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Bayard Taylor

Jan. 11, 1825 - Dec 19, 1878


Ulysses (The headlands pale, the long, far-pointing cliffs)

by Bayard Taylor

The headlands pale, the long, far-pointing cliffs
Of Circe's isle, are fading on the sea.
Our oars are idle, for the rising wind,
Strong Auster, fills the sail: the galley's beak
From every billow tears the garland foam,
And trails the scattered sea-blooms in her wake.
We should be near the islands: look, my men,
You, Perimedes, look, whose hawk-eyes peer,
Deep-set, beneath their many-wrinkled lids,
Tell me if yon be shores which rather float
On the unburdened seas, the isles of heat,
Delusive vapor-lands that come and go,
Than rise from under, lifting solid fronts
To meet the turmoil of the changing tides.

A steady helm, my pilot! yonder lies
The broader channel: look not on the shores
That glimmering change from purple into green,
But mark the burning highway of the sun,
Now to his bath descending, -- follow that,
Straight through, and out on waters unexplored,
Ay, though we reach the Thunder's awful house,
The caverned hell of storms, than once touch keel
In these smooth harbors. Turn away your eyes,
My sailors, from the fair, fast-rising isles,
That drug the winds with many a musky flower
To sleep, that smooth the waters as with oil,
And open bowery laps of sunny coves,
To tempt your tempest-battered frames. And me,
Who never gave ye toils I did not share,
Or tasted pleasures I denied ye, -- who
In Chian ports the flaccid wine-skin filled,
And in the arms of soft lonian girls
Ye after storms long anchorage allowed, --
Me bind ye fast, here, at the mainmast's foot,
And stop my ears with wool, lest I should lose
The settled will that drives my purpose on,
And falter with slack sails, the shame of all,
Of ye, my men, and all who honored me,
Heroes and demigods, in Troy. For I,
Wiser than ye in scheming, stronger proved
In much endurance, have the keener sense
Of all delights and all indulgences,
The more temptation to forbidden lusts.
Let me not hear the singing from the isles,
Or see the Sirens, naked in the shade,
Spread their alluring couches!

Ye, who toiled
With me, whom now from Circe's sty I saved,
Whose fate and mine is one, hear these my words:
Brail up the slackened mainsail to the yard:
Strong Auster fails: in order sit ye down,
Each on his bench, within the hollow ship,
And smite the billows of the hoary sea!
Let the white blades of fir keep even time,
Rattling together, -- nor the helmsman fall
A hair's breadth from his course. It comes at last!
Whate'er you hear, the tasks I set perform
In order! Press the stoppers of my ears:
Nay, stop your own, -- your faces grow too keen, --
Your eyes are full of wild and hungry light.
Now, by Poseidon! my right arm is free,
Look shoreward, and I slay you! Orpheus, there,
Tightens the loose chords of his lyre: he leans
Against the spray-wet altar on the prow,
Gazing straight forward, as his soul were dropt
Into the ocean of the golden sky.
Ay, sing, and overtake it with your song,
And if the Sirens not more rugged be
Than pines of Thessaly, that left the hills
To hear your music, they will quit their isles,
Shorn of their spells, your captives, following us
In dumb subjection through the barren seas.


The Poet's Journal
Copyright 1863
Ticknor and Fields, Boston