Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > England
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV.  1876–79.
Alum Bay
Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795–1854)
Written at the Needles Hotel, Alum Bay, Isle of Wight

HOW simple in their grandeur are the forms
That constitute this picture! Nature grants
Scarce more than sternest cynic might desire,—
Earth, sea, and sky, and hardly lends to each
Variety of color; yet the soul        5
Asks nothing fairer than the scene it grasps
And makes its own forever! From the gate
Of this home-featured Inn, which nestling cleaves
To its own shelf among the downs, begirt
With trees which lift no branches to defy        10
The fury of the storm, but crouch in love
Round the low snow-white walls whence they receive
More shelter than they lend,—the heart-soothed guest
Views a furze-dotted common, on each side
Wreathed into waving eminences, clothed        15
Above the furze with scanty green, in front
Indented sharply to admit the sea,
Spread thence in softest blue,—to which a gorge
Sinking within the valley’s deepening green
Invites by grassy path; the Eastern down        20
Swelling with pride into the waters, shows
Its sward-tipped precipice of radiant white,
And claims the dazzling peak beneath its brow
Part of its ancient bulk, which hints the strength
Of those famed pinnacles that still withstand        25
The conquering waves, as fortresses maintained
By death-devoted troops, hold out awhile
After the game of war is lost, to prove
The virtue of the conquered.—Here are scarce
Four colors for the painter; yet the charm        30
Which permanence, mid worldly change, confers,
Is felt, if ever, here; for he who loves
To bid this scene refresh his inward eye
When far away, may feel it keeping still
The very aspect that it wore for him,        35
Scarce changed by Time or Season: Autumn finds
Scant boughs on which the lustre of decay
May tremble fondly; Storms may rage in vain
Above the clumps of sturdy furze, which stand
The Forest of the Fairies; Twilight gray        40
Finds in the landscape’s stern and simple forms
Naught to conceal; the Moon, although she cast
Upon the element she sways a track
Like that which slanted through young Jacob’s sleep
From heaven to earth, and fluttered at the soul        45
Of Shadow’s mighty Painter, who thence drew
Hints of a glory beyond shape, reveals
The clear-cut framework of the sea and downs
Shelving to gloom, as unperplexed with threads
Of pallid light, as when the summer’s noon        50
Bathes them in sunshine; and the giant cliffs
Scarce veiling more their lines of flint that run
Like veins of moveless blue through their bleak sides,
In moonlight than in day, shall tower as now
(Save when some moss’s slender stain shall break        55
Into the samphire’s yellow in mid-air,
To tempt some trembling life), until the eyes
Which gaze in childhood on them shall be dim.
  Yet deem not that these sober forms are all
That Nature here provides, although she frames        60
These in one lasting picture for the heart.
Within the foldings of the coast she breathes
Hues of fantastic beauty. Thread the gorge,
And, turning on the beach, while the low sea,
Spread out in mirrored gentleness, allows        65
A path along the curving edge, behold
Such dazzling glory of prismatic tints
Flung o’er the lofty crescent, as assures
The orient gardens where Aladdin plucked
Jewels for fruit no fable,—as if earth,        70
Provoked to emulate the rainbow’s gauds
In lasting mould, had snatched its floating hues
And fixed them here; for never o’er the bay
Flew a celestial arch of brighter grace
Than the gay coast exhibits; here the cliff        75
Flaunts in a brighter yellow than the stream
Of Tiber wafted; then with softer shades
Declines to pearly white, which blushes soon
With pink as delicate as Autumn’s rose
Wears on its scattering leaves; anon the shore        80
Recedes into a fane-like dell, where stained
With black, as if with sable tapestry hung,
Light pinnacles rise taper; further yet
Swells out in solemn mass a dusky veil
Of purple crimson,—while bright streaks of red        85
Start out in gleam-like tint, to tell of veins
Which the slow-winning sea, in distant times,
Shall bare to unborn gazers.
                        If this scene
Grow too fantastic for thy pensive thought,
Climb either swelling down, and gaze with joy        90
On the blue ocean, poured around the heights,
As it embraced the wonders of that shield
Which the vowed Friend of slain Patroclus wore,
To grace his fated valor; nor disdain
The quiet of the vale, though not endowed        95
With such luxurious beauty as the coast
Of Undercliff embosoms;—mid those lines
Of scanty foliage, thoughtful lanes and paths,
And cottage roofs, find shelter; the blue stream,
That with its brief vein almost threads the isle,        100
Flows blest with two gray towers, beneath whose shade
The village life sleeps trustfully,—whose rites
Touch the old weather-hardened fisher’s heart
With childlike softness, and shall teach the boy
Who kneels, a sturdy grandson, at his side,        105
When his frail boat amidst the breakers pants,
To cast the anchor of a Christian hope
In an unrippled haven. Then rejoice,
That in remotest point of this sweet isle,
Which with fond mimicry combines each shape        110
Of the Great Land that, by the ancient bond
(Sea-parted once, and sea-united now),
Binds her in unity,—a Spirit breathes
On cliff and tower and valley, by the side
Of cottage-fire, and the low grass-grown grave,        115
Of home on English earth, and home in heaven!

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