P.C. Home Page . Recent Additions
Poets' Corner Logo

    William H. Davies

    Back to Gilbert K. Chesterton
    Forward to Walter de la Mare


    The Child and the Mariner

      A dear old couple my grandparents were,
      And kind to all dumb things; they saw in Heaven
      The lamb that Jesus petted when a child;
      Their faith was never draped by Doubt: to them
      Death was a rainbow in Eternity,
      That promised everlasting brightness soon.
      An old seafaring man was he; a rough
      Old man, but kind; and hairy, like the nut
      Full of sweet milk. All day on shore he watched
      The winds for sailors' wives, and told what ships
      Enjoyed fair weather, and what ships had storms;
      He watched the sky, and he could tell for sure
      What afternoons would follow stormy morns,
      If quiet nights would end wild afternoons.
      He leapt away from scandal with a roar,
      And if a whisper still possessed his mind,
      He walked about and cursed it for a plague.
      He took offence at Heaven when beggars passed,
      And sternly called them back to give them help.
      In this old captain's house I lived, and things
      That house contained were in ships' cabins once:
      Sea-shells and charts and pebbles, model ships;
      Green weeds, dried fishes stuffed, and coral stalks;
      Old wooden trunks with handles of spliced rope,
      With copper saucers full of monies strange,
      That seemed the savings of dead men, not touched
      To keep them warm since their real owners died;
      Strings of red beads, methought were dipped in blood,
      And swinging lamps, as though the house might move;
      An ivory lighthouse built on ivory rocks,
      The bones of fishes and three bottled ships.
      And many a thing was there which sailors make
      In idle hours, when on long voyages,
      Of marvellous patience, to no lovely end.
      And on those charts I saw the small black dots
      That were called islands, and I knew they had
      Turtles and palms, and pirates' buried gold.
      There came a stranger to my granddad's house,
      The old man's nephew, a seafarer too;
      A big, strong able man who could have walked
      Twm Barlum's hill all clad in iron mail
      So strong he could have made one man his club
      To knock down others -- Henry was his name,
      No other name was uttered by his kin.
      And here he was, sooth illclad, but oh,
      Thought I, what secrets of the sea are his!
      This man knows coral islands in the sea,
      And dusky girls heartbroken for white men;
      More rich than Spain, when the Phoenicians shipped
      Silver for common ballast, and they saw
      Horses at silver mangers eating grain;
      This man has seen the wind blow up a mermaid's hair
      Which, like a golden serpent, reared and stretched
      To feel the air away beyond her head.
      He begged my pennies, which I gave with joy --
      He will most certainly return some time
      A self-made king of some new land, and rich.
      Alas that he, the hero of my dreams,
      Should be his people's scorn; for they had rose
      To proud command of ships, whilst he had toiled
      Before the mast for years, and well content;
      Him they despised, and only Death could bring
      A likeness in his face to show like them.
      For he drank all his pay, nor went to sea
      As long as ale was easy got on shore.
      Now, in his last long voyage he had sailed
      From Plymouth Sound to where sweet odours fan
      The Cingalese at work, and then back home --
      But came not near my kin till pay was spent.
      He was not old, yet seemed so; for his face
      Looked like the drowned man's in the morgue, when it
      Has struck the wooden wharves and keels of ships.
      And all his flesh was pricked with Indian ink,
      His body marked as rare and delicate
      As dead men struck by lightning under trees
      And pictured with fine twigs and curlèd ferns;
      Chains on his neck and anchors on his arms;
      Rings on his fingers, bracelets on his wrist;
      And on his breast the Jane of Appledore
      Was schooner rigged, and in full sail at sea.
      He could not whisper with his strong hoarse voice,
      No more than could a horse creep quietly;
      He laughed to scorn the men that muffled close
      For fear of wind, till all their neck was hid,
      Like Indian corn wrapped up in long green leaves;
      He knew no flowers but seaweeds brown and green,
      He knew no birds but those that followed ships.
      Full well he knew the water-world; he heard
      A grander music there than we on land,
      When organ shakes a church; swore he would make
      The sea his home, though it was always roused
      By such wild storms as never leave Cape Horn;
      Happy to hear the tempest grunt and squeal
      Like pigs heard dying in a slaughterhouse.
      A true-born mariner, and this his hope --
      His coffin would be what his cradle was,
      A boat to drown in and be sunk at sea;
      Salted and iced in Neptune's larder deep.
      This man despised small coasters, fishing-smacks;
      He scorned those sailors who at night and morn
      Can see the coast, when in their little boats
      They go a six days' voyage and are back
      Home with their wives for every Sabbath day.
      Much did he talk of tankards of old beer,
      And bottled stuff he drank in other lands,
      Which was a liquid fire like Hell to gulp,
      But Paradise to sip.

