The Song of the Surf

Original Text: 
Poems, ed. Robert A. Thompson (London and Melbourne: A. H. Massina, 1920). Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), digital text sponsored by AustLit:
1White steeds of ocean, that leap with a hollow and wearisome roar
2On the bar of ironstone steep, not a fathom's length from the shore,
4When speech the harshest and roughest is seldom studied in vain?
5My ears are constantly smitten by that dreary monotone,
6In a hieroglyphic 'tis written -- 'tis spoken in a tongue unknown;
7Gathering, growing, and swelling, and surging, and shivering, say!
8What is the tale you are telling? what is the drift of your lay?
10You break, with a rainbow of glory, through the spray of your glittering tears.
12Or a wail of discordant sadness for the wrongs you never can right?
14For the bride, sitting sad, and single, and pale, by the flickering fire?
15For your ravenous pools of suction? for your shattering billow swell?
16For your ceaseless work of destruction? for your hunger insatiable?
17Not far from this very place, on the sand and the shingle dry,
18He lay, with his batter'd face upturned to the frowning sky.
19When your waters wash'd and swill'd high over his drowning head,
20When his nostrils and lungs were filled, when his feet and hands were as lead,
21When against the rock he was hurl'd, and suck'd again to the sea,
22On the shores of another world, on the brink of eternity,
23On the verge of annihilation, did it come to that swimmer strong,
24The sudden interpretation of your mystical weird-like song?
25'Mortal! that which thou askest, ask not thou of the waves;
26Fool! thou foolishly taskest us -- we are only slaves;
27Might, more mighty, impels us -- we must our lot fulfil,
28He who gathers and swells us curbs us, too, at His will.
29Think'st thou the wave that shatters questioneth His decree?
30Little to us matters, and naught it matters to thee.
31Not thus, murmuring idly, we from our duty would swerve,
32Over the world spread widely ever we labour and serve.


3] sophist: a person who reasons with clever but false arguments. Back to Line
9] hoary: grayish-white; (of a person) having gray or white hair; aged. Back to Line
11] paean: song of praise or triumph. Back to Line
13] ingle: a domestic fire or fireplace.
reft: robbed of something or someone by force. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867)
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: