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The Sea of Death

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A FRAGMENT

—Methought I saw
Life swiftly treading over endless space;
And, at her foot-print, but a bygone pace,
The ocean-past, which, with increasing wave,
Swallow’d her steps like a pursuing grave.
Sad were my thoughts that anchor’d silently
On the dead waters of that passionless sea,
Unstirr’d by any touch of living breath:
Silence hung over it, and drowsy Death,
Like a gorged sea-bird, slept with folded wings
On crowded carcases—sad passive things
That wore the thin grey surface, like a veil
Over the calmness of their features pale.

And there were spring-faced cherubs that did sleep
Like water-lilies on that motionless deep,
How beautiful! with bright unruffled hair
On sleek unfretted brows, and eyes that were
Buried in marble tombs, a pale eclipse!
And smile-bedimpled cheeks, and pleasant lips,
Meekly apart, as if the soul intense
Spake out in dreams of its own innocence:
And so they lay in loveliness, and kept
The birth-night of their peace, that Life e’en wept
With very envy of their happy fronts;
For there were neighbour brows scarr’d by the brunts
Of strife and sorrowing—where Care had set
His crooked autograph, and marr’d the jet
Of glossy locks with hollow eyes forlorn,
And lips that curl’d in bitterness and scorn—
Wretched,—as they had breathed of this world’s pain,
And so bequeath’d it to the world again
Through the beholder’s heart in heavy sighs.

So lay they garmented in torpid light,
Under the pall of a transparent night,
Like solemn apparitions lull’d sublime
To everlasting rest,—and with them Time
Slept, as he sleeps upon the silent face
Of a dark dial in a sunless place.

Source: Poets of the English Language (Viking Press, 1950)
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The Sea of Death

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  • An editor, publisher, poet, and humorist, Thomas Hood was born in London, the son of a bookseller. After his father died in 1811, Hood worked in a countinghouse until an illness forced him to move to Dundee, Scotland, to recover with relatives. In 1818 he returned to London to work as an engraver.
    In 1824 Hood married Jane Reynolds and collaborated on Odes and Addresses with his brother-in-law, J.H. Reynolds. Though he was known for his light verse and puns, Hood also depicted the working conditions of the poor in poems such as “Song of the Shirt,” about a seamstress, and “Song of the Labourer.” His publications include Whims and Oddities (1826 and 1827), National Tales (1827), a collection of stories, and The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies (1827). In the 1830s he traveled to continental Europe and lived with his family in Belgium, which provided inspiration for Up the Rhine...

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