Sunlight on the Sea

The Philosophy of a Feast

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:
1Make merry, comrades, eat and drink
2    (The sunlight flickers on the sea),
3The garlands gleam, the glasses clink,
4    The grape juice mantles fair and free,
5The lamps are trimm'd, although the light
6    Of day still lingers on the sky;
7We sit between the day and night,
8    And push the wine-flask merrily
9I see you feasting round me still,
10    All gay of heart and strong of limb;
11Make merry, friends, your glasses fill,
12    The lights are growing dim.
13I miss the voice of one I've heard
14    (The sunlight sinks upon the sea),
16    And shook the rafters with his glee;
18    By fickle fortune cross'd and flung;
19Far stouter heart than mine he's got
20    If now he sings as then he sung.
21Yet some must swim when others sink,
22    And some must sink when others swim;
23Make merry, comrades, eat and drink,
24    The lights are growing dim.
25I miss the face of one I've loved --
26    (The sunlight settles on the sea;)
27Long since to distant climes he roved;
28    He had his faults, and so have we;
29His name was mentioned here this day,
30    And it was coupled with a sneer;
31I heard, nor had I aught to say,
32    Though once I held his memory dear.
33Who cares, 'mid wines and fruits and flowers,
34    Though death or danger compass him,
35He had his faults, and we have ours,
36    The lights are growing dim.
37I miss the form of one I know --
38    (The sunlight wanes upon the sea)
39'Tis not so very long ago;
40    We drank his health with three-times-three,
41And we were gay when he was here;
42    And he is gone, and we are gay.
43Where has he gone? or far or near?
44    Good sooth, 'twere somewhat hard to say.
45You glance aside, you doubtless think
46    My homily a foolish whim,
47'Twill soon be ended, eat and drink,
48    The lights are growing dim.
49The fruit is ripe, the wine is red;
50    (The sunlight fades upon the sea.)
51To us the absent are the dead,
52    The dead to us must absent be.
53We, too, the absent ranks must join;
54    And friends will censure and forget:
55There's metal base in every coin;
56    Men vanish, leaving traces yet
57Of evil and of good behind,
58    Since false notes taint the skylark's hymn,
59And dross still lurks in gold refined --
60    The lights are growing dim.
61We eat and drink or ere we die,
62    (The sunlight flushes on the sea.)
63Three hundred soldiers feasted high
66    And shouted ere he drain'd the cup,
67'Ho! comrades, let us gaily dine --
69And if they leant upon a reed,
70    And if their reed was slight and slim,
72    The lights are growing dim.
73Make merry, comrades, eat and drink,
74    (The sunlight flashes on the sea;)
75My spirit is rejoiced to think
76    That even as they were so are we;
77For they, like us, were mortals vain,
78    The slaves to earthly passions wild,
79Who slept with heaps of Persians slain
80    For winding-sheets around them piled.
81The dead man's deeds are living still --
82    My Festive speech is somewhat grim --
83Their good obliterates their ill --
84    The lights are growing dim.
85We eat and drink, we come and go,
86    (The sunlight dies upon the open sea.)
87I speak in riddles. -- Is it so?
88    My riddles need not mar your glee;
89For I will neither bid you share
90    My thoughts, nor will I bid you shun,
91Though I should see in yonder chair
92    Th' Egyptian's muffled skeleton.
93One toast with me, your glasses fill,
94    Aye, fill them level with the brim,
96    The lights are growing dim.


15] blythe: happy or joyous. Back to Line
17] wot: have knowledge, know. Back to Line
64] Thermopylae: a narrow pass between the mountains and the sea in Greece which was the site of an unsuccessful stand by the Spartans against invading Persians in 480 B.C. Back to Line
65] Leonidas: heroic King of Sparta, who was killed at the battle of Thermopylae against the invading Persians in 480 B.C. Back to Line
68] Pluto: God of the underworld in the Greek tradition. Back to Line
71] Spartan: of or relating to the city-state of Sparta in ancient Greece; also (from the Spartan lifestyle): rigorously self-disciplined; simple, frugal or austere. Back to Line
95] De mortuis, nisi bonum, nil!; version of a Latin phrase meaning, approximately, "Speak no ill of the dead." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867)
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: