Alfred Noyes.

Collected poems, Volume 1 online

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Might bring before their blinded mortal eyes

God and the Glory. Lighten as on the soul

Of him that all night long in torment dire,

Anguish and thirst unceasing for thy ray

Upon that lonely Patagonian shore

Had lain as on tiie bitterest coasts of Hell.

For all night long, mocked by the dreadful peac9

Of world-wide seas that darUy heaved and sank

With cold recurrence, like the slow sad breath

Of a fallen Titan dying all alone

In lands beyond all human loneliness,

While far and wide glimmers that broken targe

Hurled from tremendous battle with the gods,

And as he breathes in pain^ the chain-mail rings



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314 DRAKE

Bound his broad breast a muffled rattling mak»
For many a league, so seemed the sound of waves
Upon those beaches — there, be-mocked all night.
Beneath Magellan's gallows, Drake had watched
Beside his dead; and over him the stars
Paled as the silver chariot of the moon
Drove, and her white steeds ramped in a fuiy of foam
On splendid peaks of cloud. The Golden Hynde
Slept with those other shadows on the bay.
Between him and his home the Atlantic heaved;
And, on the darker side, across the strait
Of starry sheen that softly rippled and flowed
Betwixt the mainland and his isle, it seemed
Death's Gates indeed burst open. The night yawned
Like a foul woimd. Black shapes of the outer dark
Poured out of forests older than the world;
And, just as reptiles that take form and hue.
Speckle and blotch, in strange assimilation
I^om thorn and scrub and stone and the waste earth
Through which they crawl, so that almost they seem
The incarnate spirits of their wilderness,
Were these most horrible kindred of the night,
.^nian glooms unfathomable, grim aisles.
Grotesque, distorted boughs and dancing shades
Out-belched their dusky brood on the dim shore;
Monsters with sooty limbs, red-raddled eyes,
And faces painted yellow, women and men;
Fierce naked giants howling to the moon,
And loathlier Gorgons with long snaky tresses
Pouring vile purple over pendulous breasts
like wine-bags. On the mainland beach they lit
A brushwood fire that reddened creek and cove
And lapped their swarthy limbs with hideous tongues
Of flame; so near that by their light Drake saw
The blood upon the dead man's long black hair
Clotting corruption. The fierce funeral pyre
Of all things fair seemed rolling on that shore;
And in that dull red battle of smoke and flame,
While the sea crunched the pebbles, and dark drums
Rumbled out of the gloom as if this earth
Had some Titanic tigress for a soul



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DRAKE 31A

Purring in forests of Eternity

Over her own grim dreams, his londy spirit

Passed through the circles of a worid-wide waste

Darker than ever Dante roamed. No gulf

Was this of fierce harmonious reward,

Where Evil moans in anguish after death,

Where all men reap as they have sown, where gluttons

Gorge upon toads and usurers gulp hot streams

Of molten gold. This was that Malebolge

Which hath no harmony to mortal ears,

But seems the reeling and tremendous dream

Of some omnipotent madman. There he saw

The naked giants dragging to the flames

Young captives hideous with a new despair:

He saw great craggy blood-stained stones upheaved

To slaughter, saw through mists of blood and fire

The cannibal feast prepared, saw filthy hands

Rend limb from limb, and almost dreamed he saw

Foul mouths a-drip with quivering human flesh

And horrible laughter in the crimson storm

That clomb and leapt and stabbed at the high heaven

Till the whole night seemed saturate with red.

And all night long upon the Oolden Hynde,
A cloud upon the waters, brave Tom Moone
Watched o'er the bulwarks for some dusky plimge
To warn him if that savage crew should mark
His captain and swim over to his isle.
Whistle in hand he watched, his boat well ready,
His men low-crouched around him, swarthy faces
Grim-chinned upon the tafiPrail, muttering oaths
That trampled down the fear i' their bristly throats,
While at their sides a dreadful hint of steei
Sent stray gleams to the stars. But little heed
Had Drake of all that menaced him, though oit
Some wandering giant, belching from the feast,
All blood-besmeared, would come so near he heard
His heavy breathing o'er the narrow strait.
Yet little care had Drake, for though he sat
Bowed in the body above his quiet dead,
His burning spirit wandered through the wastes*



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316 DRAKE

Wandered through hells behind the apparent hdl.

Horrors immeasurable, clutching at dreams

Found fair of old, but now most foul. The worid

Leered at him through its old remembered mask

Of beauty: the green grass that clothed the fields

Of EnglflJid (shallow, shallow fairy dream!)

