The Aeolian Harp

A poem by Herman Melville

At The Surf Inn

List the harp in window wailing
Stirred by fitful gales from sea:
Shrieking up in mad crescendo--
Dying down in plaintive key!

Listen: less a strain ideal
Than Ariel's rendering of the Real.
What that Real is, let hint
A picture stamped in memory's mint.

Braced well up, with beams aslant,
Betwixt the continents sails the Phocion,
For Baltimore bound from Alicant.
Blue breezy skies white fleeces fleck
Over the chill blue white-capped ocean:
From yard-arm comes--"Wreck ho, a wreck!"

Dismasted and adrift,
Longtime a thing forsaken;
Overwashed by every wave
Like the slumbering kraken;
Heedless if the billow roar,
Oblivious of the lull,
Leagues and leagues from shoal or shore,
It swims--a levelled hull:
Bulwarks gone--a shaven wreck,
Nameless and a grass-green deck.
A lumberman: perchance, in hold
Prostrate pines with hemlocks rolled.

It has drifted, waterlogged,
Till by trailing weeds beclogged:
Drifted, drifted, day by day,
Pilotless on pathless way.
It has drifted till each plank
Is oozy as the oyster-bank:
Drifted, drifted, night by night,
Craft that never shows a light;
Nor ever, to prevent worse knell,
Tolls in fog the warning bell.

From collision never shrinking,
Drive what may through darksome smother;
Saturate, but never sinking,
Fatal only to the other!
Deadlier than the sunken reef
Since still the snare it shifteth,
Torpid in dumb ambuscade
Waylayingly it drifteth.

O, the sailors--O, the sails!
O, the lost crews never heard of!
Well the harp of Ariel wails
Thought that tongue can tell no word of!

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