But the old castle on the shattered shore—
Not the green refuge from the summer heat—
Drew forth our talk that day. For, as I said,
I asked her if she knew it. She replied,
“I know it well;” and added instantly:
“A woman used to live, my mother tells,
In one of its low vaults, so near the sea,
That in high tides and northern winds it was
No more a castle-vault, but a sea-cave!”
“I found there,” I replied, “a turret stair
Leading from level of the ground above
Down to a vault, whence, through an opening square,
Half window and half loophole, you look forth
Wide o’er the sea; but the dim-sounding waves
Are many feet beneath, and shrunk in size
To a great ripple. I could tell you now
A tale I made about a little girl,
Dark-eyed and pale, with long seaweed-like hair,
Who haunts that room, and, gazing o’er the deep,
Calls it her mother, with a childish glee,
Because she knew no other.” “This,” said she,
“Was not a child, but woman almost old,
Whose coal-black hair had partly turned to grey,
With sorrow and with madness; and she dwelt,
Not in that room high on the cliff, but down,
Low down within the margin of spring tides.”
And then she told me all she knew of her,
As we drove onward through the sunny day.
It was a simple tale, with few, few facts;
A life that clomb one mountain and looked forth;
Then sudden sank to a low dreary plain,
And wandered ever in the sound of waves,
Till fear and fascination overcame,
And led her trembling into life and joy.
Alas! how many such are told by night,
In fisher-cottages along the shore!
Farewell, old summer-day; I lay you by,
To tell my story, and the thoughts that rise
Within a heart that never dared believe
A life was at the mercy of a sea.
Aye as it listeth blows the listless wind,
Filling great sails, and bending lordly masts,
Or making billows in the green corn fields,
And hunting lazy clouds across the blue:
Now, like a vapour o’er the sunny sea,
It blows the vessel from the harbour’s mouth,
Out ’mid the broken crests of seaward waves,
And hovering of long-pinioned ocean birds,
As if the white wave-spots had taken wing.
But though all space is full of spots of white,
The sailor sees the little handkerchief
That flutters still, though wet with heavy tears
Which draw it earthward from the sunny wind.
Blow, wind! draw out the cord that binds the twain,
And breaks not, though outlengthened till the maid
Can only say, I know he is not here.
Blow, wind! yet gently; gently blow, O wind!
And let love’s vision slowly, gently die;
And the dim sails pass ghost-like o’er the deep,
Lingering a little o’er the vanished hull,
With a white farewell to the straining eyes.
For never more in morning’s level beam,
Will the wide wings of her sea-shadowing sails
From the green-billowed east come dancing in;
Nor ever, gliding home beneath the stars,
With a faint darkness o’er the fainter sea,
Will she, the ocean-swimmer, send a cry
Of home-come sailors, that shall wake the streets
With sudden pantings of dream-scaring joy.
Blow gently, wind! blow slowly, gentle wind!