The Isle of the Sea


Man cannot find more magical a place,
Decked in the robes of nature’s silk and lace
Where daisies ornament with the stars the fields,
And placid pond a gleaming mirror yields,
Where mountains swell in purple majesty,
Than this fair land, the darling of the sea!
What mindful man could not feel soul expand
When wandering through this enchanted land,
Threading her woods, walking her pathways green?
Could he pass by and leave these gems unseen?
Could he, when rambling up her leafy lanes,
Not sip the cup of beauty to the drains?
Would not his soul, when in her narrow ways,
Respond to her and sing aloud her praise?
My song repeated cannot grow the less
Whene’er I walk amid her loveliness.
What if by circumstance my feet must tread
On pavements where the London gloom is shed?
Though sundered from my love by land and sea,
That is no handicap, no bar to me,
Yet the more bright she shines in memory.
So the soft purple veils of mist now part
And I can see the land that has my heart.
There comes a cottage shelt’ring by a wood
Where once I used to pause, and gazing stood,
Held by the morning in its dewy mood.
Now door and window with a sightless stare
Are open, as the roof-beams, to the air;
And in the long cracks of the rotting floor
Green grasses grow, a garden from the door.
Just a lone tholtan with a cracking wall,
Vibrant with memories, and that is all;
Yet happy voices once here echoèd,
Their owners now are lying with the dead!
On either side I see in pristine glow
Where golden cushag and the gorse still grow,
And cover rusting implements with charm.
For hereabouts I find a little farm
That seems to hide itself from every eye;
Like some white cloud that, in the deep-blue sky,
Feeling that it invades the sun’s domain
And spoils his glory with the hint of rain,
Tries to efface herself into the blue
And strips of downy whiteness break to flow
On through the sky without the parent cloud,
And thus by sending off her fledgling crowd,
She thinks to be unseen and not to mar
The bright effulgence of the solar star;
So lies the farm stretched out upon the land
In little groups of houses, as a hand,
A giant hand, had thrown them far apart;
With here a pump, a water-trough, a cart;
And there the cattle in the low-roofed byre,
Chewing contentedly, to little they aspire.
And just as if he’d learned their lesson taught
The crofter seeks to live, unknown, unsought;
Unhindered by the cares that thick abound
Beyond the precincts of his native ground.
Unheard the guns of war, unheard the strife;
His not to kill, his aim to foster life.
His lot calmly to toil, and toiling live,
Freely to take and quite as freely give;
Happy to be employed throughout his days.
A little farther on the winding road
I see a woman with a heavy load
Of gathered sticks wherewith to warm her bones;
They called her witch for she was of the crones,
With wisdom garnered from the Ancient Ones.
She staggers with her gorse bonds and she hums
An old island air through her toothless gums.
I see the children run with glee about,
Their voices echoing shrilly as they shout
And put the dogs and cats to merry rout.
The farmer’s daughter, a straight comely lass,
Endeavours to restrain them as they pass,
For she is going to teach and needs a class.
Yet farther, o’er a low-built dry stone wall
I see a path that leads by easy fall
To an arched bridge beneath a pine tree’s shade,
And here there is a hidden leafy glade
Where in the brook expands to form a pool,
A brook that finds its way from South Barrule.
Below the bridge it rushes on apace
To fall headlong o’er a weir; a mill race
Forks off to lead the water to a mill,
Old Gawne’s mill: I can see it turning still,
The great red wheel, dripping as if with sweat,
Shuddering turns to drive its stones of grit.
The Gawne I knew is not within his grave,
But here his son will prove an eager slave,
And grind as did his father.
Around a bend
My mind’s eye travels till the hedges end,
And cottages begin. Here many a friend
My wraith comes out to greet, and smiling stands;
Old Dick the Cobbler with the skilful hands;
And Bella that could sing both high and low,
And Mother Kennaugh passing to and fro.
They crowd their doors, they lean on garden gates,
It is as if the village patient waits
For one who comes not. I can see you all
Yet on your ears no step of mine will fall,
For you and I are many miles apart
In body; and you cannot hear my heart.
I see the boy who ran on eager feet
Down to the bridge and cross the village street,
Past the grey chapel and a field of corn,
Past brambled hedges and gnarled trees of thorn,
To the small station there to wait the train,
Due from far Douglas. There was hint of rain
If its shrill whistle clear came on the breeze.
Then in the distance round a clump of trees
Floated a feather white, and then the gleam
Of the brass dome. And so I sit and dream,
My eyes resting on walls grimy and black,
My mind elsewhere, my memory wand’ring back.
There is the smithy where old William worked,
And round his door such fascination lurked
That children stood who should have been at school,
Learning more things than read in book of rule,
And watching William nailing on the shoe
Of patient horse: but now his ancient craft
Is on the wane and he is understaffed.
Beside the road the streamlet ripples by,
But now once singing gay it seems to sigh;
I turn to it and bend my feet again
Upon the path uprising through the glen,
A narrow path I know will soon take me
Past the deep pool where the Phynoderee
Was wont to bathe, so climbing steadily
I come at length to view the nestling vale
Lie at my feet and stretch to where the pale
Blue ribband of the sea and one white sail
Etch their clear image on my eager mind;
And snowy seagulls ride upon the wind,
Spreading their wings and uttering raucous cries,
And wheel and loop and skim, their watchful eyes
Gleaming for tit-bits tossed to them. And so
Along a curving dipping path I go
Where golden gorse and broom is all aglow,
And in the thin air music sweet and strange
Steals on the ears. Where’er my eyes will range
Beauty confronts me, beauty that doth change
With every cloud that floats across the sun
And every silken tint the waves have spun
Round the green shores of this most lovely isle
Where even demons croon and witches smile.
And now I see, while darkness draws apace
Its scarf about the throat and veils the face
Of Mona’s isle, the waves with lunge and toss
Charge on the sand and shingle, smite each boss
Of rocky coast, as if the sea would slay
The darling it has played with all the day,
And now as if grown tired of gentle ease
Would drive its plaything to the Hebrides.
I hear its thunder in the southern caves
As if Odin and Thor roared in their graves
And Orry once again stormed down the track,
The Milky Way, knee-deep in starry wrack
To offer to the doughty Manxmen peace.
And peace it is, the isle outlives the blast,
And knows the temper of the sea can last
No longer than a dainty mermaid’s frown
When Neptune will not promise her his crown.
When in the moonlight from an airy height
I gaze upon the island robed in white,
She lies from tip to tail a basking fish
That has within its heart no other wish
Than to be lulled for all eternity
In ocean’s arms, the green isle of the sea.

Feb., 1928