Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914)

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The Sonnet's Voice (A Metrical Lesson by the Seashore)

Yon silvery billows breaking on the beach
Fall back in foam beneath the star-shine clear,
The while my rhymes are murmuring in your ear
A restless lore like that the billows teach;
For on these sonnet-waves my soul would reach
From its own depths, and rest within you, dear,
As, through the billowy voices yearning here,
Great nature strives to find a human speech.
A sonnet is a wave of melody:
From heaving waters of the impassion'd soul
A billow of tidal music one and whole
Flows in the "octave;" then returning free,
Its ebbing surges in the "sestet" roll
Back to the deeps of Life's tumultuous sea.


I see thee pine like her in golden story
Who, in her prison, woke and saw, one day,
The gates thrown open--saw the sunbeams play,
With only a web 'tween her and summer's glory;
Who, when that web--so frail, so transitory
It broke before her breath--had fallen away,
Saw other webs and others rise for aye
Which kept her prison'd till her hair was hoary.
Those songs half-sung that yet were all-divine--
That woke Romance, the queen, to reign afresh--
Had been but preludes from that lyre of thine,
Could thy rare spirit's wings have pierced the mesh
Spun by the wizard who compels the flesh,
But lets the poet see how heav'n can shine.



The mirrored stars lit all the bulrush spears,
And all the flags and broad-leaved lily-isles;
The ripples shook the stars to golden smiles,
Then smoothed them back to happy golden spheres.
We rowed--we sang; her voice seemed, in mine ears,
An angel's, yet with woman's dearest wiles;
But shadows fell from gathering cloudy piles
And ripples shook the stars to fiery tears.

God shaped the shadows like a phantom boat
Where sate her soul and mine in Doom's attire;
Along the lily-isles I saw it float
Where ripples shook the stars to symbols dire;
We wept--we kissed, while starry fingers wrote,
And ripples shook the stars to a snake of fire.