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Poem by Richard Monckton Milnes

A Dream in a Gondola

I had a dream of waters: I was borne
Fast down the slimy tide
Of eldest Nile, and endless flats forlorn
Stretched out on either side,--
Save where from time to time arose
Red Pyramids, like flames in forced repose,
And Sphynxes gazed, vast countenances bland,
Athwart that river--sea and sea of sand.

It is the nature of the Life of Dream,
To make all action of our mental springs,
Howe'er unnatural, discrepant, and strange,
Be as the unfolding of most usual things;
And thus to me no wonder did there seem,
When, by a subtle change,
The heavy ample byblus--wingèd boat,
In which I lay afloat,
Became a deft canoe, light--wove
Of painted bark, gay--set with lustrous shells,
Faintingly rocked within a lonesome cove,
Of some rich island where the Indian dwells;
Below, the water's pure white light
Took colour from reflected blooms,
And, through the forest's deepening glooms,
Birds of illuminated plumes
Came out like stars in summer night:
And close beside, all fearless and serene,
Within a niche of drooping green,
A girl, with limbs fine--rounded and clear--brown,
And hair thick--waving down,
Advancing one small foot, in beauty stood,
Trying the temper of the lambent flood.

But on my spirit in that spicèd air
Embalmed, and in luxurious senses drowned,
Another change of sweet and fair
There passed, and of the scene around
Nothing remained the same in sight or sound:
For now the Wanderer of my dream
Was gliding down a fable--stream
Of long--dead Hellas, with much treasure
Of inworking thoughtful pleasure;
While the silver line meanders
Through the tall pink oleanders,
Through the wood of tufted rushes,
Through the arbute's ruby--bushes,
Voices of a happy hymn
Every moment grow less dim,
Till at last the slim caïque
(Hollowed from a single stem
Of a hill--brow's diadem)
Rests in a deep--dented creek
Myrtle--ambushed,--and above
Songs, the very breath of Love,
Stream from Temples reverend--old,
Porticoes of Doric mould,
Snow--white islands of devotion,
Planted in the rose and gold
Of the evening's aether--ocean;--
O joyant Earth! belovèd Grecian sky!
O favoured Wanderer--honoured dreamer I!

Yet not less favoured when awake,--for now,
Across my torpid brow
Swept a cool current of the young night's air,
With a sharp kiss, and there
Was I all clear awake,--drawn soft along
There in my own dear Gondola, among
The bright--eyed Venice isles,
Lit up in constant smiles.--
What had my thoughts and heart to do
With wild Egyptain bark, or frail canoe,
Or mythic skiff out of Saturnian days,
When I was there, with that rare scene to praise,
That Gondola to rest in and enjoy,
That actual bliss to taste without alloy?

Cradler of placid pleasures, deep delights,
Bosomer of the Poet's wearied mind,
Tempter from vulgar passions, scorns and spites,
Enfolder of all feelings that be kind!
Before our souls thy quiet motions spread,
In one great calm, one undivided plain,
Immediate joy, blest memories of the dead,
And iris--tinted forms of hope's domain,
Child of the still Lagoons!
Open to every show
Of summer sunsets and autumnal moons,
Such as no other space of world can know,--
Dear Boat, that makest dear
Whatever thou com'st near,--
In thy repose still let me gently roam,
Still on thy couch of beauty find a home;
Still let me share thy comfortable peace
With all I have of dearest upon Earth,
Friend, mistress, sister; and when death's release
Shall call my spirit to another birth,
Would that I might thus lightly lapse away,
Alone,--by moonlight,--in a Gondola.

Richard Monckton Milnes

Richard Monckton Milnes's other poems:
  1. London Churches
  2. The Subterranean River, At Cong
  3. Switzerland and Italy
  4. To the Moon of the South
  5. Valentia

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