Monday, 13 July 2009

Graham Greene and A Passer-by by Robert Bridges

In a dream the author Graham Greene's mother appeared to him and read to him a poem which he had enjoyed as a boy. This so impressed Greene that he mentioned it in his posthumous dream diary, A World of My Own.

A Passer-by

Whither, O splendid ship, thy white sails crowding,
Leaning across the bosom of the urgent West,
That fearest not sea rising, nor sky clouding,
Whither away, fair rover, and what thy quest?
Ah! soon, when winter has all our vales opprest,
When skies are cold and misty, and hail is hurling,
Wilt thou glide on the blue Pacific, or rest
In a summer haven asleep, thy white sails furling.

I there before thee, in the country that well thou knowest,
Already arrived am inhaling the odorous air:
I watch thee enter unerringly where thou goest,
And anchor queen of the strange shipping there,
Thy sails for awnings spread, thy masts bare:
Nor is aught from the foaming reef to the snow-capped grandest
Peak, that is over the feathery palms, more fair
Than thou, so upright, so stately and still thou standest.

And yet, O splendid ship, unhailed and nameless,
I know not if, aiming a fancy, I rightly divine
That thou hast a purpose joyful, a courage blameless,
Thy port assured in a happier land than mine.
But for all I have given thee, beauty enough is thine,
As thou, aslant with trim tackle and shrouding,
From the proud nostril curve of a prow's line
In the offing scatterest foam, thy white sails crowding.

Robert Bridges (1844-1930)


  1. Somehow, poet, Robert Bridges is a poet it is easy to forget about. There is something very lyrical about this poem - it scans well and reading it out loud is so easy to do. It is the sort of poem which children used to learn for Sunday School Anniversary recitations - because it flows. That is not eant as a criticism - we learned some really good stuff in those days - I still remember huge chunks of the Rubyiat!

  2. It is of course a very meaningful poem from the point of view of Greene - his mother waits for him, watches over him and so on. When he read it as a child he imagined the ship, but when he heard it in an adult dream he imagined his mother sending him a personal message. Or so I believe.


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