Over the Sea our Galleys Went
Robert Browning, Paracelsus (1835).
1 Over the sea our galleys went,
2With cleaving prows in order brave,
3To a speeding wind and a bounding wave,
4 A gallant armament:
5Each bark built out of a forest-tree,
6 Left leafy and rough as first it grew,
7And nailed all over the gaping sides,
8Within and without, with black bull-hides,
9Seethed in fat and suppled in flame,
10To bear the playful billows' game:
11So, each good ship was rude to see,
12Rude and bare to the outward view,
13 But each upbore a stately tent
14Where cedar-pales in scented row
15Kept out the flakes of the dancing brine,
16And an awning drooped the mast below,
17In fold on fold of the purple fine,
18That neither noontide nor star-shine
19Nor moonlight cold which maketh mad,
20 Might pierce the regal tenement.
21When the sun dawned, oh, gay and glad
22We set the sail and plied the oar;
23But when the night-wind blew like breath,
24For joy of one day's voyage more,
25We sang together on the wide sea,
26Like men at peace on a peaceful shore;
27Each sail was loosed to the wind so free,
28Each helm made sure by the twilight star,
29And in a sleep as calm as death,
30We, the voyagers from afar,
31 Lay stretched along, each weary crew
32In a circle round its wondrous tent
33Whence gleamed soft light and curled rich scent,
34 And with light and perfume, music too:
35So the stars wheeled round, and the darkness past,
36And at morn we started beside the mast,
37And still each ship was sailing fast!
38 Now, one morn, land appeared!--a speck
39Dim trembling betwixt sea and sky:
40"Avoid it," cried our pilot, "check
41 The shout, restrain the eager eye!"
42But the heaving sea was black behind
43For many a night and many a day,
44And land, though but a rock, drew nigh;
45So, we broke the cedar pales away,
46Let the purple awning flap in the wind,
47 And a statue bright was on every deck!
48We shouted, every man of us,
49And steered right into the harbour thus,
50With pomp and paean glorious.
51A hundred shapes of lucid stone!
52 All day we built its shrine for each,
53A shrine of rock for every one,
54Nor paused we till in the westering sun
55 We sat together on the beach
56To sing because our task was done.
57When lo! what shouts and merry songs!
58What laughter all the distance stirs!
59A loaded raft with happy throngs
60Of gentle islanders!
61"Our isles are just at hand," they cried,
62 "Like cloudlets faint in even sleeping;
63Our temple-gates are opened wide,
64 Our olive-groves thick shade are keeping
65For these majestic forms"--they cried.
66Oh, then we awoke with sudden start
67From our deep dream, and knew, too late,
68How bare the rock, how desolate,
69Which had received our precious freight:
70 Yet we called out--"Depart!
71Our gifts, once given, must here abide.
72 Our work is done; we have no heart
73To mar our work,"--we cried.
Publication Start Year:
RPO poem Editors:
J. D. Robins