When I awoke at last from the desperate dream
a morning mist was drifting off the islands.
I looked down on an empty beach—
saw rocks, saw birds, saw clumps of weed
and the mild waves rolling in.
The song—could I still be hearing it?—still
pierced me.

What else did I remember? Shapes of terror,
deep anguish, crazed pursuit.
I groaned, and strove to fight free of it all,
all but that song—voiceless, indeterminate—
which through the dream’s long sway had been transcending it
and now, it seemed, survived.
It came, I thought, from a place between sleep and waking.

I rose up then from the grass where I’d been lying
and stretched, and walked about,
and found close by, where the sparse soil edged the rocks,
the ancient image of a threshold god.
He was faceless now and seemingly abandoned—
but I prayed to him nonetheless.

“God of these shores, experienced, enduring—
assayer of all wayward, transient things—
modest master of the moment’s chances—
strengthen me, please, for onward voyaging.”
As I spoke the words a huge sleep overcame me,
and I dropped to the ground where I stood, and closed my eyes.


Hours later I emerged again from sleep
that seemed unsoiled, untroubled.
I stirred, turned on my side, felt a light breeze,
and opened fresher eyes to the brilliant day.
The sun rode high now and the song had ceased.
From near at hand, through the soft noonday hush,
I heard the gentle scuffling of the waves.

The wonder of the thing came over me:
what was this scene in which I found myself?
I got to my feet again and stared out seaward,
and saw far off beyond the watery dazzle
outlines of other islands, vague and still.
They seemed familiar, yet I could not place them.

I laughed to myself: I was lost.
And yet, being lost, I knew I had somehow arrived
at the place predestined and the time foretold.
The god stood by me still and I bowed to him,
and as I did, all at once the song was resumed—
not voiceless now, but fleshed in human tones.

The breeze blew fresh, and memories returned
of the man I had been in the days before the dream,
and tears poured down my cheeks as the song came closer.
I wept, and knew myself—and then I saw her,
white-robed and tall, walking the beach alone—
alone as every spirit is alone—
head thrown back, “trilling like a swan by Xanthos,”
that girl with splendid tawny hair …

Frederick Morgan

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 12 Number 1, on page 55
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