What was it but the hair of dead men's graves.

Rooted in death, enriched with all decay?

And like a leprosy the hawthorn bloom

Crawled o'er the whitening bosom of the spring;

And bird and beast and insect, ay and man,

How fat they fed on one another's blood !

And Love, what faith in Love, when spirit and flesh

Are found of such a filthy composition?

And Knowledge, God, his mind went reeling back

To that dark voyage on the deadly coast

Of Panama, where one by one his men

Sickened and died of some unknown disease.

Till Josei^i his own brother, in his arms

Died; and Drake trampled down all tender thought.

All human grief, and sought to find the cause,

For his crew's sake, the ravenous unknown cause

Of that fell scourge. There, in his own dark cabin,

Lit by the wild light of the swinging lanthom,

He laid the naked body on that board

Where they had supped together. He took the knife

From the ague-stricken surgeon's palsied hands.

And while the ship rocked in the eternal seas

And dark waves lapped against the rolling hulk

Making the silence terrible with voices,

He opened his own brother's cold white corse,

That pale deserted mansion of a soul.

Bidding the surgeon mark, with his own eyes,

While yet he had strength to use them, the foul spots,

The swollen liver, the strange sodden heart,

The yellow intestines. Yea, his dry lips hissed

There in the stark face of Eternity,

"Se^t thou? Seest thou? Knowest thou what it means?"

Then, like a dream upnsurged the belfried night

Of Saint Bartholomew, the scented palaces

Whence harlots leered out on the twisted streets



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DRAKE 317

Of Paris, choked with slaughter I Europe flamed

With human torches, living altar candles,

Lighted before the Cross where men had hanged

The Christ of little children. Cirque by cirque

The world-wide hell reeled round him, East and West,

To where the tortured Indians worked the will

Of lordly Spain in golden-famed Peru.

''God, is thy world a madman's dream?" he groaned:

And suddenly, the clamour on the shore

Sank and that savage horde melted away

Into the midnight forest as it came,

Leaving no sign, save where the brushwood fire

Still smouldered like a ruby in the gloom;

And into the inmost caverns of his mind

That other clamour sank, and there was peace.

"A madman's dream," he whispered, "Ay, to me

A madman's dream," but better, better far

Than that which bears upon its awful gates,

Gates of a hell defined, unalterable,

Abandon hope all ye who enter here!

Here, here at least the dawn hath power to bring

New light, new hope, new battles. Men may fight

And sweep away that evil, if no more,

At least from the small circle of their swords;

Then die, content if they have struck one stroke

For freedom, knowledge, brotherhood; one stroke

To hasten that great kingdom God proclaims

Each morning through the trumpets of the Dawn.

And far away, in Italy, that night

Young Galileo, gazing upward, heard

The self-same whisper from the abyss of stars

Which lured the soul of Shakespeare as he lay

Dreaming in may-sweet England, even now,

And with its infiiiite music called once more

The soul of Drake out to the unknown West.

Now like a wild rose in the fields of heaven
Slipt forth the slender fingers of the Dawn,
And drew the great grey Eastern curtains back
From the ivory saffroned couch. Rosily slid



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318 DRAKE

One shining foot and one wann rounded knee
From silken coverlets of the tossed-back clouds.
Then, like the meeting after desolate years,
Face to remembered face, Drake saw the Dawn
Step forth in naked splendour o'er the sea;
Dawn, bearing still her rich divine increase
Of beauty, love, and wisdom round the world;
The same, yet not the same. So strangely gleamed
Her pearl and rose across the sapphire waves
That scarce he knew the dead man at his feet.
His world was made anew. Strangely his voice
Rang through that solemn Eden of the mom
Calling hb men, and stranger than a dream
Their boats black-blurred against the crimson East,
Or flashing misty sheen where'er the light
Smote on their smooth wet sides, like seraph ships
Moved in a dewy glory towards the land;
Their oars of glittering diamond broke the sea
As by enchantment into burning jewels
And scattered rainbows from their flaming blades.
The clear green water lapping round their prows,
The words of sharp command as now the keels
Crunched on his lonely shore, and the following wave
Leapt slapping o'er the stems, in that new light
Were more than any miracle. At last «

Drake, as they grouped a little way below
The crumbling sandy cliff whereon he stood.
Seeming to overshadow them as he loomed
A cloud of black against the crimson sky,
Spoke, as a man may hardly speak but once:
''My seamen, oh my friends, companions, kings; '
For I am least among you, being your captain;
And ye are men, and all men bom are kings,
By right divine, and I the least of these
Because I must usurp the throne of God
And sit in judgment, even till I have set
My seal upon the red wax of this blood,
This blood of my dead friend, ere it grow cold. ^
Not all the waters of that mighty sea
Could wash my hands of sin if I should now
Falter upon my path. But look to it, you.



