The Rice-boat

A poem by Laurence Hope (Adela Florence Cory Nicolson)

I slept upon the Rice-boat
That, reef protected, lay
At anchor, where the palm-trees
Infringe upon the bay.
The windless air was heavy
With cinnamon and rose,
The midnight calm seemed waiting,
Too fateful for repose.

One joined me on the Rice-boat
With wild and waving hair,
Whose vivid words and laughter
Awoke the silent air.
Oh, beauty, bare and shining,
Fresh washen in the bay,
One well may love by moonlight
What one would not love by day!

Above among the cordage
The night wind hardly stirred,
The lapping of the ripples
Was all the sound we heard.
Love reigned upon the Rice-boat,
And Peace controlled the sea,
The spirit's consolation,
The senses' ecstasy.

Though many things and mighty
Are furthered in the West,
The ancient Peace has vanished
Before To-day's unrest.
For how among their striving,
Their gold, their lust, their drink,
Shall men find time for dreaming
Or any space to think?

Think not I scorn the Science
That lightens human pain;
Though man's reliance often
Is placed on it in vain.
Maybe the long endeavour,
The patience and the strife,
May some day solve the riddle,
The Mystery of Life.

Perchance I do not value
Things Western as I ought,
The trains, - that take us, whither?
The ships, - that reach, what port?
To me it seems but chaos
Of greed and haste and rage,
The endless, aimless, motion
Of squirrels in a cage.

Here, where some ruined temple
In solitude decays,
With carven walls still hallowed
With prayers of bygone days,
Here, where the coral outcrops
Make "flowers of the sea,"
The olden Peace yet lingers,
In hushed serenity.

Ah, silent, silver moonlight,
Whose charm impartial falls
On tanks of sacred water
And squalid city walls,
Whose mystic whiteness hallows
The lowest and the least,
To thee men owe the glamour
That draws them to the East.

And as this azure water,
Unflecked hy wave or foam,
Conceals in its tranquillity
The dreaded white shark's home,
So if love be illusion
I ask the dream to stay,
Content to love by moonlight
What I might not love by day.

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