A New Edition

The Neckan1

Matthew Arnold

IN SUMMER, on the headlands,
    The Baltic Sea along,
Sits Neckan with his harp of gold,
    And sings his plaintive song.

Green rolls beneath the headlands,
    Green rolls the Baltic Sea.
And there, below the Neckan’s feet,
    His wife and children be.

He sings not of the ocean,
    Its shells and roses pale.
Of earth, of earth the Neckan sings;
    He hath no other tale.

He sits upon the headlands,
    And sings a mournful stave
Of all he saw and felt on earth,
    Far from the green sea wave.

Sings how, a knight, he wander’d
    By castle, field, and town.—
But earthly knights have harder hearts
    Than the Sea Children own.

Sings of his earthly bridal—
    Priest, knights, and ladies gay.
‘And who art thou,’ the priest began,
    ‘Sir Knight, who wedd’st to-day?’—

‘I am no knight,’ he answer’d;
    ‘From the sea waves I come.’—
The knights drew sword, the ladies scream’d,
    The surplic’d priest stood dumb.

He sings how from the chapel
    He vanish’d with his bride,
And bore her down to the sea halls,
    Beneath the cold sea tide.

He sings how she sits weeping
    ’Mid shells that round her lie.
‘False Neckan shares my bed,’ she weeps;
    ‘No Christian mate have I.’—

He sings how through the billows
    He rose to earth again,
And sought a priest to sign the cross,
    That Neckan Heaven might gain.

He sings how, on an evening,
    Beneath the birch trees cool,
He sate and play d his harp of gold,
    Beside the river pool.

Beside the pool sate Neckan—
    Tears fill’d his cold blue eye.
On his white mule, across the bridge,
    A cassock’d priest rode by.

‘Why sitt’st thou there, O Neckan,
    And play’st thy harp of gold?
Sooner shall this my staff bear leaves,
    Than thou shalt Heaven behold.’—

But, lo, the staff, it budded!
    It green’d, it branch’d, it waved.
‘—O ruth of God,’ the preist cried out,
    ‘This lost sea-creature saved!’

The cassock’d priest rode onwards,
    And vanish’d with his mule.
And Neckan in the twilight grey
    Wept by the river pool.

He wept: ‘The earth hath kindness,
    The sea, the starry poles;
Earth, sea, and sky, and God above—
    But, ah, not human souls!’

In summer, on the headlands,
    The Baltic Sea along,
Sits Neckan with his harp of gold,
    And sings this plaintive song.

1.    This poem was first published in 1853, and reprinted in 1854 and 1857. There is a difference in these edition in that some contain extra parts ie. stanzas 14 and 16     [back]

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