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DRAZB 31d

Whose word was doom last night to this dead man;

Look to it, I say, look to it! Brave men might shrink

From this great voyage; but the heart of him

Who dares turn backward now must be so hardy

That God might make a thousand millstones of it

To hang about the necks of those that hurt

Some little child, and cast them in the sea.

Yet if ye will be found so more than bold,

Speak now, and I will hear you; God will judge.

But ye shidl take four ships of these my five,

Tear out the lions from their painted shields,

And speed you homeward. Leave me but one ship,

My Golden Hynde, and five good friends, nay one,

To watch when I must sleep, and I will prove

This judgment just against all winds that blow.

Now ye that wUl return, speak, let me know you,

Or be for ever silent, for I swear

Over this butchered body, if any swerve

Hereafter from the straight and perilous way,

He shall not die alone. What? Will none speak?

My comrades and my friends! Yet ye must learn,

Mark me, my friends, I'd have you all to know

That ye are kings. I'll have no jealousies

Aboard my fleet. I'll have the gentleman

To pull and haul wi' the seaman. I'll not have

That canker of the Spaniards in my fleet.

Ye that were captains, I cashier you all.

I'll have no captains; I'll have nought but seamen.

Obedient to my will, because I serve

England. What, will ye murmur? Have a care,

Lest I should bid you homeward all alone.

You whose white hands are found too delicate

For aught but dallying with your jewelled swords!

And thou, too, master Fletcher, my ship's chaplain,

Mark me, I'll have no priest-craft. I have heard

Overmuch talk of judgment from thy lips,

God's judgment here, God's judgment there, upon usi

Whene'er the winds are contrary, thou takest

Their powers upon thee for thy moment's end.

Thou art God's minister, not God's oracle:

Chain up thy tongue a little, or, by His wounds.



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S20 DRAKE

If thou canst read this wide world like a book,

Thou hast so little to fear, I'll set thee adrift

On God's great sea to find thine own way home.

Why, 'tis these very tyrannies o' the soul

We strike at when we strike at Spain for England;

And shall we here, in this great wilderness,

Ungrappled and unchallenged, out of sight,

Alone, without one struggle, sink that flag

Which, when the cannon thundered, could but stream

Triumphant over all the storms of death.

Nay, master Wynter and my gallant captains,

I see ye are tamed. Take up your ranks again

In humbleness, remembering ye are kings,

Kings for the sake and by the will of England,

Therefore her servants till your lives' last end.

Comrades, mistake not this, our little fleet

Is freighted with the golden heart of England,

And, if we fail, that golden heart will break.

The world's wide eyes are on us, and our souls

Are woven together into one great flag

Of England. Shall we strike it? Shall it be rent

Asunder with small discord, party strife,

Ephemeral conflict of contemptible tongues,

Or shall it be blazoned, blazoned evermore

On the most heaven-wide page of history?

This is that hour, I know it in my soul,

When we must choose for England. Ye are kings,

And sons of Vikings, exiled from your throne.

Have ye forgotten? Nay, your blood remembers I

There is your kingdom. Vikings, that great ocean

Whose tang is in your nostrils. Ye must choose

Whether to re-assume it now for England,

To claim its thunders for her panoply,

To lay its lightnings in her sovereign hands,

Win her the great commandment of the sea

And let its glory roll with her dominion

Round the wide world for ever, sweeping back

All evil deeds and dreams, or whether to yield

For evermore that kinghood. Ye must learn

Here in this golden dawn our great emprise



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DRAKE 321

Is greater than we knew. Eye hath not seen,
Ear hath not heard what oame across the dark
Last night, as there anointed with that blood
I knelt and saw the wonder that should be.
I saw new heavens of freedom, a new earth
Released from all old tyrannies. I saw
The brotherhood of man, for which we rode,
Most ignorant of the splendour of our spears,
Against the crimson dynasties of Spain.
Mother of freedom, home and hope and love,
Our little island, far, how far away,
I paw thee shatter the whole world of hate,
I saw the sunrise on thy helmet flame
With new-bom hope for all the world in thee I
Come now, to sea, to sea!"

