Sea Drift is among the larger-scale musical works by the composer Frederick Delius. Completed in 1903-1904 and first performed in 1906, it is a setting for baritone, chorus and orchestra of words by Walt Whitman. Sea Drift takes its name from a section of Walt Whitman’s poetical compilation Leaves of Grass, Sea-Drift, which contains several poems about the sea or the shore. The text is drawn from the poem Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, though it does not use the full text.

Full Poem Text

"But now let us see how the Greeks named [poetry] and how they deemed of it. The Greeks called him [Greek], which name hath, as the most excellent, gone through other languages. It cometh of this word [Greek], which is “to make”; wherein I know not whether by luck or wisdom we Englishmen have met with the Greeks in calling him a maker. Which name how high and incomparable a title it is, I had rather were known by marking the scope of other sciences than by any partial allegation. There is no art delivered unto mankind that hath not the works of nature for his principal object, without which they could not consist, and on which they so depend as they become actors and players, as it were, of what nature will have set forth. So doth the astronomer look upon the stars, and, by that he seeth, set down what order nature hath taken therein. So do the geometrician and arithmetician in their divers sorts of quantities. So doth the musician in times tell you which by nature agree, which not. The natural philosopher thereon hath his name, and the moral philosopher standeth upon the natural virtues, vices, and passions of man; and “follow nature,” saith he, “therein, and thou shalt not err.” The lawyer saith what men have determined, the historian what men have done. The grammarian speaketh only of the rules of speech, and the rhetorician and logician, considering what in nature will soonest prove and persuade, thereon give artificial rules, which still are compassed within the circle of a question, according to the proposed matter. The physician weigheth the nature of man’s body, and the nature of things helpful or hurtful unto it. And the metaphysic, though it be in the second and abstract notions, and therefore be counted supernatural, yet doth he, indeed, build upon the depth of nature.
Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demi-gods, cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit. Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done; neither with pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-much-loved earth more lovely; her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden."

— Sir Phillip Sidney, In Defence of Poesy

"When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."

— Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things

Tags: poetry nature

Jonathan Swift’s Baucis and Philemon

IN ancient times, as story tells,

The saints would often leave their cells,

And stroll about, but hide their quality,

To try good people’s hospitality.

It happened on a winter night,

As authors of the legend write,

Two brother hermits, saints by trade,

Taking their tour in masquerade,

Disguised in tattered habits, went

To a small village down in Kent;

Where, in the strollers’ canting strain,

They begged from door to door in vain;

Tried every tone might pity win,

But not a soul would let them in.

Our wandering saints in woeful state,

Treated at this ungodly rate,

Having through all the village passed,

To a small cottage came at last,

Where dwelt a good honest old yeoman,

Called, in the neighbourhood, Philemon,

Who kindly did these saints invite

In his poor hut to pass the night;

And then the hospitable Sire

Bid goody Baucis mend the fire;

While he from out the chimney took

A flitch of bacon off the hook,

And freely from the fattest side

Cut out large slices to be fried;

Then stepped aside to fetch ‘em drink,

Filled a large jug up to the brink,

And saw it fairly twice go round;

Yet (what is wonderful) they found

'Twas still replenished to the top,

As if they ne’er had touched a drop

The good old couple were amazed,

And often on each other gazed;

For both were frightened to the heart,

And just began to cry, - What art!

Then softly turned aside to view,

Whether the lights were burning blue.

The gentle pilgrims soon aware on’t,

Told ‘em their calling, and their errant;

"Good folks, you need not be afraid,

We are but saints,” the hermits said;

"No hurt shall come to you or yours;

But, for that pack of churlish boors,

Not fit to live on Christian ground,

They and their houses shall be drowned;

Whilst you shall see your cottage rise,

And grow a church before your eyes.”

They scarce had spoke; when fair and soft,

The roof began to mount aloft;

Aloft rose every beam and rafter,

The heavy wall climbed slowly after.

The chimney widened, and grew higher,

Became a steeple with a spire.

The kettle to the top was hoist,

And there stood fastened to a joist;

But with the upside down, to show

Its inclination for below.

