Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Oceanica
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI.  1876–79.
Various Islands: Coral Reefs and Islands
The Coral Islands
Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834–1894)

DOWN in the Tropic sea,
  Where the water is warm and deep,
There are gardens fairer than any bee
  Ever saw in its honeyed sleep.
Flowers of crimson bright,        5
  And green and purple and blue,
In the waters deep which the golden light
  Of the sun sinks softly through.
And many a proud ship sails,
  And many a sea-bird flies,        10
And fishes swim with silvery scales,
  Above where that garden lies.
*        *        *        *        *
You have seen the bright red stem
  Of the wondrous coral tree;
But its living flowers,—you saw not them,—        15
  They died beneath the sea.
You have seen the coral white,
  The ghastly skeleton;
But the living flowers were a fairer sight
  That used to grow thereon.
*        *        *        *        *
When the lovely flowers are dead,
  And their substance wastes away,
Their skeletons lie on the ocean’s bed
  Like wrecks in slow decay.
And over their delicate bones,        25
  The streams of the lower deep
Lay sand and shell and polished stones
  In many a little heap.
*        *        *        *        *
And this goes on and on,
  And the creatures bloom and grow,        30
Till the mass of death they rest upon
  Comes upward from below.
And reefs of barren rocks,
  In blue unfathomed seas,
Give rest to the feet of emigrant flocks,        35
  But have no grass nor trees.
But still the breakers break,
  And white along the shore
The surf leaps high, and the waters make
  Strong barrows as before.        40
Like barrows made of old
  For ancient British chiefs,
Wherein they lie with torques of gold,
  Are those long coral reefs.
For many a hundred miles        45
  Those barren reefs extend,
Connecting distant groups of isles
  With paths from end to end.
*        *        *        *        *
And a thousand conscious flowers
  Open their fleshy leaves        50
To the ocean spray, whose snowy showers
  The thankful mouth receives.
Like the golden mouths that gape
  In the thrush’s happy nest,
Open those flowers of starry shape,        55
  When the sea disturbs their rest.
But when the reef has grown
  Above the highest tide,
It is a city of lifeless stone,
  Whose citizens have died.        60
For they cannot bear to be
  Where the waters never rise,
And each one, lifted from the sea
  To the parching sunshine, dies.
And bird or wave or wind        65
  Brings other seeds to sow;
And on the rock new tenants find
  A soil whereon to grow.
And they have other wants
  Than the flowers the ocean fed;        70
The hot sun nurses the living plants,
  And withers up the dead.
And then on the deepening mould
  Of many a hundred years,
When the coral rock is green and old,        75
  A stunted shrub appears;
And grasses tall and rank,
  And herbs that thickly teem
Out of the soil on a lake’s green bank,
  Or the margin of a stream.        80
Long ages pass,—those isles
  Have grown maturely fair;
Green forests wave, and summer smiles,
  And human homes are there.
*        *        *        *        *

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