                         And so he talked;
      Nor did those people listen with more awe
      To Lazurus -- whom they had seen stone dead --
      Than did we urchins to that seaman's voice.
      He many a tale of wonder told: of where,
      At Argostoli, Cephalonia's sea
      Ran over the earth's lip in heavy floods;
      And then again of how the strange Chinese
      Conversed much as our homely Blackbirds sing.
      He told us how he sailed in one old ship
      Near that volcano Martinique, whose power
      Shook like dry leaves the whole Caribbean seas;
      And made the sun set in a sea of fire
      Which only half was his; and dust was thick
      On deck, and stones were pelted at the mast.
      Into my greedy ears such words that sleep
      Stood at my pillow half the night perplexed.
      He told how isles sprang up and sank again,
      Between short voyages, to his amaze;
      How they did come and go, and cheated charts;
      Told how a crew was cursed when one man killed
      A bird that perched upon a moving barque;
      And how the sea's sharp needles, firm and strong,
      Ripped open the bellies of big, iron ships;
      Of mighty icebergs in the Northern seas,
      That haunt the far hirizon like white ghosts.
      He told of waves that lift a ship so high
      That birds could pass from starboard unto port
      Under her dripping keel.

                          Oh, it was sweet
      To hear that seaman tell such wondrous tales:
      How deep the sea in parts, that drownèd men
      Must go a long way to their graves and sink
      Day after day, and wander with the tides.
      He spake of his own deeds; of how he sailed
      One summer's night along the Bosphorus,
      And he -- who knew no music like the wash
      Of waves against a ship, or wind in shrouds --
      Heard then the music on that woody shore
      Of nightingales,and feared to leave the deck,
      He thought 'twas sailing into Paradise.
      To hear these stories all we urchins placed
      Our pennies in that seaman's ready hand;
      Until one morn he signed on for a long cruise,
      And sailed away -- we never saw him more.
      Could such a man sink in the sea unknown?
      Nay, he had found a land with something rich,
      That kept his eyes turned inland for his life.
      'A damn bad sailor and a landshark too,
      No good in port or out' -- my granddad said.


    Days Too Short

      When primroses are out in Spring,
      And small, blue violets come between;
      When merry birds sing on boughs green,
      And rills, as soon as born, must sing;

      When butterflies will make side-leaps,
      As though escaped from Nature's hand
      Ere perfect quite; and bees will stand
      Upon their heads in fragrant deeps;

      When small clouds are so silvery white
      Each seems a broken rimmèd moon --
      When such things are, this world too soon,
      For me, doth wear the veil of Night.


    In May

      Yes, I will spend the livelong day
      With Nature in this month of May;
      And sit beneath the trees, and share
      My bread with birds whose homes are there;
      While cows lie down to eat, and sheep
      Stand to their necks in grass so deep;
      While birds do sing with all their might,
      As though they felt the earth in flight.
      This is the hour I dreamed of, when
      I sat surrounded by poor men;
      And thought of how the Arab sat
      Alone at evening, gazing at
      The stars that bubbled in clear skies;

      And of young dreamers, when their eyes
      Enjoyed methought a precious boon
      In the adventures of the Moon
      Whose light, behind the Clouds' dark bars,
      Searched for her stolen flocks of stars.
      When I, hemmed in by wrecks of men,
      Thought of some lonely cottage then
      Full of sweet books; and miles of sea,
      With passing ships, in front of me;
      And having, on the other hand,
      A flowery, green, bird-singing land.


    The Heap of Rags

      One night when I went down
      Thames' side, in London Town,
      A heap or rags saw I,
      And sat me down close by.
      That thing could shout and bawl,
      But showed no face at all;
      When any steamer passed
      And blew a loud shrill blast,
      That heap of rags would sit
      And make a sound like it;
      When struck the clock's deep bell,
      It made those peals as well.
      When winds did moan around,
      It mocked them with that sound;
      When all was quiet, it
      Fell into a strange fit;
      Would sigh, and moan and roar,
      It laughed, and blessed, and swore.
      Yet that poor thing, I know,
      Had neither friend nor foe;
      Its blessing or its curse
      Made no one better or worse.
      I left it in that place --
      The thing that showed no face,
      Was it a man that had
      Suffered till he went mad?
      O many showers and not
      One rainbow in the lot;
      Too many bitter fears
      To make a pearl from tears.


    The Kingfisher

      It was the Rainbow gave thee birth,
      And left thee all her lovely hues;
      And, as her mother's name was Tears,
      So runs it in thy blood to choose
      For haunts the lonely pools, and keep
      In company with trees that weep.

      Go you and, with such glorious hues,
      Live with proud Peacocks in green parks;
      On lawns as smooth as shining glass,
      Let every feather show its marks;
      Get thee on boughs and clap thy wings
      Before the windows of proud kings.

      Nay, lovely Bird, thou art not vain;
      Thou hast no proud, ambitious mind;
      I also love a quiet place
      That's green, away from all mankind;
      A lonely pool, and let a tree
      Sigh with her bosom over me.


    Back to Gilbert K. Chesterton
    Forward to Walter de la Mare

Poets' Corner . H O M E . E-mail