Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Dream of the Sea
By Grenville Mellen (1799–1841)
 
  I DREAMT 1 that I went down into the sea
Unpain’d amid the waters—and a world
Of splended wrecks, formless and numberless,
Broke on my vision. It did seem the skies
Were o’er me pure as fancy—yet waves        5
Did rattle round my head, and fill mine ears
Like the measureless roar of the far fight
When battle has set up her trumpet shout!
I seem’d to breathe the air; and yet the sea
Kept dallying with my life as I sunk down.        10
’T was in the fitful fashion of a dream—
Water and air—walking, and yet no earth.
The deep seem’d bare and dry—and yet I went
With a rude dashing round my reeking face,
Until my outstretched and trembling feet        15
Stood still upon a bed of glittering pearls!
The hot sun was right over me, at noon—
Sudden it wither’d up the ocean—till
I seem’d amidst a waste of shapeless clay.
A thousand bones were whitening in his rays,        20
Mass upon mass,—confused and without end.
I walk’d on the parch’d wilderness, and saw
The hopeless beauty of a lifeless world!
Wealth that once made some poor vain heart grow lig
And leap with it into the flood, was there        25
Clutch’d in the last mad agony. And gold,
That makes of life a happiness and curse—
That vaunts on earth its brilliancy, lay here—
An outcast tyrant in his loneliness—
Beggar’d by jewels that ne’er shone through blood        30
Upon the brow of kings! Here there were all
The bright beginnings and the costly ends,
Which envied man enjoys and expiates,—
Splendor, and death—silence, and human hopes—
Gems, and smooth bones—life’s pageantry! the cross        35
That thought to save some wretch in his late need
Hugg’d in its last idolatry—all, all
Lay here in deathly brotherhood—no breath—
No sympathy—no sound—no motion—and no hope
I stood and listen’d,—        40
The eternal flood rush’d to its desolate grave!
And I could hear above me all the waves
Go bellowing to their bounds! Still I strode on,
Journeying amid the brightest of earth’s things
Where yet was never life, nor hope, nor joy!        45
My eye could not but look, and my ear hear;
For now strange sights, and beautiful, and rare,
Seem’d order’d from the deep through the rich prism
Above me—and sounds undulated through
The surges, till my soul grew mad with visions!        50
Beneath the canopy of waters I could see
Palaces and cities crumbled—and the ships
Sunk in the engorging whirlpool, while the laugh
Of revelry went wild along their decks, and ere
The oath was strangled in their swollen throats;—        55
For there they lay, just hurried to one grave
With horrible contortions and fix’d eyes
Waving among the cannon, as the surge
Would slowly lift them—and their streaming hair
Twining around the blades that were their pride.        60
  And there were two lock’d in each other’s arms,
And they were lovers!
Oh God, how beautiful! cheek to cheek
And heart to heart upon that splendid deep,
A bridal bed of pearls!—a burial        65
Worthy of two so young and innocent.
And they did seem to lie there, like two gems
The fairest in the halls of ocean—both
Sepulchred in love—a tearless death—one look,
One wish, one smile, one mantle for their shroud,        70
One hope, one kiss—and that not yet quite cold!
How beautiful to die in such fidelity!
E’er yet the curse has ripen’d, or the heart
Begins to hope for death as for a joy,
And feels its streams grow thicker, till they cloy        75
With wishes that have sicken’d and grown old.
I saw their cheeks were pure and passionless,
And all their love had pass’d into a smile,
And in that smile they died!
  Sudden a battle roll’d above my head,        80
And there came down a flash into the deep
Illumining its dim chambers—and it pass’d;
The waters shudder’d—and a thousand sounds
Sung hellish echoes through the cavern’d waste.
The blast was screaming on the upper wave,        85
And as I look’d above me I could see
The ships go booming through the murky storm,
Sails rent—masts staggering—and a spectre crew,—
Blood mingled with the foam bathing their bows,—
And I could hear their shrieks as they went on        90
Crying of murder to their bloody foes!
  A form shot downward close at my feet;
His hand still grasp’d the steel—and his red eye
Was full of curses even in his death;—
For he had been flung into the abyss        95
By fellow men before his heart was cold!
  Again I stood beside the lovely pair;—
The storm and conflict were as they ’d not been.
I stood and shriek’d and laugh’d, and yet no voice,
That I could hear, came in my madness;        100
It hardly seem’d that they were dead—so calm,
So beautiful! the sea-stars round them shone,
Like emblems of their souls so cold and pure!
The bending grass wept silent over them,
Truer than any friend on earth—their tomb        105
The jewelry of the ocean, and their dirge
The everlasting music of its roar.
  I seem’d to stand wretched in dreamy thought,
Cursing the constancy of human hearts
And vanity of human hopes—and felt        110
As I have felt on earth in my sick hours;—
How thankless was this legacy of breath
To those who knew the wo of a scathed brain!
Oh ocean—ocean! if thou coverest up
The ruins of a proud and broken soul,        115
And givest such peace and solitude as this,
Thy depths are heaven to man’s ingratitude
  I seem’d to struggle in an agony;
My streaming tears gush’d out to meet the wave;
I woke in terror, and the beaded sweat        120
Coursed down my temples like a very rain,
As though I had just issued from the sea!
 
Note 1. Mellen, son of the Hon. Prentiss Mellen, of Portland, Maine, was graduated at Harvard in 1818. He is now a lawyer, and resides at North Yarmouth in his native state. He is well known in the literary world by his various productions in prose and verse. As a poet, he sustains a high reputation. “Our Chronicle of ’26,” published in Boston, in 1827, is his largest work in poetry, though it is less popular than many of his smaller pieces. He is a writer of fertile imagination, and is peculiarly happy in the expression of tender and delicate sentiment. His writings manifest that he possesses learning as well as genuine talent, and were he to take a higher aim and form more exalted notions of his art, we venture to assure him that he might win a permanent fame. [back]
 
 
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