And ere they knew
What power impelled them, with one mighty cry
They lifted up their hearts to the new dawn
And hastened down the shores and launched the boats,
And in the fierce white out-draught of the waves
Thrust with their brandished oars and the boats leapt
Out, and they settled at the groaning thwarts.
And the white water boiled before their blades,
As, with Drake's iron hand upon the helm.
His own boat led the way; and ere they knew
What power as of a wind bore them along,
Anchor was up, their hands were on the sheets,
The sails were broken out and that small squadron
Was fljring like a sea-bird to the South.
Now to the strait Magellanus they came.
And entered in with ringing shouts of joy.
Nor did they think there was a fairer strait
In all the world than this which lay so calm
Between great silent mountains crowned with snow,
Unutterably lonely. Marvellous
The pomp of dawn and sunset on those heights,
And like a strange new sacrilege the advance
Of prows that ploughed that time-forgotten tide.
But soon rude flaws, cross currents, tortuous channels

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322 DRAKE

Bewildered them, ftnd many a league they drove

As down some vaster Acheron, while the coasts

With wailing voices cursed them all night long,

And once again the hideous fires leapt red

By many a grim wrenched crag and gaunt ravine.

So for a hundred leagues of whirling spume

They groped, till suddenly, far away, they saw

Full of the sunset, like a cup of gold,

The purple Westward portals of the strait.

Onward o'er roughening waves they plunged and reached

Capo Desiderato, where they saw

What seemed stupendous in that lonely place, —

Gaunt, black, and sharp as death against the sky

The Cross, the great black Cross on Cape Desire,

Which dead Magellan raised upon the height

To guide, or so he thought, his wandering ships,

Not knowing they had left him to his doom,

Not knowing how with tears, with tears of joy,

Rapture, and terrible triumph, and deep awe,

Another should come voyaging and read

Unutterable glories in that sign;

While his rough seamen raised their mighty shout

And, once again, before his wondering eyes.

League upon league of awful burnished gold.

Rolled the unknown immeasurable sea.

Now, in those days, as even Magellan held.

Men thought that Southward of the strait there swept

Firm land up to the white Antarticke Pole,

Which now not far they deemed. But when Drake passed

From out the strait to take his Northward way

Up the Pacific coast, a great head-wind

Suddenly smote them; and the heaving seas

Bulged all around them into billowy hills.

Dark rolling mountains, whose majestic crests

Like wild white flames far-blown and savagely flickering

Swept through the clouds; and on their sullen slopes

Like wind-whipt withered leaves those little ships,

Now hurtled to the Zenith and now plunged

Down into bottomless gulfs, were suddenly scattered

And whirled away. Drake, on the Golden Hynde,



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DRAKE 323

One moment saw them near him, soaring up
Above him on the huge overhanging billows
As if to crash down on his poop; the next,
A mile of howling sea had swept between
Each of those wind-whipt straws, and they were gone
Through roaring deserts of embattled death,
Where, like a hundred thousand chariots charged
With lightnings and with thunders, one great wave
Leading the unleashed ocean down the storm
Hurled them away to Southward.

One last glimpse
Drake caught o' the MarygoM, when some mighty vortex
Wide as the circle of the wide sea-line
Swept them together again. He saw her staggering
With mast snapt short and wreckage-tangled deck
Where men like insects clung. He saw the waves
Leap over her mangled hulk, like wild white wolves,
Volleying out of the clouds down dismal steeps
Of green-black water. Like a wounded steed
Quivering upon its haunches, up she heaved
Her head to throw them off. Then, in one mass
Of fury crashed the great deep over her.
Trampling her down, down into the nethermost pit,
As with a madman's wrath. She rose no more.
And in the stream of the ocean's hurricane laughter
The Golden Hynde went hurtling to the South,
With sails rent into ribbons and her mast
Snapt like a twig. Yea, where Magellan thought
Firm land had been, the little Golden Hynde
Whirled like an autunm leaf through league on league
Of bursting seas, chaos on crashing chaos,
A rolling wilderness of charging Alps
That shook the world with their tremendous war;
Grim beetling cliffs that grappled with clamorous gulfs.
Valleys that yawned to swallow the wide heaven;
Immense white-flowering fluctuant precipices,
And hills that swooped down at the throat of hell;
From Pole to Pole, one blanching bursting storm
Of world-wide oceans, where the huge Pacific
Roared greetings to the Atlantic and both swept



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324 DRAKE

In broad white cataracts, league on struggling league,

Pursuing and pursued, immeasurable,

With Titan hands grasping the rent black sky

East, West, North, South. Then, then was battle indeed

Of midget men upon that wisp of grass

The Golden Hynde, who, as her masts crashed, hung

Clearing the tiny wreckage from small decks

With ant-like weapons. Not their captain's voice

Availed them now amidst the deafening thunder

Of seas that felt the heavy hand of God,

Only they saw across the blinding spume

In steely flashes, grand and grim, a face,

Like the last glimmer of faith among mankind.

