Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
The Chambered Nautilus
By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)
  THIS is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
      Sails the unshadow’d main,—
      The venturous bark that flings
  On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
  In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,        5
      And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
  Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
      Wreck’d is the ship of pearl!
      And every chamber’d cell,        10
  Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
  As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
      Before thee lies reveal’d,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unseal’d!
  Year after year beheld the silent toil        15
      That spread his lustrous coil;
      Still, as the spiral grew,
  He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
  Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
      Built up its idle door,        20
Stretch’d in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
  Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
      Child of the wandering sea,
      Cast from her lap, forlorn!
  From thy dead lips a clearer note is born        25
  Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
      While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
  Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
      As the swift seasons roll!        30
      Leave thy low-vaulted past!
  Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
  Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
      Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!        35

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