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I lay afloat, in an idle boat
(A fisher-lad held the oar),
Off a Devon strand, and watch'd the grand
Old sea run up the shore.

 

The Welse coast slept, where the waters crept
Far out on the utmost rim;
Slept with its pines, in long, low lines,
Shadowy, grey, and dim.

 

Old Lundy lay some leagues away,
Guarding the middle sea;
A silver mist his low length kissed,
Yet rugged and cold look'd he.

 

And there, as I lay in that slate-bound bay,
While that fisher-lad sat by me,
A butterfly came, with wings aflame,
Fluttering out to sea.

 

From heather and broom, like a wing├Ęd bloom,
From fields where the charlock grew,
From cowslip cells, and hyacinth bells,
Over the foam he flew.

 

Does he seek a bride, on that far Welse side?
Does he dream, as he wanders o'er,
Of fairer flowers, and sunnier hours,
And love on a golden shore?

 

Does the wee thing own a sense unknown
To us, who are Nature's kings?
Can he hear the beat of his love's fair feet,
And the pulse of her luminous wings?

 

"Come back," I cry, "frail butterfly,
Come back to the land, and live!
Each cup of the fields rare nectar yields,
But what hath the sea to give?"

 

Still on he flies--I strain mine eyes--
"O fisher-lad, raise the mast;
The wind is hale, so set thy sail,
And follow far and fast."

 

We follow the flight of that thing of light,
Under the blue serene,
With only the flow, of the tide below,
And only the wind between.

 

Now over the foam, as seeking a home
In those cruel white blooms of the spray;
Now seeming to rest on a wave's curl'd crest,
And now up in the air, and away!

 

And ever he flew, and farther drew
From the fast-receding shore:
And ever we sped, but ever he fled
Fluttering on before.

 

"Turn, little one, turn where the clovers burn,
Where the speedwell waits in the lane,
To greet thee with eyes like April skies,
When April is on the wane.

 

"Though wondrous to thee are the fields of the sea,
Though the foam-flowers lightly blow,
Beware of their breath, there is death, chill death,
In the kiss of their tossing snow!

 

"Though the deeps laugh fair in the sunny air,
And the arm of the wind is strong,
Thou wilt find no rest in gulf or crest,
And the way is so long, so long!

 

"Stay, little one, stay!" But no backward way
Will those delicate wings pursue;
They throb through the haze, and part from my gaze,
Absorbed in the infinite blue.

 

And whether they pass'd to that shore at last,
That shore beyond the sea,
Or found a grave in the purple wave,
Can never be known to me.

* * * * *

Far lies the goal of the human soul,
And frail are the wings for flight,
And the way is so wide, and fierce is the tide,
And over all cometh the night.