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Sunlight on the Sea

[The Philosophy of a Feast]

 

MAKE merry, comrades, eat and drink

(The sunlight flickers on the sea),

The garlands gleam, the glasses clink,

The grape juice mantles fair and free,

The lamps are trimm'd, although the light

Of day still lingers on the sky ;

We sit between the day and night,

And push the wine-flask merrily

I see you feasting round me still,

All gay of heart and strong of limb ;

Make merry, friends, your glasses fill,

The lights are growing dim.

 

I miss the voice of one I've heard

(The sunlight sinks upon the sea),

He sang as blythe as any bird,

And shook the rafters with his glee ;

But times have changed with him, I wot,

By fickle fortune cross'd and flung ;

Far stouter heart than mine he's got

If now he sings as then he sung.

Yet some must swim when others sink,

And some must sink when others swim ;

Make merry, comrades, eat and drink,

The lights are growing dim.

 

I miss the face of one I've loved—

(The sunlight settles on the sea ;)

Long since to distant climes he roved ;

He had his faults, and so have we ;

His name was mentioned here this day,

And it was coupled with a sneer ;

I heard, nor had I aught to say,

Though once I held his memory dear.

Who cares, 'mid wines and fruits and flowers,

Though death or danger compass him,

He had his faults, and we have ours,

The lights are growing dim.

 

I miss the form of one I know—

(The sunlight wanes upon the sea)

'Tis not so very long ago ;

We drank his health with three-times-three,

And we were gay when he was here ;

And he is gone, and we are gay.

Where has he gone ? or far or near ?

Good sooth, 'twere somewhat hard to say.

You glance aside, you doubtless think

My homily a foolish whim,

'Twill soon be ended, eat and drink,

The lights are growing dim.

 

The fruit is ripe, the wine is red ;

(The sunlight fades upon the sea.)

To us the absent are the dead,

The dead to us must absent be.

We, too, the absent ranks must joinn ;

And friends will censure and forget :

There's metal base in every coin ;

Men vanish, leaving traces yet

Of evil and of good behind,

Since false notes taint the skylark's hymn,

And dross still lurks in gold refined—

The lights are growing dim.

 

We eat and drink or ere we die,

(The sunlight flushes on the sea.)

Three hundred soldiers feasted high

An hour before Thermopylae ;

Leonidas pour'd out the wine,

And shouted ere he drain'd the cup,

'Ho ! comrades, let us gaily dine—

This night with Pluto we shall sup ;'

And if they leant upon a reed,

And if their reed was slight and slim,

There's something good in Spartan creed—

The lights are growing dim.

 

Make merry, comrades, eat and drink,

(The sunlight flashes on the sea ;)

My spirit is rejoiced to think

That even as they were so are we ;

For they, like us, were mortals vain,

The slaves to earthly passions wild,

Who slept with heaps of Persians slain

For winding-sheets around them piled.

The dead man's deeds are living still—

My Festive speech is somewhat grim—

Their good obliterates their ill—

The lights are growing dim.

 

We eat and drink, we come and go,

(The sunlight dies upon the open sea.)

I speak in riddles.  Is it so ?

My riddles need not mar your glee ;

For I will neither bid you share

My thoughts, nor will I bid you shun,

Though I should see in yonder chair

Th' Egyptian's muffled skeleton.

One toast with me, your glasses fill,

Aye, fill them level with the brim,

De mortuis, nisi bonum, nil!

The lights are growing dim.

 

Published in 'Sea Spray and Smoke Drift' (1867).