun is a-wait at the ponderous gate of the West,
            23And the slant yellow beam down the wood-aisle doth seem
            24Like a lane into heaven that leads from a dream, --
            25Ay, now, when my soul all day hath drunken the soul of the oak,
            26And my heart is at ease from men, and the wearisome sound of the stroke
            27   Of the scythe of time and the trowel of trade is low,
            28   And belief overmasters doubt, and I know that I know,
            29   And my spirit is grown to a lordly great compass within,
            30That the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn
            31Will work me no fear like the fear they have wrought me of yore
            32When length was fatigue, and when breadth was but bitterness sore,
            33And when terror and shrinking and dreary unnamable pain
            34Drew over me out of the merciless miles of the plain, --

            35Oh, now, unafraid, I am fain to face
            36   The vast sweet visage of space.
            37To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn,
            38Where the gray beach glimmering runs, as a belt of the dawn,
            39   For a mete and a mark
            40       To the forest-dark: --
            41          So:
            42Affable live-oak, leaning low, --
            43Thus -- with your favor -- soft, with a reverent hand,
            44(Not lightly touching your person, Lord of the land!)
            45Bending your beauty aside, with a step I stand
            46On the firm-packed sand,
            47         Free
            48By a world of marsh that borders a world of sea.

            49   Sinuous southward and sinuous northward the shimmering band
            50   Of the sand-beach fastens the fringe of the marsh to the folds of the land.
            51Inward and outward to northward and southward the beach-lines linger and curl
            52As a silver-wrought garment that clings to and follows the firm sweet limbs of a girl.
            53Vanishing, swerving, evermore curving again into sight,
            54Softly the sand-beach wavers away to a dim gray looping of light.
            55And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high?
            56The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky!
            57A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade,
            58Green, and all of a height, and unflecked with a light or a shade,
            59Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain,
            60To the terminal blue of the main.

            61Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea?
            62   Somehow my soul seems suddenly free
            63From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin,
            64By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.

            65Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free
            66Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!
            67Tolerant plains, that suffer the sea and the rains and the sun,
            68Ye spread and span like the catholic man who hath mightily won
            69God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain
            70And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain.

            71As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
            72Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
            73I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
            74In the freedom that fills all the space 'twixt the marsh and the skies:
            75By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod
            76I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God:
            77Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within
            78The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.

            79And the sea lends large, as the marsh: lo, out of his plenty the sea
            80Pours fast: full soon the time of the flood-tide must be:
            81Look how the grace of the sea doth go
            82About and about through the intricate channels that flow
            83      Here and there,
            84          Everywhere,
            85Till his waters have flooded the uttermost creeks and the low-lying lanes,
            86And the marsh is meshed with a million veins,
            87That like as with rosy and silvery essences flow
            88In the rose-and-silver evening glow.
            89Farewell, my lord Sun!
            90The creeks overflow: a thousand rivulets run
            91'Twixt the roots of the sod; the blades of the marsh-grass stir;
            92Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whirr;
            93Passeth, and all is still; and the currents cease to run;
            94And the sea and the marsh are one.

            95How still the plains of the waters be!
            96The tide is in his ecstasy.
            97The tide is at his highest height:
            98And it is night.

            99And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep
          100Roll in on the souls of men,
          101But who will reveal to our waking ken
          102The forms that swim and the shapes that creep
          103Under the waters of sleep?
          104And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in
          105On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.

Notes

11] Glynn: east of Brunswick, Georgia.

14] arras: wall-hanging.

39] mete: boundary.

71] marsh-hen: moorhen.


Online text copyright © 2004, 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: Poems of Sidney Lanier, ed. Mary Day Lanier (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1885): 14-18.
First publication date: 1885
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2004
Recent editing: 1:2004/7/30


Other poems by Sidney Lanier