Sonnets by the Night Sea

By George Sterling


Surely the dome of unremembered nights
    Was heavy with those stars! The peaceless sea,
    Casting in foam their fallen shafts to me
Makes ancient music to their awful heights.
O quenchless and insuperable lights!
    What life shall meet your gaze and thence go free
    From litten midnights of eternity
To havens open to your final flights?

Abides nor goal nor ultimate of peace,
    Nor lifts a beacon on the cosmic deep
        To guide our wandering world on seas sublime,
Nor any night to grant the soul release,
    Swung as a pendulum from life to sleep,
        From sleep to life, from Timelessness to Time.


Now, as I hear upon the caverned night
    The ocean's ceaseless and stupendous dirge,
    And one by one the stars approach its verge,
The deep seems all one prayer, and the light

Of farthest suns but questions for the sight
    Of men who yet may test the Dark, to urge
    Life's portent from the starlight and the surge,
And read the ancient Mystery aright.

Do blinded powers from their darkness seek,
    Through human sight, that secret to attain?
        From fonts how distant is the spirit fed?
And who are we? And is it we who speak
    The Why we utter to the night of pain,
        The Whither to the unresponding dead?


Thou seemest inexhaustible, O sea!
    And infinite of nature; yet I know
    That by divine permission could we go
Within thy sealed and silent deeps, and be

Of all thy glooms and treasuries made free,
    The soul at last each marvel would outgrow,
    Till each were vain as festal fires that glow
Beneath the stars' immortal scrutiny.

And were all alien worlds and suns laid bare
    Till Mystery their secret should declare,
        The finite soon its utmost would impart,
And sun nor world at last have power to thrill
    Man's wayward and insatiable heart,
        Which God and all His truth alone can fill.


The wind of night is like an ocean's ghost.
    The deep is greatly troubled. I, alone,
    See the wave shattered and the wave-crest thrown
Where pine and cypress hold their ancient post.

The sounds of war, the trampling of a host,
    Over the borders of the world are blown;
    The feet of armies deathless and unknown
Halt, baffled, at the ramparts of the coast.

Yea! and the Deep is troubled! In this heart
    Are voices of a far and shadowy Sea,
        Above whose wastes no lamp of earth shall gleam.
Farewells are spoken and the ships depart
    For that horizon and its mystery,
        Whose stars tell not if life, or death, is dream.


The wind of night is mighty on the deep—
    A presence haunting sea and land again.
    That wind upon the watery waste hath been;
That wind upon the desert soon shall sweep.

O vast and mournful spirit, wherefore keep
    Thy vigil at the fleeting homes of men,
    Who need no voice of thine to tell them when
Is come the hour to labor or to sleep?

From waste to waste thou goest, and art dumb
    Before the morning. Patient in her tree
        The bird awaits until thy strength hath passed,
Forgetting darkness when the day is come.
    With other tidings hast thou burdened me,
        Whom desolations harbor at the last.

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