Select Poems of Sidney Lanier

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Author: Sidney Lanier

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven [1]
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs, —
Emerald twilights, —
Virginal shy lights,
Wrought of the leaves to allure to the whisper of vows,
When lovers pace timidly down through the green colonnades
Of the dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods,
Of the heavenly woods and glades,
That run to the radiant marginal sand-beach within
The wide sea-marshes of Glynn; — [11]

Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire, —
Wildwood privacies, closets of lone desire,
Chamber from chamber parted with wavering arras of leaves, —
Cells for the passionate pleasure of prayer to the soul that grieves,
Pure with a sense of the passing of saints through the wood,
Cool for the dutiful weighing of ill with good; —

O braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine,
While the riotous noon-day sun of the June-day long did shine
Ye held me fast in your heart and I held you fast in mine;
But now when the noon is no more, and riot is rest, [21]
And the sun is a-wait at the ponderous gate of the West,
And the slant yellow beam down the wood-aisle doth seem
Like a lane into heaven that leads from a dream, —
Ay, now, when my soul all day hath drunken the soul of the oak,
And my heart is at ease from men, and the wearisome sound of the stroke
Of the scythe of time and the trowel of trade is low,
And belief overmasters doubt, and I know that I know,
And my spirit is grown to a lordly great compass within,
That the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn
Will work me no fear like the fear they have wrought me of yore [31]
When length was fatigue, and when breadth was but bitterness sore,
And when terror and shrinking and dreary unnamable pain
Drew over me out of the merciless miles of the plain, —

Oh, now, unafraid, I am fain to face
The vast sweet visage of space.
To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn,
Where the gray beach glimmering runs, as a belt of the dawn,
For a mete and a mark
To the forest-dark: —
So: [41]
Affable live-oak, leaning low, —
Thus — with your favor — soft, with a reverent hand,
(Not lightly touching your person, Lord of the land!)
Bending your beauty aside, with a step I stand
On the firm-packed sand,
Free
By a world of marsh that borders a world of sea.

Sinuous southward and sinuous northward the shimmering band
Of the sand-beach fastens the fringe of the marsh to the folds of the land.
Inward and outward to northward and southward the beach-lines
linger and curl [51]
As a silver-wrought garment that clings to and follows
the firm sweet limbs of a girl.
Vanishing, swerving, evermore curving again into sight,
Softly the sand-beach wavers away to a dim gray looping of light.
And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high?
The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky!
A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade,
Green, and all of a height, and unflecked with a light or a shade,
Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain,
To the terminal blue of the main.

Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea? [61]
Somehow my soul seems suddenly free
From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin,
By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.

Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free
Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!
Tolerant plains, that suffer the sea and the rains and the sun,
Ye spread and span like the catholic man who hath mightily won
God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain
And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain.

As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod, [71]
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In the freedom that fills all the space ’twixt the marsh and the skies:
By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod
I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God:
Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within
The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.

And the sea lends large, as the marsh: lo, out of his plenty the sea
Pours fast: full soon the time of the flood-tide must be:
Look how the grace of the sea doth go [81]
About and about through the intricate channels that flow
Here and there,
Everywhere,
Till his waters have flooded the uttermost creeks and the low-lying lanes,
And the marsh is meshed with a million veins,
That like as with rosy and silvery essences flow
In the rose-and-silver evening glow.
Farewell, my lord Sun!
The creeks overflow: a thousand rivulets run
’Twixt the roots of the sod; the blades of the marsh-grass stir; [91]
Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whirr;
Passeth, and all is still; and the currents cease to run;
And the sea and the marsh are one.

How still the plains of the waters be!
The tide is in his ecstasy.
The tide is at his highest height:
And it is night.

And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep
Roll in on the souls of men,
But who will reveal to our waking ken [101]
The forms that swim and the shapes that creep
Under the waters of sleep?
And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in
On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.

____
Baltimore, 1878.

Notes: The Marshes of Glynn

Although Dr. Callaway noted in his preface the importance of this poem,
he did not include it for lack of space. This would seem to indicate that when he published these "Selected Poems" in 1895,
"The Marshes of Glynn" had not yet achieved its later prominence as the greatest of Sidney Lanier’s poems — as now seems to be the opinion.
The setting of the poem is the salt marshes surrounding the coastal city of Brunswick, Georgia, which is in Glynn County — an area well deserving of the fame Lanier has given it — and it was intended as one installment in a series of "Hymns of the Marshes", of which four poems were completed.

The text is taken from the 1916 edition of "Poems of Sidney Lanier".

William Hayes Ward wrote of this poem: "How naturally his large faith in God finds expression in his `Marshes of Glynn’."

Edwin Mims, in his biography of Sidney Lanier, concludes by quoting this poem.
He writes:

"His best poems move to the cadence of a tune. . . . Sometimes, as in the `Marshes of Glynn’ and in the best parts of `Sunrise’, there is a cosmic rhythm that is like unto the rhythmic beating of the heart of God,
of which Poe and Lanier have written eloquently."

And later continues:

"Indeed, if one had to rely upon one poem to keep alive the fame of Lanier,
he could single out `The Marshes of Glynn’ with assurance that there is something so individual and original about it,
and that, at the same time, there is such a roll and range of verse in it,
that it will surely live not only in American poetry but in English.
Here the imagination has taken the place of fancy, the effort to do great things ends in victory, and the melody of the poem corresponds to the exalted thought. It has all the strong points of `Sunrise’,
with but few of its limitations. There is something of
Whitman’s virile imagination and Emerson’s high spirituality combined with the haunting melody of Poe’s best work. Written in 1878,
when Lanier was in the full exercise of all his powers,
it is the best expression of his genius and one of the few great American poems.

"The background of the poem — as of `Sunrise’ — is the forest,
the coast and the marshes near Brunswick, Georgia. Early in life
Lanier had been thrilled by this wonderful natural scenery,
and later visits had the more powerfully impressed his imagination.
He is the poet of the marshes as surely as Bryant is of the forests,
or Wordsworth of the mountains.

"The poet represents himself as having spent the day in the forest and coming at sunset into full view of the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes. The glooms of the live-oaks and the emerald twilights of the `dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods,’
have been as a refuge from the riotous noon-day sun. More than that,
in the wildwood privacies and closets of lone desire he has known the passionate pleasure of prayer and the joy of elevated thought.
His spirit is grown to a lordly great compass within, — he is ready for what Wordsworth calls a `god-like hour’."

Mr. Callaway also treats the poem in Part III of the `Introduction’.

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Chicago: Sidney Lanier, "The Marshes of Glynn," Select Poems of Sidney Lanier, ed. Callaway, Morgan, Jr., 1962- in Select Poems of Sidney Lanier (New York: George E. Wood, 1850), Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L2LWCIZWAQVLV64.

MLA: Lanier, Sidney. "The Marshes of Glynn." Select Poems of Sidney Lanier, edited by Callaway, Morgan, Jr., 1962-, in Select Poems of Sidney Lanier, New York, George E. Wood, 1850, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L2LWCIZWAQVLV64.

Harvard: Lanier, S, 'The Marshes of Glynn' in Select Poems of Sidney Lanier, ed. . cited in 1850, Select Poems of Sidney Lanier, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L2LWCIZWAQVLV64.