The Diapason of the Sea       

The pale sun rises and the pale sun sets;

The blistered lifeboats drift away in pairs;

The oyster opens like an eye; and nets

Bring up a treasure from the water-stairs.


A new beginning, but to what avail?

The words which follow are not those I meant -

As though the lifeboats suddenly should sail,

Without a course or compass, homeward bent.


But yet again the image differs from

The mould in which I thought to cast this work;

And in the sea as sudden changes come:

The four horizons, where the dolphins lurk


Within the river that runs round the world,

Remain as blank before the drifting boats

As does the paper sail the poem unfurled.

But still the chest, no longer freighted, floats.


And thus the oyster, once his anguish goes

To shine at night with moonlike splendour, may

Sink, unsung, to where the sea-stream flows;

For never do those blistered lifeboats stay


On one wave long enough but all there kneel.

And so what was not meant has come about.

The poem has sailed into a calm; the keel

Has scraped across the barrier-reef of doubt.


The sun, the lifeboats, and the oyster are

Caught in the nets that skeined the water-stairs.

Not now the last lights from a polar star,

But morning in the tropics, thanksgiving prayers.