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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Longfellow and the Water-World
By William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)
 
From ‘Views and Reviews’

THE OCEAN as confidant, a Laertes that can neither avoid his Hamlets nor bid them hold their peace, is a modern invention. Byron and Shelley discovered it; Heine took it into his confidence and told it the story of his loves; Wordsworth made it a moral influence; Browning loved it in his way, but his way was not often the poet’s; to Matthew Arnold it was the voice of destiny, and its message was a message of despair; Hugo conferred with it as with a humble friend, and uttered such lofty things over it as are rarely heard upon the lips of man.  1
  And so with living lyrists, each after his kind. Lord Tennyson listens and looks until it strikes him out an undying note of passion, or yearning, or regret:—
  “Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me;”
Mr. Swinburne maddens with the wind and the sounds and the scent of it, until there passes into his verse a something of its vastness and its vehemency, the rapture of its inspiration, the palpitating, many-twinkling miracle of its light; Mr. William Morris has been taken with the manner of its melancholy; while to Whitman it has been “the great Camerado” indeed, for it gave him that song of the brown bird bereft of its mate, in whose absence the half of him had not been told to us.
  2
  But to Longfellow alone was it given to see that stately galley which Count Arnaldos saw; his only to hear the steersman singing that wild and wondrous song which none that hears it can resist, and none that has heard it may forget. Then did he learn the old monster’s secret—the word of his charm, the core of his mystery, the human note in his music, the quality of his influence upon the heart and the mind of man; and then did he win himself a place apart among sea poets. With the most of them it is a case of “Ego et rex meus”: it is “I and the sea, and my egoism is as valiant and as vocal as the other’s.” But Longfellow is the spokesman of a confraternity; what thrills him to utterance is the spirit of that strange and beautiful freemasonry established as long ago as when the first sailor steered the first keel out into the unknown, irresistible water-world, and so established the foundations of the eternal brotherhood of man with ocean. To him the sea is a place of mariners and ships. In his verse the rigging creaks, the white sail fills and crackles, there are blown smells of pine and hemp and tar; you catch the home wind on your cheeks; and old shipmen, their eyeballs white in their bronzed faces, with silver rings and gaudy handkerchiefs, come in and tell you moving stories of the immemorial, incommunicable deep. He abides in a port; he goes down to the docks, and loiters among the galiots and brigantines; he hears the melancholy song of the chanty-men; he sees the chips flying under the shipwright’s adze; he smells the pitch that smokes and bubbles in the caldron. And straightway he falls to singing his variations on the ballad of Count Arnaldos; and the world listens, for its heart beats in his song.  3
 
 
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