Ada Cambridge (21 November 1844 – 19 July 1926 / St Gemans, Norfolk)
Watchman, what of the night?
See you a streak of light?
Whither, O Captain of the quest,
The course we steer for Port of Rest?
How shall he answer - he
Who never put to sea?
Within his tabernacle wall
He cannot even hear us call.
Behind the jealous door
That he must pass no more,
And whence he scarcely dares to look,
He keeps his eyes upon his book.
The little candles, lit
Where the disciples sit,
Light their small refuge round about,
But show no gleam to those without -
Spirits that cannot dwell
In such an airless cell,
Sniffing the sea-winds from afar,
Glimpsing the light of moon and star.
We must fare forth, unsped,
From homely board and bed;
We must set sail for port unknown,
On an uncharted course, alone.
Push off. We have to go,
Whether we choose or no.
The Call, though faint and far away,
Has reached us, and we must obey.
. . . . .
O but the night is dark
Beyond that only ark!
The salt sea-winds blow keen and cold
Outside the shelter of the fold!
Boom of the deep-sea swell,
Solemn as funeral bell -
Silence transcending sound, to make
High courage falter and heart quake . . . . .
What will the voyage cost?
We are already lost
Who turn from land and love, to face
This blank immensity of space.
Push out. We have to go,
Whether we fear or no.
And why stand shivering and appalled?
We go because the Voice has called.
Noah's inspired dove
Took wing to find her love.
The sea is His - safe as the land
Within the hollow of His hand.
Here are the breakers - pull
Before the boat is full!
'Ware the sharp reefs that line the shore!
Row for the open evermore!
. . . . .
O but the night is dark!
Never the faintest spark
Where surf and shore and cities were!
And not a whisper in the air.
The open - heart of grace,
It is a lonely place!
No light on any onward track!
Too far - too late - for turning back!
Where is that little ark -
Those candles in the dark -
The Rock of Ages cleft for me -
The Cross uprising in the sea -
Whereto the drowning grope
With yearning faith and hope,
And cling as to their mother's breast,
And find safe shelter and sweet rest?
Gone, gone - for ever gone!
And still we must press on.
Steady, true soul, too brave to fret!
Press on - we are not drowning yet.
. . . . .
The night is soft and still
That was so wild and chill;
The bosom of the mighty deep
Breathes like a tired child asleep.
So peaceful, so profound,
The silence spread around!
The very breakers of the shore
Moan to the listening ear no more.
Night - but the stars are out.
Darkness of dread and doubt,
The way so lonely and so rough,
Have cleared a little, but enough.
We know not where we are-
Light cannot reach so far,
But shows us we have lost and gained
As the compelling Voice ordained.
Gone, gone beyond recall,
Candle and prisoning wall,
Last echo of the hue and cry,
Last glint of an accusing eye.
Too late for looking back
Over the darkening track.
How should the life-taught soul return
That cannot unlive or unlearn?
. . . . .
Changed, changed, for ever changed,
Since hitherward we ranged,
To vision in a space so vast,
All the perspectives of the past.
How infinitely small
The once so broad and tall -
The aims, the pursuit and the strife
Shut in the sheltered grooves of life!
Those terrifying laws,
The wrangles and the wars
Of church with church and state with state -
The things men love, the things men hate -
Money and gauds and fame,
And neighbours' scorn and blame -
The passion of desire and haste
To gather, to possess, to waste . . . . . .
How infinitely high,
Broad as the sea and sky,
The loyalty of man to man,
Once almost missing from the plan -
The elemental law
That codes and creeds ignore,
Of duty to the trust we hold
For heirs unborn and years untold . . . . . .
. . . . .
Night - and the drifting soul
Still without path or goal.
Yet was the voyage worth the cost.
We are not drowned. We are not lost.
'T'is I. Be not afraid.
Moonlight and stars may fade.
One walks the ocean and the night.
We have no further need of light.
What matters where we go?
We do not ask to know.
He called us, and we came. The quest
For us is ended, and we rest.
Comments about this poem (The Night by Ada Cambridge )
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