The Cities by the Sea


At Tyre and Sidon, and along the long Phoenician coast,
Driving in sunlight by the sea, the sunlight on the sea
A colour nowhere seen in poetry, but in the East
Easy to say, for there the values vary as the sea,
We saw the shoreline cities in their ruination dressed
Like risen shipwrecks, all their gear and tackle by the sea
Suppressed, and all their oyster glory merged with anchor rust,
Held in remembrance only by that glazed archaic sea,
Which seemed in sunlight more historic than the moon, and lost
In as deep reflection, for we heard voices from the sea
Mourning across the sand, like sound of singing from poor cast
Aways, or tolling bells far down the meditative sea.


        Time in the watered moonlight floats
        On kingdoms dredged from fishing boats.
        Salt-laved mosaics, scenes submarine,
        Gold heads garnished with electric green -
        Over them all the eel-grass grows.
        Do those lips seem a tidal rose?
        Lights up that eye, an evening star?
        Such metaphors, like oceans, are
        Implausible. Here lie the toys
        Left by the Iong-gone wandering boys.

        Always these random statues wear
        A calm, a gay, a forthright stare,
        As though they smiled at seeing where
        They are. The garlands in their hair
        No colder than the water-stair.
        Or the waves washing all night there,
        Or the moonlit lonely ocean air.
        Being beautiful, being rare,
        They have their quietude to share
        With those whose lives they linger near.

        Still there is silence, still the slow
        Sift of sand. The dune flowers blow
        Over the shattered flowers of stone.
        Sometimes a coin or small piece of bone
        Shines back at the moon. Sometimes the wind
        Falls, and shadows come untwined.
        Along the beach, beyond the waves,
        Acanthus leaves deck boatmen's graves,
        And in the swinging ebb-flow tide
        A king's tall column rolls aside.


Far from those famous fallen cities, which, for a moment, gave
Their wavering years of gold away, as we drove past that sea,
We find on barren beaches in the north new stones to save,
Mosaic memories cast before us by a childlike sea,
Still playing, heedless, through the sunken palaces, and, wave
On wave, reshaping classic images that once looked down upon
the sea.