In vain; for a superior force

Applied at bottom, stops its coarse,

Doomed ever in suspense to dwell,

'Tis now no kettle, but a bell.

A wooden jack, which had almost

Lost, by disuse, the art to roast,

A sudden alteration feels,

Increased by new intestine wheels;

And what exalts the wonder more,

The number made the motion slower.

The flyer, though ‘t had leaden feet,

Turned round so quick, you scarce could see ‘t;

But slackened by some secret power,

Now hardly moves an inch an hour.

The jack and chimney near allied,

Had never left each other’s side;

The chimney to a steeple grown,

The jack would not be left alone;

But up against the steeple reared,

Became a clock, and still adhered;

And still its love to household cares

By a shrill voice at noon declares,

Warning the cook-maid not to burn

That roast meat which it cannot turn.

The groaning chair began to crawl,

Like a huge snail along the wall;

There stuck aloft in public view;

And with small change a pulpit grew.

The porringers, that in a row

Hung high, and made a glittering show,

To a less noble substance changed,

Were now but leathern buckets ranged.

The ballads pasted on the wall,

Of Joan of France, and English Moll,

Fair Rosamond, and Robin Hood,

The Little Children in the Wood,

Now seemed to look abundance better,

Improved in picture, size, and letter;

And high in order placed, describe

The heraldry of every tribe.

A bedstead of the antique mode,

Compact of timber, many a load,

Such as our ancestors did use,

Was metamorphosed into pews:

Which still their ancient nature keep,

By lodging folks disposed to sleep.

The cottage, by such feats as these,

Grown to a church by just degrees,

The hermits then desired their host

To ask for what he fancied most.

Philemon having paused a while,

Returned ‘em thanks in homely style;

Then said, “My house is grown so fine,

Methinks I still would call it mine:

I’m old, and fain would live at ease,

Make me the Parson, if you please.”

He spoke, and presently he feels

His grazier’s coat fall down his heels;

He sees, yet hardly can believe,

About each arm a pudding sleeve;

His waistcoat to a cassock grew,

And both assumed a sable hue;

But being old, continued just

As thread-bare, and as full of dust.

His talk was now of tithes and dues;

He smoked his pipe and read the news;

Knew how to preach old sermons next,

Vamped in the preface and the text;

At christenings well could act his part,

And had the service all by heart;

Wished women might have children fast,

And thought whose sow had farrowed last

Against Dissenters would repine,

And stood up firm for Right divine.

Found his head filled with many a system,

But classic authors, - he ne’er missed ‘em.

Thus having furbished up a parson,

Dame Baucis next they played their farce on.

Instead of home-spun coifs were seen

Good pinners edg’d with colberteen;

Her petticoat transformed apace,

Became black satin flounced with lace.

Plain Goody would no longer down,

'Twas Madam, in her grogram gown.

Philemon was in great surprise,

And hardly could believe his eyes,

Amazed to see her look so prim;

And she admired as much at him.

Thus, happy in their change of life,

Were several years this man and wife;

When on a day, which proved their last,

Discoursing o’er old stories past,

They went by chance amidst their talk,

To the church yard to take a walk;

When Baucis hastily cried out,

"My dear, I see your forehead sprout!"

"Sprout," quoth the man, "what’s this you tell us?

I hope you don’t believe me jealous,

But yet, methinks, I feel it true;

And really, yours is budding too -

Nay, - now I cannot stir my foot;

It feels as if ‘twere taking root.”

Description would but tire my Muse;

In short, they both were turned to Yews.

Old Goodman Dobson of the green

Remembers he the trees has seen;

He’ll talk of them from noon till night,

And goes with folks to show the sight;

On Sundays, after evening prayer,

He gathers all the parish there,

Points out the place of either Yew:

Here Baucis, there Philemon grew,

Till once a parson of our town,

To mend his barn, cut Baucis down;

At which, ‘tis hard to be believed

How much the other tree was grieved,

Grow scrubby, died a-top, was stunted:

So the next parson stubbed and burnt it.