The Winged Mariners!
Through the wild night, the silence and the dark,
Through league on league of the uncharted sky,
Lonelier than dove of fable from its ark,
The fieldfares fly.
Mate with his tiny mate, and younglings frail,
That only knew the crevice of their tree
Until, in faith stupendous, they set sail
Across the sea.
The black North Sea, that takes such savage toll
Of ships and men – and yet could not appal
These little mariners, who seek their goal
Beyond it all.
Turning those soft, indomitable breasts
To meet the unchained Titans of the deep –
Calm, as if cradled in Norwegian nests,
Their course they keep.
No more than thistledown or flake of snow
To those great gods at play, they win the game;
Never sped archer’s arrow from his bow
With surer aim.
Still tossed and scattered, their unwinking eyes
Point to that pole unseen where wanderings cease;
Still on they press, and warble to the skies
With hearts at peace.
Scenting the English morning in the air,
Through the salt night, ere any morning wakes –
The perfumed fields, the dun woods, sere and bare,
The brambly brakes –
The well-loved orchard, with its hawthorn hedge,
Where luscious berries, red and brown, are found –
The misty miles of water-mead and sedge
Where gnats abound.
. . . . .
But what is this, ‘twixt sea and surf-bound shore?
What form stands there, amid the shadows gray,
With flaming blade that smites them as they soar,
And bars their way?
Hushed are the twittering throats; each silken head
Turns to the voiceless siren – turns and stares –
By some strange lure of mystery and dread
It draws them on, as the magnetic sun
Draws vagrant meteors to its burning breast.
The day is near, the harbour all but won –
That English nest.
But here they meet inexorable Fate;
Here lies a dreadful reef of fire and glass;
Here stands a glittering sentry at the gate –
They cannot pass.
Confused, dismayed, they flutter in the gale,
Those little pinions that have lost their track;
The gallant hearts that sped them reel and fail
Like ships aback.
Sucked in a magic current, like a leaf
Torn from autumnal tree, they drift abroad,
But ever nearer to the siren reef,
The ruthless sword.
On, on, transfixed and swooning, without check,
To the lee shore of that bedazzling wall,
Until they strike, and break in utter wreck,
And founder all.
Brave little wings, that sailed the storm so well,
Trimmed to the set of every wayward blast!
Brave little hearts, that never storm could quell,
Beaten at last!
The great sea swallows them, and they are gone,
For ever gone, like bubbles of the foam;
And the bright star that lured them, shining on,
Still points to Home.