Creatures of the Waters


Sea of the brine of life!
The vague and vast suggestions of the briny world,
Sea-water and all living below it—
Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick tangle openings, and pink turf,
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, grass, rushes,
Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling close to the bottom.

I saw in the stream shimmer of waters with fish in them,
Myriads of little fish endeavoring to get up, but balked by an obstruction,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, apparently in council, as if at a loss what to do.
Directly two or three large eels crawled lazily along, wriggling their tails, and sucking up whatever they found on the bottom,
Then came a couple of little black fish; after which a real big one, opening his great white mouth, and behaving in a very hoggish manner.
Had I possessed a hook and line, there is no telling what feats might have been performed.

Also, there were crabs, and divers small fry,
The leaden-eyed shark, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,
Afar on arctic ice the she-walrus lying drowsily while her cubs play around,
The sperm whale at the surface blowing air and spray,
The mountainous mass, lethargic, basking, or disporting with his flukes.
The she-whale swims with her calves and never forsakes them,
The ground-shark’s fin cuts like a black chip out of the water,
The neck of the long-lived swan is curving and winding,
The otter is feeding on fish.

Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths,
Breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do,
The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere,
The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.

O the strange fascination of half-known, half-impassable swamps,
There are the greenish waters, the resinous odor, the plenteous moss,
The water-plants with their graceful flat heads,
The piney odor and the gloom, the awful natural stillness, infested by reptiles,
Where the alligator in his tough pimples sleeps by the bayou,
Where the rattlesnake suns his flabby length on a rock,
Resounding with the bellow of the alligator and the whirr of the rattlesnake.

The yellow-crowned heron comes to the edge of the marsh at night and feeds upon small crabs,
Parties of snowy herons wading in the wet to seek worms and aquatic plants.
The beaver pats the mud with his paddle-tail,

The laughing-gull scoots by the slappy shore and laughs her near-human laugh;
In a lonesome inlet a sheldrake lost from the flock, sitting on the water rocking silently.

In the swamp in secluded recesses, a shy and hidden bird is warbling a song,
The hermit thrush from the swamp-cedars,
The singing thrush whose tones of joy and faith ecstatic,
Fail not to certify and cheer my soul.
Solitary, the unrivall’d one, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song, gurgle of thrush delicious.
I linger long to a delicious song-epilogue from some bushy recess off there in the swamp,
Wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
Repeated leisurely and pensively over and over again.

Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird, O singer bashful and tender,
Sing on dearest brother, sing from the swamps, the recesses,
Pour your chant from the bushes, limitless out of the dusk.
Warble your reedy song,
I hear your notes, I hear your call, O liquid and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul—O wondrous singer! you only I hear,
I come presently, I understand you,
For well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.

From deep secluded recesses, came the carol of the bird,
Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist and the swamp-perfume,

With pure deliberate notes spreading filling the night.
And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
And the charm of the carol rapt me—
He sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird,
The tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul.

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