Calm in this warring universe, where Drake

Stood, lashed to his post, beside the helm. Black seas

Buffeted him. Half-stimned he dashed away

The sharp brine from his eagle eyes and turned

To watch some mountain-range come rushing down

As if to o'erwhelm them utterly. Once, indeed,

Welkin and sea were one black wave, white-fanged,

White-crested, and up-heaped so mightily

That, though it coursed more swiftly than a herd

Of Titan steeds upon some terrible plain

Nigh the huge City of Ombos, yet it seemed

Most strangely slow, with all those cnunbling crests

Each like a cataract on a mountain-side.

And moved with the steady majesty of doom

High over him. One moment's flash of fear.

And yet not fear, but rather life's regret,

Felt Drake, then laughed a low deep laugh of joy

Such as men taste in battle; yea, 'twas good

To grapple thus with death; one low deep laugh.

One mutter as of a lion about to spring,

Then burst that thunder o'er him. Height o'er height

The heavens rolled down, and waves were all the world.

Meanwhile, in England, dreaming of her sailor,
Far oflF, his heart's bride waited, of a proud
And stubborn house the bright and gracious flower.
Whom oft her father urged with scanty grace
That Drake was dead and she had best forget



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DRAKE 326

The fellow, he grunted. For her father's heart

Was fettered with small memories, mocked by all

The greater world's traditions and the trace

Of earth's low pedigree among the suns,

Ringed with the terrible twilight of the Gods,

Ringed with the blood-red dusk of dying nations,

His faith was in his grandam's mighty skirt,

And, in that awful consciousness of power.

Had it not been that even in this he feared

To sully her silken flounce or farthingale

Wi' the white dust on his hands, he would have chalked

To his own shame, thinking it shame, the word

Nearest to God in its divine embrace

Of agonies and glories, the dread word

Demos across that door in Nazareth

Whence came the prentice carpenter whose voice

Hath shaken kingdoms down, whose menial gibbet

Rises triumphant o'er the wreck of Empires

And stretches out its arms amongst the Stars.

But she, his daughter, only let her heart

Loveably forge a charter for her love,

Cheat her false creed with faithful faery dreams

That wrapt her love in mystery; thought, perchance,

He came of some unhappy noble race

Ruined in battle for some lost high cause.

And, in the general mixture of men's blood.

Her dream was truer than his whose bloodless pride

Urged her to wed the chinless moon-struck fool

Sprung from five hundred years of idiocy

Who now besought her hand; would force her bear

Some heir to a calf's tongue and a coronet.

Whose cherished taints of blood will please his friends

With "Yea, Sir William's first-bom hath the freak,

The family freak, being embryonic. Yea,

And with a fine half-wittedness, forsooth.

Praise God, our children's children yet shall see

The lord o' the manor muttering to himself

At midnight by the grjrphon-guarded gates,

Or gnawing his nails in desolate corridors.

Or pacing moonlit halls, dagger in hand.

Waiting to stab his father's pitiless ghost."



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326 DRAKE

So she— the ^1 — Sweet Bess of Sydenham,
Most innocently proud, was prouder yet
Than thus to let her heart stoop to the lure
Of lording lovers, though her unstained soul
Slumbered amidst those dreams as in old tales
The princess in the enchanted forest sleeps
Till the prince wakes her with a kiss and draws
The far-flung hues o' the gleaming magic web
Into one heart of flame. And now, for Drake,
She slept like Brynhild in a ring of fire
Which he must pass to win her. For the wrath
Of Spain now flamed, awaiting his return.
All round the seas of home; and even the Queen
Elizabeth flinched, as that tremendous Power
Menaced the heart of England, flinched and vowed
Drake's head to Spain's ambassadors, though still
By subtlety she hoped to find some way
Later to save or warn him ere he came.
Perchance too, nay, most like, he will be slain
Or even now lies dead, out in the West,
She thought, and then the promise works no harm.
But, day by day, there came as on the wings
Of startled winds from o'er the Spanish Main,
Strange echoes as of sacked and clamouring ports
And battered gates of fabulous golden cities,
A murmur out of the sunset of Peru,
A sea-bird's wail from Lima. While no less
The wrathful menace gathered up its might
All round our little isle; till now the King


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Online LibraryAlfred NoyesCollected poems, Volume 1 → online text (page 19 of 26)