The Coastwise Lights
Our brows are bound with spindrift and the weed is on our knees; Our loins are battered 'neath us by the swinging, smoking seas. From reef and rock and skerry -- over headland, ness, and voe -- The Coastwise Lights of England watch the ships of England go! Through the endless summer evenings, on the lineless, level floors; Through the yelling Channel tempest when the siren hoots and roars -- By day the dipping house-flag and by night the rocket's trail -- As the sheep that graze behind us so we know them where they hail. We bridge across the dark and bid the helmsman have a care, The flash that wheeling That use in London Town. Coastwise -- cross-seas -- round the world and back again -- Where the flaw shall head us or the full Trade suits -- Plain-sail -- storm-sail -- lay your board and tack again -- And that's the way we'll pay Paddy Doyle for his boots! We bring no store of ingots, Of spice or precious stones, But that we have we gathered With sweat and aching bones: In flame beneath the tropics, In frost upon the floe, And jeopardy of every wind That does between them go. And some we got by purchase, And some we had by trade, And some we found by courtesy Of pike and carronade -- At midnight, 'mid-sea meetings, For charity to keep, And light the rolling homeward-bound That rode a foot too deep. By sport of bitter weather We're walty, strained, and scarred From the kentledge on the kelson To the slings upon the yard. Six oceans had their will of us To carry all away -- Our galley's in the Baltic, And our boom's in Mossel Bay! We've floundered off the Texel, Awash with sodden deals, We've slipped from Valparaiso With the Norther at our heels: We've ratched beyond the Crossets That tusk the Southern Pole, And dipped our gunnels under To the dread Agulhas roll. Beyond all outer charting We sailed where none have sailed, And saw the land-lights burning On islands none have hailed; Our hair stood up for wonder, But, when the night was done, There danced the deep to windward Blue-empty 'neath the sun! Strange consorts rode beside us And brought us evil luck; The witch-fire climbed our channels, And flared on vane and truck: Till, through the red tornado, That lashed us nigh to blind, We saw The Dutchman plunging, Full canvas, head to wind! We've heard the Midnight Leadsman That calls the black deep down -- Ay, thrice we've heard The Swimmer, The Thing that may not drown. On frozen bunt and gasket The sleet-cloud drave her hosts, When, manned by more than signed with us, We passed the Isle o' Ghosts! And north, amid the hummocks, A biscuit-toss below, We met the silent shallop That frighted whalers know; For, down a cruel ice-lane, That opened as he sped, We saw dead Henry Hudson Steer, North by West, his dead. So dealt God's waters with us Beneath the roaring skies, So walked His signs and marvels All naked to our eyes: But we were heading homeward With trade to lose or make -- Good Lord, they slipped behind us In the tailing of our wake! Let go, let go the anchors; Now shamed at heart are we To bring so poor a cargo home That had for gift the sea! Let go the great bow-anchors -- Ah, fools were we and blind -- The worst we stored with utter toil, The best we left behind! Coastwise -- cross-seas -- round the world and back again, Whither flaw shall fail us or the Trades drive down: Plain-sail -- storm-sail -- lay your board and tack again -- And all to bring a cargo up to London Town!