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A Word Out of the Sea


OUT of the rocked cradle, Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle, Out of the boy's mother's womb, and from the nipples  
 of her breasts,
Out of the Ninth Month midnight, Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where  
 the child, leaving his bed, wandered alone, bare- 
 headed, barefoot,
Down from the showered halo, Up from the mystic play of shadows, twining and  
 twisting as if they were alive,
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries, From the memories of the bird that chanted to me, From your memories, sad brother—from the fitful  
 risings and fallings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon, late-risen, and  
 swollen as if with tears,
From those beginning notes of sickness and love, 
 there in the transparent mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart, never to  
23*   [ begin page 270 ]ppp.01500.278.jpg From the myriad thence-aroused words, From the word stronger and more delicious than any, From such, as now they start, the scene revisiting, As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing, Borne hither—ere all eludes me, hurriedly, A man—yet by these tears a little boy again, Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves, I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and here- 
Taking all hints to use them—but swiftly leaping  
 beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.


1ONCE, Paumanok, When the snows had melted, and the Fifth Month  
 grass was growing,
Up this sea-shore, in some briers, Two guests from Alabama—two together, And their nest, and four light-green eggs, spotted with  
And every day the he-bird, to and fro, near at hand, And every day the she-bird, crouched on her nest,  
 silent, with bright eyes,
And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never  
 disturbing them,
Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.
2 Shine! Shine! Pour down your warmth, great Sun! While we bask—we two together.   [ begin page 271 ]ppp.01500.279.jpg 3 Two together! Winds blow South, or winds blow North, Day come white, or night come black, Home, or rivers and mountains from home, Singing all time, minding no time, If we two but keep together. 4Till of a sudden, May-be killed, unknown to her mate, One forenoon the she-bird crouched not on the nest, Nor returned that afternoon, nor the next, Nor ever appeared again. 5And thenceforward, all summer, in the sound of the  
And at night, under the full of the moon, in calmer  
Over the hoarse surging of the sea, Or flitting from brier to brier by day, I saw, I heard at intervals, the remaining one, the  
The solitary guest from Alabama.
6 Blow! Blow! Blow up sea-winds along Paumanok's shore; I wait and I wait, till you blow my mate to me. 7Yes, when the stars glistened, All night long, on the prong of a moss-scallop'd stake, Down, almost amid the slapping waves, Sat the lone singer, wonderful, causing tears. 8He called on his mate, He poured forth the meanings which I, of all men,  
  [ begin page 272 ]ppp.01500.280.jpg 9Yes, my brother, I know, The rest might not—but I have treasured every note, For once, and more than once, dimly, down to the  
 beach gliding,
Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with  
 the shadows,
Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the  
 sounds and sights after their sorts,
The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing, I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair, Listened long and long.
10Listened, to keep, to sing—now translating the  
Following you, my brother.
11 Soothe! Soothe! Close on its wave soothes the wave behind, And again another behind, embracing and lapping,  
  every one close,
But my love soothes not me.
12 Low hangs the moon—it rose late, O it is lagging—O I think it is heavy with love. 13 O madly the sea pushes upon the land, With love—with love. 14 O night! O do I not see my love fluttering out there among the  
What is that little black thing I see there in the  
  [ begin page 273 ]ppp.01500.281.jpg 15 Loud! Loud! Loud I call to you my love! High and clear I shoot my voice over the waves, Surely you must know who is here, You must know who I am, my love. 16 Low-hanging moon! What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow? O it is the shape of my mate! O moon, do not keep her from me any longer. 17 Land! O land! Whichever way I turn, O I think you could give me  
  my mate back again, if you would,
For I am almost sure I see her dimly whichever way  
  I look.
18 O rising stars! Perhaps the one I want so much will rise with some  
  of you.
19 O throat! Sound clearer through the atmosphere! Pierce the woods, the earth, Somewhere listening to catch you must be the one I  
20 Shake out, carols! Solitary here—the night's carols! Carols of lonesome love! Death's carols! Carols under that lagging, yellow, waning moon! O, under that moon, where she droops almost down  
  into the sea!
O reckless, despairing carols.
