The Surf Sprite.

A poem by Samuel Griswold Goodrich

I.

In the far off sea there is many a sprite,
Who rests by day, but awakes at night.
In hidden caves where monsters creep,
When the sun is high, these spectres sleep:
From the glance of noon, they shrink with dread,
And hide 'mid the bones of the ghastly dead.
Where the surf is hushed, and the light is dull,
In the hollow tube and the whitened skull,
They crouch in fear or in whispers wail,
For the lingering night, and the coming gale.
But at even-tide, when the shore is dim,
And bubbling wreaths with the billows swim,
They rise on the wing of the freshened breeze,
And flit with the wind o'er the rolling seas.


II.

At summer eve, as I sat on the cliff,
I marked a shape like a dusky skiff,
That skimmed the brine, toward the rocky shore
I heard a voice in the surge's roar
I saw a form in the flashing spray,
And white arms beckoned me away.
Away o'er the tide we went together,
Through shade and mist and stormy weather
Away, away, o'er the lonely water,
On wings of thought like shadows we flew,
Nor paused 'mid scenes of wreck and slaughter,
That came from the blackened waves to view.
The staggering ship to the gale we left,
The drifting corse and the vacant boat;
The ghastly swimmer all hope bereft
We left them there on the sea to float!
Through mist and shade and stormy weather,
That night we went to the icy Pole,
And there on the rocks we stood together,
And saw the ocean before us roll.
No moon shone down on the hermit sea,
No cheering beacon illumed the shore,
No ship on the water, no light on the lea,
No sound in the ear but the billow's roar!
But the wave was bright, as if lit with pearls,
And fearful things on its bosom played;
Huge crakens circled in foamy whirls,
As if the deep for their sport was made,
And mighty whales through the crystal dashed,
And upward sent the far glittering spray,
Till the darkened sky with the radiance flashed,
And pictured in glory the wild array.[A]


III.

Hast thou seen the deep in the moonlight beam,
Its wave like a maiden's bosom swelling?
Hast thou seen the stars in the water's gleam,
As if its depths were their holy dwelling?
We met more beautiful scenes that night,
As we slid along in our spirit-car,
For we crossed the South Sea, and, ere the light,
We doubled Cape Horn on a shooting star.
In our way we stooped o'er a moonlit isle,
Which the fairies had built in the lonely sea,
And the Surf Sprite's brow was bent with a smile,
As we gazed through the mist on their revelry.
The ripples that swept to the pebbly shore,
O'er shells of purple in wantonness played,
And the whispering zephyrs sweet odors bore,
From roses that bloomed amid silence and shade.
In winding grottos, with gems all bright,
Soft music trembled from harps unseen,
And fair forms glided on wings of light,
'Mid forests of fragrance, and valleys of green.
There were voices of gladness the heart to beguile,
And glances of beauty too fond to be true
For the Surf Sprite shrieked, and the Fairy Isle,
By the breath of the tempest was swept from our view.


IV.

Then the howling gale o'er the billows rushed,
And trampled the sea in its march of wrath;
From stooping clouds the red lightnings gushed,
And thunders moved in their blazing path.
'Twas a fearful night, but my shadowy guide
Had a voice of glee as we rode on the gale,
For we saw afar a ship on the tide,
With a bounding course and a fearless sail.
In darkness it came, like a storm-sent bird,
But another ship it met on the wave:
A shock a shout but no more we heard,
For they both went down to their ocean-grave!
We paused on the misty wing of the storm,
As a ruddy flash lit the face of the deep,
And far in its bosom full many a form
Was swinging down to its silent sleep.
Another flash! and they seemed to rest,
In scattered groups, on the floor of the tide:
The lover and loved, they were breast to breast,
The mother and babe, they were side by side.
The leaping waves clapped their hands in joy,
And gleams of gold with the waters flowed,
But the peace of the sleepers knew no alloy,
For all was hushed in their lone abode!


V.

On, on, like midnight visions, we passed,
The storm above, and the surge below,
And shrieking forms swept by on the blast,
Like demons speeding on errands of woe.
My spirit sank, for aloft in the cloud,
A Star-set Flag on the whirlwind flew,
And I knew that the billow must be the shroud
Of the noble ship and her gallant crew.
Her side was striped with a belt of white,
And a dozen guns from each battery frowned,
But the lightning came in a sheet of flame,[B]
And the towering sails in its folds were wound.
Vain, vain was the shout, that in battle rout,
Had rung as a knell in the ear of the foe,
For the bursting deck was heaved from the wreck,
And the sky was bathed in the awful glow!
The ocean shook to its oozy bed,
As the swelling sound to the canopy went,
And the splintered fires like meteors shed
Their light o'er the tossing element.
A moment they gleamed, then sank in the foam,
And darkness swept over the gorgeous glare
They lighted the mariners down to their home,
And left them all sleeping in stillness there!


VI.

The storm is hushed, and my vision is o'er,
The Surf Sprite changed to a foamy wreath,
The night is deepened along the shore,
And I thread my way o'er the dusky heath.
But often again I shall go to that cliff,
And seek for her form on the flashing tide,
For I know she will come in her airy skiff,
And over the sea we shall swiftly ride!

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