Christina Rossetti: Poems

Devotional Pieces: Sleep At Sea

Sound the deep waters:--

Who shall sound that deep?--

Too short the plummet,

And the watchmen sleep.

Some dream of effort

Up a toilsome steep;

Some dream of pasture grounds

For harmless sheep.

White shapes flit to and fro

From mast to mast; 10

They feel the distant tempest

That nears them fast:

Great rocks are straight ahead,

Great shoals not past;

They shout to one another

Upon the blast.

Oh, soft the streams drop music

Between the hills,

And musical the birds' nests

Beside those rills: 20

The nests are types of home

Love-hidden from ills,

The nests are types of spirits

Love-music fills.

So dream the sleepers,

Each man in his place;

The lightning shows the smile

Upon each face:

The ship is driving, driving,

It drives apace: 30

And sleepers smile, and spirits

Bewail their case.

The lightning glares and reddens

Across the skies;

It seems but sunset

To those sleeping eyes.

When did the sun go down

On such a wise?

From such a sunset

When shall day arise? 40

'Wake,' call the spirits:

But to heedless ears:

They have forgotten sorrows

And hopes and fears;

They have forgotten perils

And smiles and tears;

Their dream has held them long,

Long years and years.

'Wake,' call the spirits again:

But it would take 50

A louder summons

To bid them awake.

Some dream of pleasure

For another's sake;

Some dream, forgetful

Of a lifelong ache.

One by one slowly,

Ah, how sad and slow!

Wailing and praying

The spirits rise and go: 60

Clear stainless spirits

White as white as snow;

Pale spirits, wailing

For an overthrow.

One by one flitting,

Like a mournful bird

Whose song is tired at last

For no mate is heard.

The loving voice is silent,

The useless word; 70

One by one flitting

Sick with hope deferred.

Driving and driving,

The ship drives amain:

While swift from mast to mast

Shapes flit again,

Flit silent as the silence

Where men lie slain;

Their shadow cast upon the sails

Is like a stain. 80

No voice to call the sleepers,

No hand to raise:

They sleep to death in dreaming,

Of length of days.

Vanity of vanities,

The Preacher says:

Vanity is the end

Of all their ways.