On the Mediterranean

Now it comes back again, the thought of peoples
In populous lands, who live and doubt and die,
Comes here in this small town with trivial steeples,
On the still gulf, beneath the foreign sky.

Dark-featured children gambol in the ocean,
The blistering light burns on the stony hills,
And tranquil women pass with cloud-like motion
O'er the wet sands; and pain my spirit fills

For stubborn silence of those rocky highlands,
Those simple fields I cannot understand,
And those half-glimpsed and enigmatic islands,
Which hang, a torment teasing the vexed land.

I think of thousand-citied, distant races,
Who in one baffling image ever change;
The hieroglyphic silence of old places
Our listening makes more taciturn and strange;

Of oceans, deserts, rivers, forests, mountains,
Seen but by vacant night, incurious day;
Deserted temples, palaces, gardens, fountains,
Left lying like wrecks of interrupted play

Why in our lonely, swiftly ended passion
Should we o'er such gigantic pathways move?
Stretch featureless space around us as a fashion,
And feel the fathomless tides of hate and love?

Why are all these in wild mutation shaken?
See, the sun, sinking, stains the ocean red.
In flames the vineyards sleep, the mountains waken,
And common crimson gilds each casual head!

We know not Him Who stretched in rapture o'er us
Mystery and Beauty; and with fear is fanned
Our trembling memory of the Hour which bore us,
And shut us 'twixt the bastions of the land.
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