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The Boat on the Serchio

[Published in part (lines 1-61, 88-118) by Mrs. Shelley, "Posthumous
Poems", 1824; revised and enlarged by Rossetti, "Complete Poetical
Works of P. B. S.", 1870.]

Our boat is asleep on Serchio's stream,
Its sails are folded like thoughts in a dream,
The helm sways idly, hither and thither;
Dominic, the boatman, has brought the mast,
And the oars, and the sails; but 'tis sleeping fast, _5
Like a beast, unconscious of its tether.

The stars burnt out in the pale blue air,
And the thin white moon lay withering there;
To tower, and cavern, and rift, and tree,
The owl and the bat fled drowsily. _10
Day had kindled the dewy woods,
And the rocks above and the stream below,
And the vapours in their multitudes,
And the Apennine's shroud of summer snow,
And clothed with light of aery gold _15
The mists in their eastern caves uprolled.

Day had awakened all things that be,
The lark and the thrush and the swallow free,
And the milkmaid's song and the mower's scythe
And the matin-bell and the mountain bee: _20
Fireflies were quenched on the dewy corn,
Glow-worms went out on the river's brim,
Like lamps which a student forgets to trim:
The beetle forgot to wind his horn,
The crickets were still in the meadow and hill: _25
Like a flock of rooks at a farmer's gun
Night's dreams and terrors, every one,
Fled from the brains which are their prey
From the lamp's death to the morning ray.

All rose to do the task He set to each, _30
Who shaped us to His ends and not our own;
The million rose to learn, and one to teach
What none yet ever knew or can be known.
And many rose
Whose woe was such that fear became desire;-- _35
Melchior and Lionel were not among those;
They from the throng of men had stepped aside,
And made their home under the green hill-side.
It was that hill, whose intervening brow
Screens Lucca from the Pisan's envious eye, _40
Which the circumfluous plain waving below,
Like a wide lake of green fertility,
With streams and fields and marshes bare,
Divides from the far Apennines--which lie
Islanded in the immeasurable air. _45

'What think you, as she lies in her green cove,
Our little sleeping boat is dreaming of?'
'If morning dreams are true, why I should guess
That she was dreaming of our idleness,
And of the miles of watery way _50
We should have led her by this time of day.'-

'Never mind,' said Lionel,
'Give care to the winds, they can bear it well
About yon poplar-tops; and see
The white clouds are driving merrily, _55
And the stars we miss this morn will light
More willingly our return to-night.--
How it whistles, Dominic's long black hair!
List, my dear fellow; the breeze blows fair:
Hear how it sings into the air--' _60

--'Of us and of our lazy motions,'
Impatiently said Melchior,
'If I can guess a boat's emotions;
And how we ought, two hours before,
To have been the devil knows where.' _65
And then, in such transalpine Tuscan
As would have killed a Della-Cruscan,

...

So, Lionel according to his art
Weaving his idle words, Melchior said:
'She dreams that we are not yet out of bed; _70
We'll put a soul into her, and a heart
Which like a dove chased by a dove shall beat.'

...

'Ay, heave the ballast overboard,
And stow the eatables in the aft locker.'
'Would not this keg be best a little lowered?' _75
'No, now all's right.' 'Those bottles of warm tea--
(Give me some straw)--must be stowed tenderly;
Such as we used, in summer after six,
To cram in greatcoat pockets, and to mix
Hard eggs and radishes and rolls at Eton, _80
And, couched on stolen hay in those green harbours
Farmers called gaps, and we schoolboys called arbours,
Would feast till eight.'

...

With a bottle in one hand,
As if his very soul were at a stand _85
Lionel stood--when Melchior brought him steady:--
'Sit at the helm--fasten this sheet--all ready!'

The chain is loosed, the sails are spread,
The living breath is fresh behind,
As with dews and sunrise fed, _90
Comes the laughing morning wind;--
The sails are full, the boat makes head
Against the Serchio's torrent fierce,
Then flags with intermitting course,
And hangs upon the wave, and stems _95
The tempest of the...
Which fervid from its mountain source
Shallow, smooth and strong doth come,--
Swift as fire, tempestuously
It sweeps into the affrighted sea; _100
In morning's smile its eddies coil,
Its billows sparkle, toss and boil,
Torturing all its quiet light
Into columns fierce and bright.

The Serchio, twisting forth _105
Between the marble barriers which it clove
At Ripafratta, leads through the dread chasm
The wave that died the death which lovers love,
Living in what it sought; as if this spasm
Had not yet passed, the toppling mountains cling, _110
But the clear stream in full enthusiasm
Pours itself on the plain, then wandering
Down one clear path of effluence crystalline
Sends its superfluous waves, that they may fling
At Arno's feet tribute of corn and wine;
Then, through the pestilential deserts wild
Of tangled marsh and woods of stunted pine,
It rushes to the Ocean.

NOTES:
_58-_61 List, my dear fellow, the breeze blows fair;
How it scatters Dominic's long black hair!
Singing of us, and our lazy motions,
If I can guess a boat's emotions.'--editions 1824, 1839.
_61-_67 Rossetti places these lines conjecturally between lines 51 and 52.
_61-_65 'are evidently an alternative version of 48-51' (A.C. Bradley).
_95, _96 and stems The tempest of the wanting in editions 1824, 1839.
_112 then Boscombe manuscript; until editions 1824, 1839
_114 superfluous Boscombe manuscript; clear editions 1824, 1839.
_117 pine Boscombe manuscript; fir editions 1824, 1839.


Percy Bysshe Shelley

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