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A Swimmer's Dream

A Swimmer's Dream - Algernon Charles Swinburne

 Somno mollior unda 

Dawn is dim on the dark soft water, 
Soft and passionate, dark and sweet. 
Love's own self was the deep sea's daughter, 
Fair and flawless from face to feet, 
Hailed of all when the world was golden, 
Loved of lovers whose names beholden 
Thrill men's eyes as with light of olden 
Days more glad than their flight was fleet. 

So they sang: but for men that love her, 
Souls that hear not her word in vain, 
Earth beside her and heaven above her 
Seem but shadows that wax and wane. 
Softer than sleep's are the sea's caresses, 
Kinder than love's that betrays and blesses, 
Blither than spring's when her flowerful tresses 
Shake forth sunlight and shine with rain. 

All the strength of the waves that perish 
Swells beneath me and laughs and sighs, 
Sighs for love of the life they cherish, 
Laughs to know that it lives and dies, 
Dies for joy of its life, and lives 
Thrilled with joy that its brief death gives -- 
Death whose laugh or whose breath forgives 
Change that bids it subside and rise. 

Hard and heavy, remote but nearing, 
Sunless hangs the severe sky's weight, 
Cloud on cloud, though the wind be veering 
Heaped on high to the sundawn's gate. 
Dawn and even and noon are one, 
Veiled with vapour and void of sun; 
Nought in sight or in fancied hearing 
Now less mighty than time or fate. 

The grey sky gleams and the grey seas glimmer, 
Pale and sweet as a dream's delight, 
As a dream's where darkness and light seem dimmer, 
Touched by dawn or subdued by night. 
The dark wind, stern and sublime and sad, 
Swings the rollers to westward, clad 
With lustrous shadow that lures the swimmer, 
Lures and lulls him with dreams of light. 

Light, and sleep, and delight, and wonder, 
Change, and rest, and a charm of cloud, 
Fill the world of the skies whereunder 
Heaves and quivers and pants aloud 
All the world of the waters, hoary 
Now, but clothed with its own live glory, 
That mates the lightning and mocks the thunder 
With light more living and word more proud. 

Far off westward, whither sets the sounding strife, 
Strife more sweet than peace, of shoreless waves whose glee 
Scorns the shore and loves the wind that leaves them free, 
Strange as sleep and pale as death and fair as life, 
Shifts the moonlight-coloured sunshine on the sea. 

Toward the sunset's goal the sunless waters crowd, 
Fast as autumn days toward winter: yet it seems 
Here that autumn wanes not, here that woods and streams 
Lose not heart and change not likeness, chilled and bowed, 
Warped and wrinkled: here the days are fair as dreams. 

O russet-robed November, 
What ails thee so to smile? 
Chill August, pale September, 
Endured a woful while, 
And fell as falls an ember 
From forth a flameless pile: 
But golden-girt November 
Bids all she looks on smile. 

The lustrous foliage, waning 
As wanes the morning moon, 
Here falling, here refraining, 
Outbraves the pride of June 
With statelier semblance, feigning 
No fear lest death be soon: 
As though the woods thus waning 
Should wax to meet the moon. 

As though, when fields lie stricken 
By grey December's breath, 
These lordlier growths that sicken 
And die for fear of death 
Should feel the sense requicken 
That hears what springtide saith 
And thrills for love, spring-stricken 
And pierced with April's breath. 

The keen white-winged north-easter 
That stings and spurs thy sea 
Doth yet but feed and feast her 
With glowing sense of glee: 
Calm chained her, storm released her, 
And storm's glad voice was he: 
South-wester or north-easter, 
Thy winds rejoice the sea. 

A dream, a dream is it all -- the season, 
The sky, the water, the wind, the shore? 
A day-born dream of divine unreason, 
A marvel moulded of sleep -- no more? 
For the cloudlike wave that my limbs while cleaving 
Feel as in slumber beneath them heaving 
Soothes the sense as to slumber, leaving 
Sense of nought that was known of yore. 

A purer passion, a lordlier leisure, 
A peace more happy than lives on land, 
Fulfils with pulse of diviner pleasure 
The dreaming head and the steering hand. 
I lean my cheek to the cold grey pillow, 
The deep soft swell of the full broad billow, 
And close mine eyes for delight past measure, 
And wish the wheel of the world would stand. 

The wild-winged hour that we fain would capture 
Falls as from heaven that its light feet clomb, 
So brief, so soft, and so full the rapture 
Was felt that soothed me with sense of home. 
To sleep, to swim, and to dream, for ever -- 
Such joy the vision of man saw never; 
For here too soon will a dark day sever 
The sea-bird's wing from the sea-wave's foam. 

A dream, and more than a dream, and dimmer 
At once and brighter than dreams that flee, 
The moment's joy of the seaward swimmer 
Abides, remembered as truth may be. 
Not all the joy and not all the glory 
Must fade as leaves when the woods wax hoary; 
For there the downs and the sea-banks glimmer, 
And here to south of them swells the sea.