Last Songs from Vagabondia

by Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey


 

THE CITY IN THE SEA


 

ONCE of old there stood a fabled city
By the Breton sea,
Towered and belled and flagged and wreathed and pennoned
For the pomp of Yuletide revelry;
All its folk, adventurous, sea-daring,
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Gay as gay could be.

And at night when window, torch, and bonfire
Lighted up the sky,
Down the wind came galleon and pinnace,
Steered for that red lantern, riding high;

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Every brown hand hard upon the tiller,
Shore ward every eye.

Well I see that hardy Breton sailor
With the bearded lip,—
How he laughed out, holding his black racer

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Where the travelling sea-hills climb and slip,
Chased by storm and lighted on to haven,
Ship by homing ship.

Every sail came in, like deep-sea rovers
Who have heard afar

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Wild and splendid hyperborean rumours
Of a respite made to feud and war,—
Making port where sea-wreck and disaster
Should not vex them more.

What of Ys? Where was it when gray morning

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Gloomed o’er Brittany?
Smothered out in elemental fury,
Wrecked and whelmed in the engulfing sea,
To become the name of a sea-story
In lost legendry.
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In my heart there is a sunken city,
Wonderful as Ys.
All day long I hear the mellow tolling
Of its sweet-sad lonely bells of peace,
Rocked by tides that wash through all its portals
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Without let or cease.

Pale and fitful as the wan auroras
Are its nights and days;
In from nowhere flush the drafty sea-turns
By forgotten and neglected ways;

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Through the entries and the doors of being
That faint music strays;

Tolling back the wandered and the way-worn
From far alien lands;
Tolling back the gipsy child of beauty

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With mysterious and soft commands;
Tolling back the spirit that within me
Hears and understands.

Then some May night, with a scent of lilacs
In the magic air,

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Through the moonlight and the mad spring weather,
(Old love’s fervour and new love’s despair),
I go down to my familiar city,
Roaming court and square.

Of a sudden at a well-known corner,

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In the densest throng,
Unexpected at the very moment
As an April robin’s gush of song,
Some one smiles; and there’s the perfect comrade
I have missed so long.
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Then, at just the touch of hand on shoulder
Bidding grief be gone,
I forget the loneliness of travel
For the while the parted ways are one,—
Know the meaning of the world’s great gladness
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Underneath the sun.

That’s the story of my sounding sea-bells,
Chiming all night long,—
The eternal cadence of sea-sorrow
For Man’s lot and immemorial wrong,—

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The lost strain that haunts this human dwelling
With a ghost of song.

Nay, but is there any lost sea-city
Buried in the main,
Where we shall go down in days hereafter,

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Having said good-bye to grief and pain,
Joy and love at last made one with beauty,
Glad and free again?

You believe not? Hark, there comes the tolling
Of my bells once more,

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That far-heard and faint fantastic music
From my city by the perilous shore,
Sounding the imperious allegiance
I shall not deplore.