Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

Look Seaward, Sentinel! - Poem by Alfred Austin

I
Look seaward, Sentinel, and tell the land
What you behold.

Sentinel
I see the deep-ploughed furrows of the main
Bristling with harvest; funnel, and keel, and shroud,
Heaving and hurrying hither through gale and cloud,
Winged by their burdens; argosies of grain,
Flocks of strange breed and herds of southern strain,
Fantastic stuffs and fruits of tropic bloom,
Antarctic fleece and equatorial spice,
Cargoes of cotton, and flax, and silk, and rice,
Food for the hearth and staples for the loom:
Huge vats of sugar, casks of wine and oil,
Summoned from every sea to one sole shore
By Empire's sceptre; the converging store
Of Trade's pacific universal spoil.
And heaving and hurrying hitherward to bring
Tribute from every zone, they lift their voices,
And, as a strong man revels and rejoices,
They loudly and lustily chant, and this the song they sing.

Chorus of Home-coming Ships
From the uttermost bound
Of the wind and the foam,
From creek and from sound,
We are hastening home.
We are laden with treasure
From ransacked seas,
To charm your leisure,
To grace your ease.
We have trodden the billows,
And tracked the ford,
To soften your pillows,
To heap your board.
The hills have been shattered,
The forests scattered,
Our white sails tattered,
To swell your hoard.
Is it blossom, or fruit, or
Seed, you crave?
The land is your suitor,
The sea your slave.
We have raced with the swallows,
And threaded the floes
Where the walrus wallows
Mid melting snows;
Sought regions torrid,
And realms of sleet,
To gem your forehead,
To swathe your feet.
And behold, now we tender,
With pennons unfurled,
For your comfort and splendour,
The wealth of the world.

II
Look landward, Sentinel, and tell the sea
What you behold.

Sentinel
I see a land of liberty and peace,
Ancient in glory and strength, but young in mien,
Like immemorial forest Spring makes green,
And whose boughs broaden as the years increase:
Where ruminating hide and grazing fleece
Dapple lush meadows diapered with flowers,
Lambs bleat, birds carol, rosy children roam,
The glad hind whistles as he wendeth home,
And red roofs nestle under gray church-towers:
Whose sons have in their fearless eyes the light
Of centuries of fame and battles won
And Empire ranging roundward with the sun;
Whose fair frank daughters gleam upon the sight
Fresh as the dawn and florid as the Spring;
And, as from lowly porch and lordly dwelling
They sally forth and meet, with voices swelling
Harmoniously they chant, and this the song they sing.

Chorus of Islanders
Blest be the cliffs and the crags that girdle
Our island home,
And blest, thrice blest, the tempests that scourge and curdle
The sea into foam.
For the nations over the wave eat, sleep, and labour,
In doubt and dread;
The spear is the child at their threshold, the naked sabre
The bride by their bed.
But we behind bulwarks of brine and rampart of breakers,
Year after year,
Drop the seed in the drill and the furrow, and harvest our acres,
And feel no fear.
While they wattle their flocks, and remember the past, and shudder,
And finger the sword,
Our lambs go safe to the ewes, our calves to the udder,
Our fruits to the board.
Welcome the sleet that blinds and the blasts that buffet,
And welcome the roar
Of the storms that swoop on the sea and rend and rough it
Around our shore.
For in safety the yearling fattens, the heifer browses,
The herds increase;
In safety we fondle our babes, in safety our spouses,
In safety, freedom, and peace.

III
Look again seaward, but beyond the sea,
And say what you behold.

Sentinel
I see weeping and wailing, and the bridegroom ruthlessly torn
From the clinging arms of the bride, and I see and I hear
Clanking of steel and clarions clamouring clear,
And suckling mothers, wedded but forlorn,
Cradling their babes amid the half-cut corn;
Whose fathers, as the homely days grew ripe
When fruits are plucked and mellow harvest stored,
Felt the soft curving sickle from their gripe
Timelessly wrenched, and in its place a sword.
And I see the nations, like to restless waves,
Surging against each other, withal afraid
To close and clash, lest blade prove strong as blade,
And even the victor win but worthless graves.
And, wearying of the days and nights that bring
No respite nor reward, they moan and murmur
Under their breath, until with accents firmer
They sadly and surlily chant, and this the song they sing.

Chorus of Armed Nations
How long shall we, we only, bear the burden
And sweat beneath the strain
Of iron Peace, while others gain the guerdon,
And prosper on our pain?
Lo! in their fancied fortress girt with waters
That neither fall nor fail,
They hear of rapine and they read of slaughters,
As of some touching tale.
No more they care to subjugate the billow,
Or dominate the blast;
Supine they lie on the luxurious pillow
Of their resplendent Past.
Lulled into arrogant languor by the glories
Of their adventurous sires,
They tell each other old heroic stories
By comfortable fires.
Why should they pile up wealth who do not labour?
Why, sowing not, should reap?
Let us steal out, and with unslumbering sabre
Assassinate their sleep.

IV

Look again landward, Sentinel, and say
What there you now behold.

Sentinel
I see the sports deserted on the green,
And song and revel hushed within the hall;
And I hear strong voices to strong voices call
To muster round the shore in martial sheen.
And north of Trent and south of Thames are seen
Furnace and forge and factory vomiting fire,
While swarthy faces, labouring through the night,
On giant anvils giant hammers smite,
From molten metal moulding hoop and tire.
In port and arsenal rhythmic thunders ring,
And through their gateways laden tumbrils rattle;
And England's sinewy striplings, trim for battle,
In unison cheer and chant, and this the song they sing.

Chorus of Islanders
Sweet are the ways of peace, and sweet
The gales that fan the foam
That sports with silvery-twinkling feet
Around our island home.
But, should the winds of battle shrill,
And the billows crisp their mane,
Down to the shore, from vale, from hill,
From hamlet, town, and plain!
The ocean our forefathers trod
In many a forest keel,
Shall feel our feet once more, but shod
With ligaments of steel.
Ours is the Sea, to rule, to keep,
Our realm, and, if ye would
Challenge dominion of the deep,
Then make that challenge good.
But ware ye lest your vauntings proud
Be coffined in the surge,
Our breakers be for you a shroud,
Our battle-song your dirge.
Peaceful within our peaceful home
We ply the loom and share,
Peaceful above the peaceful foam
Our pennons float and fare;
Bearing, for other peaceful lands,
Through sunshine, storm, and snow,
The harvest of industrious hands
Peacefully to and fro.
But, so ye will it, then our sails
The blasts of war shall swell,
And hold and hulk, now choked with bales,
Be crammed with shot and shell.
The waves impregnably shall bear
Our bulwarks on their breast,
And eyes of steel unsleeping glare
Across each billowy crest;
Along the trenches of the deep
Unflinching faces shine,
And Britain's stalwart sailors keep
The bastions of the brine.
Ocean itself, from strand to strand,
Our citadel shall be,
And, though the world together band,
Not all the legions of the land
Shall ever wrest from England's hand
The Sceptre of the Sea.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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