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A Ballad Of Boding - Poem by Christina Georgina Rossetti (Christina Rossetti)

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There are sleeping dreams and waking dreams; What seems is not always as it seems. I looked out of my window in the sweet new morning, And there I saw three barges of manifold adorning Went sailing toward the East: The first had sails like fire, The next like glittering wire, But sackcloth were the sails of the least; And all the crews made music, and two had spread a feast. The first choir breathed in flutes, And fingered soft guitars; The second won from lutes Harmonious chords and jars, With drums for stormy bars: But the third was all of harpers and scarlet trumpeters; Notes of triumph, then An alarm again, As for onset, as for victory, rallies, stirs, Peace at last and glory to the vanquishers. The first barge showed for figurehead a Love with wings; The second showed for figurehead a Worm with stings; The third, a Lily tangled to a Rose which clings. The first bore for freight gold and spice and down; The second bore a sword, a sceptre, and a crown; The third, a heap of earth gone to dust and brown. Winged Love meseemed like Folly in the face; Stinged Worm meseemed loathly in his place; Lily and Rose were flowers of grace. Merry went the revel of the fire-sailed crew, Singing, feasting, dancing to and fro: Pleasures ever changing, ever graceful, ever new; Sighs, but scarce of woe; All the sighing Wooed such sweet replying; All the sighing, sweet and low, Used to come and go For more pleasure, merely so. Yet at intervals some one grew tired Of everything desired, And sank, I knew not whither, in sorry plight, Out of sight. The second crew seemed ever Wider-visioned, graver, More distinct of purpose, more sustained of will; With heads erect and proud, And voices sometimes loud; With endless tacking, counter-tacking, All things grasping, all things lacking, It would seem; Ever shifting helm, or sail, or shroud, Drifting on as in a dream. Hoarding to their utmost bent, Feasting to their fill, Yet gnawed by discontent, Envy, hatred, malice, on their road they went. Their freight was not a treasure, Their music not a pleasure; The sword flashed, cleaving through their bands, Sceptre and crown changed hands. The third crew as they went Seemed mostly different; They toiled in rowing, for to them the wind was contrary, As all the world might see. They labored at the oar, While on their heads they bore The fiery stress of sunshine more and more. They labored at the oar hand-sore, Till rain went splashing, And spray went dashing, Down on them, and up on them, more and more. Their sails were patched and rent, Their masts were bent, In peril of their lives they worked and went. For them no feast was spread, No soft luxurious bed Scented and white, No crown or sceptre hung in sight; In weariness and painfulness, In thirst and sore distress, They rowed and steered from left to right With all their might. Their trumpeters and harpers round about Incessantly played out, And sometimes they made answer with a shout; But oftener they groaned or wept, And seldom paused to eat, and seldom slept. I wept for pity watching them, but more I wept heart-sore Once and again to see Some weary man plunge overboard, and swim To Love or Worm ship floating buoyantly: And there all welcomed him. The ships steered each apart and seemed to scorn each other, Yet all the crews were interchangeable; Now one man, now another, —Like bloodless spectres some, some flushed by health,— Changed openly, or changed by stealth, Scaling a slippery side, and scaled it well. The most left Love ship, hauling wealth Up Worm ship's side; While some few hollow-eyed Left either for the sack-sailed boat; But this, though not remote, Was worst to mount, and whoso left it once Scarce ever came again, But seemed to loathe his erst companions, And wish and work them bane. Then I knew (I know not how) there lurked quicksands full of dread, Rocks and reefs and whirlpools in the water-bed, Whence a waterspout Instantaneously leaped out, Roaring as it reared its head. Soon I spied a something dim, Many-handed, grim, That went flitting to and fro the first and second ship; It puffed their sails full out With puffs of smoky breath From a smouldering lip, And cleared the waterspout Which reeled roaring round about Threatening death. With a horny hand it steered, And a horn appeared On its sneering head upreared Haughty and high Against the blackening lowering sky. With a hoof it swayed the waves; They opened here and there, Till I spied deep ocean graves Full of skeletons That were men and women once Foul or fair; Full of things that creep And fester in the deep And never breathe the clean life-nurturing air. The third bark held aloof From the Monster with the hoof, Despite his urgent beck, And fraught with guile Abominable his smile; Till I saw him take a flying leap on to that deck. Then full of awe, With these same eyes I saw His head incredible retract its horn Rounding like babe's new born, While silvery phosphorescence played About his dis-horned head. The sneer smoothed from his lip, He beamed blandly on the ship; All winds sank to a moan, All waves to a monotone (For all these seemed his realm), While he laid a strong caressing hand upon the helm. Then a cry well nigh of despair Shrieked to heaven, a clamor of desperate prayer. The harpers harped no more, While the trumpeters sounded sore An alarm to wake the dead from their bed: To the rescue, to the rescue, now or never, To the rescue, O ye living, O ye dead, Or no more help or hope for ever!— The planks strained as though they must part asunder, The masts bent as though they must dip under, And the winds and the waves at length Girt up their strength, And the depths were laid bare, And heaven flashed fire and volleyed thunder Through the rain-choked air, And sea and sky seemed to kiss In the horror and the hiss Of the whole world shuddering everywhere. Lo! a Flyer swooping down With wings to span the globe, And splendor for his robe And splendor for his crown. He lighted on the helm with a foot of fire, And spun the Monster overboard: And that monstrous thing abhorred, Gnashing with balked desire, Wriggled like a worm infirm Up the Worm Of the loathly figurehead. There he crouched and gnashed; And his head re-horned, and gashed From the other's grapple, dripped bloody red. I saw that thing accurst Wreak his worst On the first and second crew: Some with baited hook He angled for and took, Some dragged overboard in a net he threw, Some he did to death With hoof or horn or blasting breath. I heard a voice of wailing Where the ships went sailing, A sorrowful voice prevailing Above the sound of the sea, Above the singers' voices, And musical merry noises; All songs had turned to sighing, The light was failing, The day was dying— Ah me, That such a sorrow should be! There was sorrow on the sea and sorrow on the land When Love ship went down by the bottomless quicksand To its grave in the bitter wave. There was sorrow on the sea and sorrow on the land When Worm ship went to pieces on the rock-bound strand, And the bitter wave was its grave. But land and sea waxed hoary In whiteness of a glory Never told in story Nor seen by mortal eye, When the third ship crossed the bar Where whirls and breakers are, And steered into the splendors of the sky; That third bark and that least Which had never seemed to feast, Yet kept high festival above sun and moon and star. Christina Georgina Rossetti

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