A blupete Poetry pick

[Analysis - NO or YES.]

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sail the unshadowed main,--
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Well, now -- what is necessary (as is the case of all writings of the past) is to have some understanding of the time in which they are written. Oliver Wendell Holmes was of the 19th century; and, during this century, the last of the sailing ships cruised the world's oceans in search of trade. Imagine now - the large billowing sails and southern seas where spices were to be bought in exchange for goods coming off the newly developed industrial production lines of England or of the United States. These southern seas and islands, reached after many months of sailing, were filled with strange plants, animals and people: with which the 19th century industrialized man was not familiar. Strange, indeed, was that which was found on the southern continents; and strange, indeed, were the creatures found in southern seas. The nautilus was one of these, and many an idle sailor would spot this tiny shelled creature floating on the quiet sea. The nautilus is "a small dibranchiate cephalopod, the female of which is protected by a very thin, single-chambered, detached shell, and has webbed dorsal arms" - "purpled wings" formerly believed to be used to catch the wind and drive the nautilus along. The shell itself (like so many shelled creatures one might find along the seashore) is smooth and casts off a pearly iridescence, a purple hue. Many sea shells have this kind of surface (usually on the inside) and comes about as a result of a "nacreous concretion," a filmy layer of carbonate of lime of a hard and smooth texture often having a beautiful lustre: a true pearl is so formed. The nautilus, of course, took on mythical proportions when sailors told of their south sea adventures to eager listeners gathered around the fire on a cold winter's night, back in the northern ports of England or of the northeastern United States.]

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,--
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

The nautilus is difficult to find, though occasionally a nautilus shell of one that has died will be found, maybe floating on the ocean or maybe cast up on the shore. It is necessary to understand the anatomy of the nautilus. Though imperfectly understood by me, the nautilus outgrows its chamber and builds another a little larger and directly on top of its existing chamber and moves in to the new chamber upon completion. The chamber left behind is sealed off, adding, in the process, to its buoyancy. A series of chambers are thus built, in succession, over time, in a spiral fashion using its existing structure for support; the living creature only ever being present in the last and largest chamber.]

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn;
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:--

"Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn." In Greek and Roman mythology, Triton is the proper name of a sea-deity, son of Poseidon. He dwells in the sea and only rises to the surface to blow his horn, a shell much shaped like the nautilus. Sailors believe that Triton will come, if one prays, and will blow his horn "to still the blustering winds, and smooth the main." This line, "Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn," is made all the more interesting because of the use of the word, "wreathed." A chaplet, a garland or a wreath of flowers and leaves, twisted in a circle and worn on the head like a crown on the head has classically been worn or awarded as a mark of distinction and honour. Consider the nautilus: it has twisted itself and bends itself round a unique mathematical curve as it builds its chambered shell through the years. From Triton's horn comes the magic or mystery for which sailors will be found praying during a bad storm at sea: but it is from the nautilus' wreathed shell, as Holmes poetically tells us, which comes the answer to life's mystery: if we could but listen.]

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!

By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94).


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Peter Landry