Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel
Sea Kings - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel
Who are these three, that in a little boat
Have dared upon the Antarctic surge to float,
Journey from Durban round the Cape of Storm,
Which hero hearts again to-day transform
Into a promontory of Good Hope,
As when grand Gama, and Diaz did grope
Their all unknown dim waterway of old?
These Scandinavian mariners, more bold,
In a frail bark they hollowed far inshore,
Built from pitch-pine, and to the ocean bore,
In a frail open bark ten months will beard
Atlantic dark and formidable, steered
By their own sea-gnarled hands with dauntless strength,
Till they attain to our green land at length.
From where grim bastioned Table Mountain frowns,
And with the cloud his brooding forehead crowns,
To the caged eagle-emperor's arid isle;
By flowery Azores they rest awhile;
By Mauros, Corobeda, tempest-driven,
They arrive in England's welcoming white haven;
The wonderful heroic voyage passed,
Through all vicissitudes come home at last.
Ah! courage-consecrated little bark,
Men come to view thee, as wert thou sacred ark,
Or very Argo of the Argonaut!
With tokens of Sea's rough embraces fraught,
Rent canvas, cordage, bruised wood, plainly tell
Of rude storm-buffets; tangled weed, and shell
On keel and plank now long contented dwell!
By half-amused, half-indolent contempt,
Or admiration for the bold attempt,
Was Ocean held from drowning the three men?
Rather the God they worshipped in His ken
Kept, gave swift vision, accomplished craft, with power
To stem, surmount, and baffle danger's hour.
O'er beetling cliffs of water, lo! they bound;
Engulfed now in a reeling chasm profound,
Obscure, foamed, swirling; storm-breath on their side
Lays them, and plays with them; and yet they ride,
Storm-seasoned hearts of oak, on the wild tide!
Endurance, vigilance, strength, iron nerve,
Tense, ne'er relaxed, allowing none to swerve
One hair's-breadth from his function, even for stress
Of wet, cold, hunger, thirst, or weariness,
Strain unrelieved on every faculty!
If caught off guard one moment, they shall die!
In peril from the monsters of the deep,
In peril from wild, ruptured surge's leap;
Fierce blast drags down, ere they may reef the sail,
Wave's weight half fills the hollow pine, bids bale
For very life, yet never great hearts fail.
It blew great guns; stars blinked, and were blown out,
Or re-illumed; they saw the raging rout
Of billow smoking skyward; squall-slung spray
Smote, stung like hail; then louder than the roar
Of breaker thundering on a rock-bound shore,
A sound more terrible than aught before
Appalled their ear; some supernatural scream
Advanced toward them through the drifting steam:
And they beheld prodigious ocean herds,
Whales spouting geysers, porpoise, dolphin, birds
Rushing in headlong wild pursuit of shoals,
Menacing wreck, so hurling to their goals!
Buffeted bows drove piles in the hard sea;
Storm, waving vast vans, howled tumultuously.
Dies from the cloud-range conflagration red,
And from long roller, taking hues of lead,
Sombre, oil-lustrous, fading dun and dead.
Cloud-mountains massed on pale horizons lower;
Grim monsters follow, hungry to devour.
One all unknown, and horrible remains
Beside them, while blood-chilling twilight wanes,
Huge, livid-backed, dim welters, and to mock
Their own mast, two long spectral rods that rock
Protrude in polished outgrowth from the spine:
lurks near them on the brine!
While on their masthead sits a weird, wild glare,
Like Death's pale lanthorn: ha! what doth it there!
And what is that, which writhes upon the bare
Pole, like what writhed upon the lance's head
Of Dürer's knight, on his faint war-horse led
Into the forest gloom by Hell and Death?
What means the Portent? doth it breathe life's breath?
Immured in deep night the world seems to be,
Save when flashed flame lets out the boiling sea. . . .
But in long languor of clear ocean calm,
When the loose tiller held in listless palm
Made easeful noises with the lapping wave,
Dear home-thought stole upon the heart so brave;
While loved familiar constellations rise,
When they draw nearer native Northern skies;
High planets hold communion with them,
Pure worlds arising from heaved Ocean's rim;
Luminous lives, how still and soft they move
In the grey wave, akin to stars above!
While elfin phosphorescence from the prow
Slopes in two murmuring, widened folds below.
Or in blue day the momentary gem,
Lovelier than a fairy diadem,
Twinkles innumerable on the rolling
Blue billow; yellow birds for their consoling,
Pale yellow, flying o'er the lisping foam,
Alight upon the ocean-cradled boom;
The gentle giant Olsen fondly feeds;
Till they, relying on his kindly deeds,
Perch on his shoulder, lilting blithe and gay,
Who sorrows when he finds them flown away.
Often before a merry breeze they flew,
A wake of simmering silver in the blue;
Many a nautilus with filmy sail,
And fishes panoplied in rainbow mail,
And flying fish with blithe young hearts they hail.
Or ample-pinioned, gleaming albatross,
That swooped and circled, dipped in soft sea-moss,
Then sunward soared, on calm, unwearied wing,
With plaintive white mew, air-meandering.
Alone upon the inward-murmuring sea,
Alone with God in the Immensity!
With worship, pious, temperate men, they call
Weekly together on the God of all.
Kingcraft and overlordship of the seas
From Olsen, Nilsen, Bernhard, such as these,
And their Norse kindred, Nelson, Franklin, Drake,
For men of other blood 'tis hard to take.
They prove the race of heroes not extinct,
By whom our common-seeming years are linked
To those that loom more fair in the dim past,
When Gama loosed his canvas to the blast,
And Raleigh in strange waters anchor cast.
Not ease, but hardship, suffering, privation
Root, toughen, hearts of oak, and mould a nation,
Bear witness Holland, Athens, Albion!
Columbia, Teuton, Italy, made one!
By toil, and strife, and agony 'twas done.
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