Mariners

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

A beardless crew we launched our little boat;
Laughed at its lightness; joyed to see it float,
Veer in the wind, and, with the freshening gale,
Bend o'er the foaming prow the swollen sail.

No fears were ours within that stanch-built barque;
No fears were ours 'though all the west was dark,
And overhead were unknown stars; the ring
Of ocean sailless and no bird a-wing:

Yet there was light; radiance that dimmed the stars
Dancing like bubbles in Night's sapphire jars.

We knew not what: only adown the skies
A shape that led us, with sidereal eyes,
Brow-bound and shod with elemental fire,
Beckoning us onward like the god Desire.

Brisk blew the breeze; and through the starry gloam,
Flung from our prow, flew white the furrowed foam.
Long, long we sailed; and now have reached our goal.
Come, let us rest us here and call the roll.

How few we are! Alas, alas, how few!
How many perished! Every storm that blew
Swept from our deck or from our staggering mast
Some well-loved comrade in the boiling vast.

Wildly we saw them sink beneath our prow,
Helpless to aid; pallid of face and brow,
Lost in the foam we saw them sink or fade
Beneath the tempest's rolling cannonade.

They sank; but where they sank, above the wave
A corposant danced, a flame that marked their grave;
And o'er the flame, whereon were fixed our eyes,
An albatross, huge in volcanic skies.

They died; but not in vain their stubborn strife,
The zeal that held them onward, great of life:

They too are with us; they, in spite of death,
Have reached here first. Upon our brows their breath
Breathes softly, vaguely, sweetly as the breeze
From isles of spice in summer-haunted seas.

From palaces and pinnacles of mist
The sunset builds in heaven's amethyst
Beyond yon headland where the billows break,
Perhaps they beckon now; the winds that shake

These tamarisks, that never bowed to storm,
Haply are but their voices filled with charm
Bidding us rest from labor; toil no more;
Draw up our vessel on the happy shore;

And of the lotus of content and peace,
Growing far inland, eat, and never cease
To dream the dreams that keep the heart still young,
Hearing forever how the foam is flung

Beneath the cliff; forgetting all life's care;
Easing the soul of all its long despair.

Let us forget how once within that barque,
Like some swift eagle sweeping through the dark,
We weighed the sun; we weighed the farthest stars;
Traced the dim continents of fiery Mars;

Measured the vapory planets whose long run
Takes centuries to gird their glimmering sun:

Let us forget how oft the crystal mountains
Of the white moon we searched; and plumbed her fountains,
That hale the waters of the ├Žonian deep
In ebb and flow, and in her power keep:

Let us remember her but as a gem,
A mighty pearl, placed in Night's anadem:
Let us forget how once we pierced the flood,
Fathorned its groves of coral, red as blood,
Branching and blooming underneath our keel,
Through which like birds the nautilus and eel,
The rainbowed conch and irised fishes swept,
And where the sea-snake like a long weed slept.

Here let us dream our dreams: let Helen bare
Her white breast for us; and let Dido share
Her rich feast with us; or let Lalage
Laugh in our eyes as once, all lovingly,
She laughed for Flaccus. We are done with all
The lusts of life! its loves are ours. Let fall
The Catilines! the C├Žsars! and in Gaul
Their legions perish! And let Phillip's son
In Ammon's desert die; and never a one
Lead back to Greece of all his conquering line
From gemmed Hydaspes.

Here we set our shrine!
Here on this headland templed of God's peaks,
Where Beauty only to our worship speaks
Her mighty truths, gazing beyond the shore
Into the heart of God: her eyes a door
Wherethrough we see the dreams, the mysteries,
That grew to form in the Art that once was Greece:
Making them live once more for us, the shapes
That filled the woods, the mountains, and the capes
Of Hellas: Dryad, Oread, and Faun;
Naiad and Nereid, and all the hosts of Dawn.

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