MAY my words spell the truth of the ways I toiled
distraught, for days on end
enduring cares and bitter bale
within my breast, my keel cleaving
endless halls of heaving waves

I would often at the bark's bows wake
the strait night through, steering
her clear of clashing cliffs

Cold fetters froze my feet
and hunger seared my heart
with sore sea-weariness

That man lolling on fair land
has no earthly inkling of how I
a wretched wreck on ice-cold seas
weathered each winter
exiled from kith and kin

Hail scoured my skin, and hoar
hung heavy

All I ever heard along the ice-way
was sounding sea, the gannet's shanty
whooper and curlew calls and mewling gull
were all my gaming, mead and mirth
At tempest-tested granite crags
the ice-winged tern would taunt
spray-feathered ospreys overhead
would soar and scream

No kinsman near to fend off need
no one to comfort or console

That fine fellow, carefree in his cups
set snugly up in town, cannot conceive
the load I hauled along the sea-lanes

The dark night deepens, northern snow
hardens the soil and hail hits earth
like cold corn

Yet my heart hammers now, yearning anew
wanting the steep salt-water road
longing with lust to roam rough seas, alone
to seek out some far foreign shore

The mood to wander mills within my mind

But none on earth may be so proud
so prodigal or yare in youth
nor so express in action
nor smiled on by so mild a master
that he embark with unconcern
what end for him the Master may intend

He will not heed the harp though
and is not gladdened by gold rings
nor woman's winning ways
and wants no worldly joys
only the rolling oceans urge him on
the wave play pulls him and impels

Then blossom decks the bower's bough
the bothie blooms, the sea meads gleam
the wide world racks the restless mind
of him who on the full flood tide
determines to depart

And heralding his summer hoard of pain
the gowk repeats his plaintive geck
foreboding bitterness of breast

Soft-bedded bloods cannot conceive
what some men suffer as abroad
they travel tracks of exile

Reckless of that, my thought is thrown
beyond my heart's cage now. My mind is cast
upon the sea swell, over the whale's world
widely to course creation's coast:
a closing rapture keenly calls

 

THE summons wails above on wing
it steels the unarmed soul to start
across the waters where the whale sways

God's visions are to me more vivid
than this dead life loaned out on land
I know its leasehold will not last

Still three things twist man's mind
until the day his doom is sealed
age, illness or some stroke of hate
will seize sense from him

So any noble spirit will aspire to earn
an everlasting epitaph of praise
for good deeds done on earth, bold blows
dealt at the Devil and against fell foe
before his passing, that posterity
delights enjoyed for ever by the brave
among the angels may perpetuate

The days of glory have decayed
the earth has spilled its splendour
there are no captains now, no kings
gold givers such as once there were
the lords who lived to purchase fame
and utmost laud among their peers

Virtue is fallen, visions are faded
the weak are left to hold this world
worn low. The flower of the field is old
the leaf is withered and the laurel sere
Throughout this middle isthmus man
meets age hoar-headed, bleak of face
by former friends forsaken, grieving over
scions of lineage long since gone

Life ebbs, the flesh feels less
and fails to savour sweet or sour
is frail of hand, feeble of mind
Though men may bury treasured pelf
beside their brother's born remains
and sow his grave with golden goods
he goes where gold is worthless

Nor can his sinful soul, quaking before his God
call hoarded gold or mortal glory to his aid
that Architect is awesome
Whose might moves the world
Whose hand has fixed the firmament
earth's vaults and vapours

Dull is the man who does not dread the Lord
on him will death's descent be sudden
blissful the man that meekly lives
on him will heaven benisons bestow

A mind was given man by God to glory in his might

A man should steer a steadfast course
be constant, clean and just in judgement
a man should curb his love or loathing
though flame consume his comrade
and fire the funeral pyre
for fate is set more surely
God more great, than any man surmise

Come, consider where we have a home, how
we can travel to it, how our travail here
will lead us to the living well-head
and heaven haven of our Lord's love

Thus let us thank His hallowed name
that He has granted us His grace
Dominion enduring, the Ancient of Days
for all time

Amen

 

 

A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds.
W.B.Yeats

photos © Lia Peters van Rijthoven