What I know, I shall launch in this stave ---
Truth, from tired days.
The trailing hours, toilsome and grave,
When the heart says: ---
"All ships are keeps of care, islands of fear,
In the heavy bright water!"
But night hid the clear
When we knocked past the cliffs ---
Strait was the watch of old
Which found me at the stem in the pining cold,
My feet chained down with ice. --- But burning care
Boiled round my heart. --- And hunger often files
Its way in flesh. --- O, when a man finds fair
Fortune on the isles,
He has then no thought for these rime-cold
Sliding seas of winter where I spend
This exile and tract of life! --- Dead is my friend.
Icicles hang around me. --- Hail is flung in the air! ---
Only the crawling of the wave
I heard, and the ice-bound surges die.
Sometimes the swan would be so brave
As, in her lonely way, to cry.
I made gay thoughts out of gannets' notes,
I held the puffin-bird could smile:
The sea-mew was singing instead of the throats
In the mead-hall, that beat up a ballad erewhile.
Storms struck the stone-cliffs as the tern
With dewy feathers screamed above.
Over and over answered the erne
With icy wings --- No friend, no shelter of love
For the want in my heart! --- So the burgher in lust
Who lives within great walls, engrossing joy,
Happy and high with wine --- drinks and does not trust
This talk of sailing --- While I live, weary!
It darkens. From the North The curling snow steals forth. The frost is on the land. A smallish warning band Of hailstones falls in chain --- The coldest kind of grain!
And the thought knocks my heart To tempt those deep streams! Often in the day My wish tells me the way Over the sport of the waves To far lands!
O no man is proud enough yet in the earth, So gifted of heaven, so young or so hale, So loved by his God, or so sure of his worth That he does not fear danger setting to sail! He wonders how heaven will treat him. He hasn't the pleasure in gold
Nor the heart for a harp, nor the joy in a wife --- All the pastimes of earth are grown old --- He can think about only the rolling and strife Of big waves beating the hold ---
So his heart is fed with longing, who wends to the blue and the cold!
The boughs take blossom, towns are gay, The meadows green, and Spring's in train: All these things urge me on my way To seek the lonely floods again O vainly does the cuckoo sing (The keeper of the gate of Spring) Who pines my ear with her boding tone!
(A thing to happier men unknown
What exiles feel, who tempt strange ways
As my mind turns back the days,
It leaves the breast, the locker-up of woes,
To cross the whale's wet country --- yearns and goes
Where men live happy --- comes once more to me
Drooping and sad --- till the slow bird of the sea
That wheels alone, and presses me from rest,
Chides my ship on, to cross a new sea-crest!
The bliss of heaven is warm as a breath,
But this dead life is cold to my clay. What Life thinks weal is brushed away Greedily, after a glance, by Death!
Ere a man die, three things suffice To bring him to despair: --- Age or disease or feud efface His keen life out of the air!
The firmest track a man may leave Is in the thought of his land: Then let him bring the Devil to grieve
By the dear works of his hand, That the children of men make a tale of him And he hold heaven fast! --- But such deeds are fled, Caesar is dead, Kings look best in the past.
Lordship is nothing to the old days When men lived in loyal fame. The flower is fallen, this is the stubble, Weak men walk in a world of trouble, What was noble runs lame!
The deeds that were glory halt out of our ways
Like each man in our province called Earth who grows old:
When age creeps upon him and powders his head,
The hoar-pate mourns that his friend is dead,
A son of the great --- ready for the mould!
See then, the body, when the life is ta'en,
May not taste sweetness, may not sense a sore,
Or raise a hand, or reason with its brain!
And though a man should place a thing of worth
Early beside his brother in the grave,
It climbs not with that soul, but rots in earth ......
Fear towards God is great, 'twas he who framed
The strong roots of the world, and the plains for men,
The leaning sky. A fool who fears not is shamed,
Death comes in a moment and nooses him again.
But the humble man whose belief is sure
God will help to endure.