  [ begin page 274 ]ppp.01500.282.jpg 21 But soft! Sink low — soft! Soft! Let me just murmur, And do you wait a moment, you husky-noised sea, For somewhere I believe I heard my mate responding  
  to me,
So faint—I must be still to listen, But not altogether still, for then she might not come  
  immediately to me.
22 Hither, my love! Here I am! Here! With this just-sustained note I announce myself to  
This gentle call is for you, my love.
23 Do not be decoyed elsewhere! That is the whistle of the wind—it is not my voice, That is the fluttering of the spray, Those are the shadows of leaves. 24 O darkness! O in vain! O I am very sick and sorrowful. 25 O brown halo in the sky, near the moon, drooping  
  upon the sea!
O troubled reflection in the sea! O throat! O throbbing heart! O all—and I singing uselessly all the night.
26 Murmur! Murmur on! O murmurs—you yourselves make me continue to  
  sing, I know not why.
  [ begin page 275 ]ppp.01500.283.jpg 27 O past! O joy! In the air—in the woods—over fields, Loved! Loved! Loved! Loved! Loved! Loved—but no more with me, We two together no more. 28The aria sinking, All else continuing—the stars shining, The winds blowing—the notes of the wondrous bird  
With angry moans the fierce old mother yet, as ever,  
 incessantly moaning,
On the sands of Paumanok's shore gray and rustling, The yellow half-moon, enlarged, sagging down, droop- 
 ing, the face of the sea almost touching,
The boy extatic—with his bare feet the waves, with  
 his hair the atmosphere dallying,
The love in the heart pent, now loose, now at last  
 tumultuously bursting,
The aria's meaning, the ears, the Soul, swiftly depos- 
The strange tears down the cheeks coursing, The colloquy there—the trio—each uttering, The undertone—the savage old mother, incessantly  
To the boy's Soul's questions sullenly timing—some  
 drowned secret hissing,
To the outsetting bard of love.
29Bird! (then said the boy's Soul,) Is it indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it  
 mostly to me?
For I that was a child, my tongue's use sleeping, Now that I have heard you,   [ begin page 276 ]ppp.01500.284.jpg Now in a moment I know what I am for—I awake, And already a thousand singers—a thousand songs,  
 clearer, louder, more sorrowful than yours,
A thousand warbling echoes have started to life  
 within me,
Never to die.
30O throes! O you demon, singing by yourself—projecting me, O solitary me, listening—never more shall I cease  
 imitating, perpetuating you,
Never more shall I escape, Never more shall the reverberations, Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent  
 from me,
Never again leave me to be the peaceful child I was  
 before what there, in the night,
By the sea, under the yellow and sagging moon, The dusky demon aroused—the fire, the sweet hell  
The unknown want, the destiny of me.
31O give me some clew! O if I am to have so much, let me have more! O a word! O what is my destination? O I fear it is henceforth chaos! O how joys, dreads, convolutions, human shapes, and  
 all shapes, spring as from graves around me!
O phantoms! you cover all the land, and all the sea! O I cannot see in the dimness whether you smile or  
 frown upon me;
O vapor, a look, a word! O well-beloved! O you dear women's and men's phantoms!
  [ begin page 277 ]ppp.01500.285.jpg 32A word then, (for I will conquer it,) The word final, superior to all, Subtle, sent up—what is it?—I listen; Are you whispering it, and have been all the time,  
 you sea-waves?
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?
33Answering, the sea, Delaying not, hurrying not, Whispered me through the night, and very plainly  
 before daybreak,
Lisped to me constantly the low and delicious word  
And again Death—ever Death, Death, Death, Hissing melodious, neither like the bird, nor like my  
 aroused child's heart,
But edging near, as privately for me, rustling at  
 my feet,
And creeping thence steadily up to my ears, Death, Death, Death, Death, Death.
34Which I do not forget, But fuse the song of two together, That was sung to me in the moonlight on Paumanok's  
 gray beach,
With the thousand responsive songs, at random, My own songs, awaked from that hour, And with them the key, the word up from the waves, The word of the sweetest song, and all songs, That strong and delicious word which, creeping to  
 my feet,
The sea whispered me.
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