Winter on the Zuyder Zee
The world has grown unreal to-day
Far out upon the Zuyder Zee!
We drift towards a mystic isle,
With scarce a breath of wind the while.
I hear the murmur of the tide,
I hear you breathing at my side,
Far out upon the Zuyder Zee.
The drearness of this inland sea!
Doomed thus to lie eternally
A fettered slave, grown old between
The dykes and marshes low and green,
Devoid of wind to stir the deep
Forgotten heart, so long asleep,
Oh! sorrow-ladened Zuyder Zee!
This awful hush engulfing things!
The noon-tide hangs with outspread wings
Above the ship, all motionless.
The penitential sails confess
Their sad inertness, damp and brown,
From silent masts they ripple down
Towards the lifeless Zuyder Zee.
I almost think that you and I
Are floating on a haze of sky,
This is an unknown sphere of dreams,
Or else some region where the beams
Of daylight that have died unblessed
By some kind thought stray seeking rest,
Along the wastes of Zuyder Zee.
How strange to know that youth is ours!
That do we choose a world of flowers
And sunlight waiting to our hand
Is calling for some gladder land,
So easy to attain, yet lo!
We drift amid the mist and woe
Of winter on the Zuyder Zee.
Is there a subtle charm, when sad
Despairing nature makes the glad
Rejoicing spirit pause to think,
Of those dim depths to which may sink
The soul immortal? Where the mind
May grow as sodden as a wind
That dies upon the Zuyder Zee?
When all our loving and our will
To love for ever can't fulfil
Love's promises for age and death?
That like a hushed, unwholesome breath,
From off the marshes in the night
Steals forth, and all our past delight
Is colder than the Zuyder Zee?
The very thought that death is near
Perchance makes life seem doubly dear,
And love more urgent, since they two
May some day fade away, and you
Become a spectral memory,
Devoid of joy! and what of me
Oh! wise, world-weary Zuyder Zee?
Your endless depth of stark despair
But renders sunlit things more fair,
But makes the craving heart more strong
To grasp its pleasures, short or long,
While yet it is To-day, nor wait
Upon the will of doubtful fate,
Lest all emotion rendered numb
With long suppression should become
As you are, soulless Zuyder Zee !
from A Sheaf of Verses, 1908
[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]
Radclyffe Hall biography