Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

The Wharf On Thames—side; Winter Dawn - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

Day begins cold and misty on soiled snow
That frost has ridged and crusted. Sound of steps
Comes, then a shape emerges from the mist
Without haste, trudging tracks the feet know well,
With his breath white upon the air before him,
To old work. Over the river hangs a crane
At the wharf's edge. Scarved, wheezing, buttoned up,
The stubble--bearded crane--man eyes the tide
Ruckling against moored barges under the bridge,
Considers the blank moon, the obstinate frost,
Swings arms and beats them on his breast for warmth,
And to his engine--cabin disappears.
Full, fast, impetuous the tide floods up Thames,
And the solitary morning steals abroad
Over a million roofs, intensely still
And distant in a dark sleep. For whose joy
Was it, the February moon all night
Beamed silence, like the healing of all noise,
And beauty, like compassion, upon mean
Litter of energy and trading toil,--
Cinder--heaps, sacks, tarpaulins, and stale straw;
Empty and full trucks; rails; and rows of carts,
Shafts tilted backwards; musty railway--arch,
Dingy brick wall, huddled slate roofs? It shone
On the clean snow and the fouled; touches of light
Mysterious as a dreamer's smile! For whom
Rose before dawn the spiritual pale mist,
When imperceptibly the hue of the air
Was altered, and the dwindled beamless moon
Looked like an exiled ghost; till opposite
The vapour flushed to airy rose, and dawn
Made the first long faint shadows? Now the smoke
Begins to go up from those chimnied roofs
Across the water. Trains with hissing speed
And frosty flashes cross the shaken bridge,
Filled each with faces, eager and uneager,
Tired and fresh, young and old; bound for the desk,
The stool, the counter--threads in the roaring loom
Of London. What thoughts have they in their eyes
That idly fall on the familiar river
This passive moment before toil usurps
Hand and brain? Each a separate--memoried world
Of scheme and fancy, of dreads and urgent hopes,
Hungers and solaces! But which keeps not
A private corner deep in heart or mind
Where dwells what no one else knows? And they pass
Nameless, in thousands, with their mysteries, by us.

Slowly the city is waking in all its streets,
But dark, impetuous, silent, full, up Thames
The tide comes, like a lover to his own;
Comes like a lover, as if it sought to pour
Secrets to its listener, of vast night, and the old
Bright moon--lit oceans; of wild breaths of brine;
Of tall ships that it swung to an anchorage
In the misty dawn, and wanderers far away
On the outer seas among adventurous isles
Whose names are homely here. As if the blood
Of this our race poured back upon its heart,
Drawn by that moon of pale farewell, it comes
Brimming and buoyant, with an eager ripple
Against the black--stemmed barges, and swift swirl
Of sucking eddies by stone piers, and sound
Like laughter along the grimed wall of the wharf.

A great horse, tugging at a truck, stamps hoofs
Upon the frozen ground. A man beside him
Shouts or is silent. Labourers here and there
Deliberately, in habit's motion, take
Each his work: from the barges lighter--men
Call, and the crane moves, rattling in its iron.
It is plain day. Still the up--streaming tide
Pours its swift secret, and the fading moon
Lingers aloft. But now the wakened wharf,
Stirred from its numbness, the bright rails, the trucks
With snow upon them, and the hoisting crane,
Are touched with all the difference of mankind;
And the river whispering out of the travelled seas
Of foreign ships and countries, comes to them
With a familiar usage; each appears
As a faculty of the morning, that begins
Once more the inter--threaded toil of men.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010



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