Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 250. How I came to the Sea
Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
250. How I came to the Sea
By Arthur Edward Waite  (b. 1860)

A VOICE in the dark imploring,
  A sweet flute play’d in the light,
An organ pealing and pouring
  Through the world’s cathedral height—
And again the charge and the flight,        5
The clash and hurtle of fight.
O thou art grand, thou art lonely,
  In thy melody, in thy moan,
  With the sense of a world unknown
Filling the known world only!       10
Great voice, which invokes and urges
  The strenuous souls to strive,
Gather thy waves, thy surges;
  Thy breakers heap and drive,
  Thy long tides marshal and lead.       15
  The little ripple shall plead
In little whispers on golden sand;
And further out on the rocky strand,
Where white crests crumble and white spume scourges,
  Thy drums and tocsins and horns shall blow.       20
  Thy long reverberant beats shall come and go,
From where thy surf-line in sky-line merges
  To where, by sounding buffet and blow—
Blare of paeans and muffle of dirges—
  Capes which crumble and torn cliffs know       25
  The strength and stress of thine ebb and flow—
Waste and know thee and thee confess.
  We do not know thee, we own, we know;
But our soul’s might in thy might rejoices,
Our hearts respond to thy wild vast voices!       30
Thought with its fleetness swift wings from the course of thee;
  Tongues in the speech of thee;
  Hope at the source of thee;
Fire from the gleams of thee, strength from the force of thee;
  Width through the reach of thee:       35
Depth from thy deepness, unfathom’d by plummet,
And height from thy night-sky’s impervious summit—
  Omen and sign!
These have we drawn from thee, these do we bring to thee;
Nature’s great sacraments rise from and spring to thee.       40
  All other ministries—sun, when ’tis shrouded,
  Moon in the morning light meagre and pallid,
    Stars overclouded—
      All are invalid
  For spaces and seasons; but thou,       45
Thy greatest ministry is always now.
O sacramental sea, terrible sea,
Thine are the words of the mystery—
Grand-word and Pass-Word and Number thine,
  Grades and Degrees to the height advancing,       50
  And the golden dawn and the glory glancing
Far and away to the secret shrine!

There shall be no more sea, they say,
On Nature’s great coronation day,
  When the Bridegroom comes to the Bride.       55
Shall earth then lose her sacraments of tide—
Motion, measures tremendous, echoing far and long—
Glister, sparkle and glow, ring of an endless song?
O words prophetic, ye princes and priests attend;
This is the Quest’s end promised, the marvellous end       60
Of all our voyage and venture since time began.
To the Quest for ever the sea’s voice calleth man;
And this in a mystery-world, by only the side-light broken—
That a Quest there is and an end—is the single secret spoken
  All over that vibrant main:       65
Of the Quest for ever it tells, of the ends and dooms to gain.
I rise in the half-light early, I vest myself in haste;
I pass over highway and byway, the fielded land and the waste;
As much as a man may prosper, all eager I climb and go down,
For this day surely meseems that the Quest may receive a crown.       70
To and fro in the search I hurry, and some men bid me narrate
What means this fever, and why so eager, and whether their help I wait;
Not as yet they know of the Quest, although they are questing early and late.
And others, my brothers, the same great end pursuing,
Stop me and ask, What news? Fellow Craft, is there anything doing?       75
Is there light in the East anywhere, some sign set forth in a star,
Or a louder watchword utter’d from over the harbour bar?
And above the light swift music of all its fleeting joys
The world spreads daily through length and breadth, the great Quest’s rumour and noise.
Who sought it first, who longest, and who has attain’d almost?       80
All this in town and in village its heralds proclaim and post;
But the sun goes down and the night comes on for a space to quench endeavour,
While star after star through the spaces far shew the track of the Quest for ever!

But still, in the hush and the haunting, I stand, even I, by the shore,
And the sea in the sunshine crooning pervades me with deep unrest,       85
  For it speaks of the Quest, of the Quest—
With a torrent of tongues in a thousand tones
And a far-off murmur of viewless zones,
  Old and new, new and old, of the Quest;
          Amen, it speaks evermore!       90
The whole wide world of voice and of rushing sound
  You may seek through vainly,
    But never a voice is found
  To search the soul with such deep unrest,
    Or to speak of the Quest       95
      So plainly.
Then surely thither the Quest’s way lies
  And a man shall not err therein;
Yet not on the surface surely seen with eyes,
For thence the swallow has come and thereon the sea-mew flies;      100
And the haunting ships with tremulous sails, we learn,
For ever about it hover, pass to their place and return;
And over the wastes thereof the tempests ravage and burn,
  Or the sea-spouts spin.
    But not of these is the Quest;      105
  In the deep, in the deep it lies—
    Ah, let me plunge therein!
But the caves of the deep are silent, and the halls of the deep are still;
  Not there is the clarion bird
  Or the wind’s loud organ heard;      110
    No blythe voice cries on the hill.
A sail, a sail for the seaman, sailing East and West;
And a horse for the rover when he goeth over the dappled down and road!
But a man may better remain in his own abode
Who is vow’d to the wonderful end which crowns the Quest;      115
For sail and compass, and coach and steed and the rest,
The king’s highway, and the beaten track, and the great sea-road—
  Are these the way of the Quest?
Travel, travel and search, eyes that are eager glisten
  (To-day is perchance too late),      120
I stand on the marge and listen
  (To-morrow is stored with fate);
  I stand on the marge and wait.
I know that the deep, with its secret, is a sacramental hymn.
Enough that it speaks to me vaguely with meanings reserved and dim,      125
  Saga and rune of eld;
Enough that its volume and grandeur hint the great tale withheld;
While, far through the depth and the darkness, the echoing halls of the soul
  Reply to the roar and the roll,
    Themselves in the mystery-tongue,      130
    All the world over sung,
  As the sibyl awaking from dream
  In oracles hints at the theme
    That has never been spoken or spell’d.



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