A day-dream by the dark-blue deep; Was it a dream, or something more? I sat where Posilippo's steep, With its gray shelves, o'erhung the shore. On ruined Roman walls around The poppy flaunted, for 'twas May; And at my feet, with gentle sound, Broke the light billows of the bay. I sat and watched the eternal flow Of those smooth billows toward the shore, While quivering lines of light below Ran with them on the ocean-floor: Till, from the deep, there seemed to rise White arms upon the waves outspread, Young faces, lit with soft blue eyes, And smooth, round cheeks, just touched with red. Their long, fair tresses, tinged with gold, Lay floating on the ocean-streams, And such their brows as bards behold— Love-stricken bards—in morning dreams. Then moved their coral lips; a strain Low, sweet and sorrowful, I heard, As if the murmurs of the main Were shaped to syllable and word. "The sight thou dimly dost behold, Oh, stranger from a distant sky! Was often, in the days of old, Seen by the clear, believing eye. "Then danced we on the wrinkled sand, Sat in cool caverns by the sea, Or wandered up the bloomy land, To talk with shepherds on the lea. "To us, in storms, the seaman prayed, And where our rustic altars stood, His little children came and laid The fairest flowers of field and wood. "Oh woe, a long, unending woe! For who shall knit the ties again That linked the sea-nymphs, long ago, 257In kindly fellowship with men? "Earth rears her flowers for us no more; A half-remembered dream are we; Unseen we haunt the sunny shore, And swim, unmarked, the glassy sea. "And we have none to love or aid, But wander, heedless of mankind, With shadows by the cloud-rack made, With moaning wave and sighing wind. "Yet sometimes, as in elder days, We come before the painter's eye, Or fix the sculptor's eager gaze, With no profaner witness nigh. "And then the words of men grow warm With praise and wonder, asking where The artist saw the perfect form He copied forth in lines so fair." As thus they spoke, with wavering sweep Floated the graceful forms away; Dimmer and dimmer, through the deep, I saw the white arms gleam and play. Fainter and fainter, on mine ear, Fell the soft accents of their speech, Till I, at last, could only hear The waves run murmuring up the beach.
Enjoy reading The American Literary Blog to discover what inspired Bryant's poem and his love of Italy and its seashore.
Return to the William Cullen Bryant library , or . . . Read the next poem; A Winter Piece