A Rhyme of the Roads [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in The Ways of Many Waters (1899).]


A Rhyme of the Roads.

They slope away from Greenwich
To Mother Carey’s ground,
The routes of outward-going,
The tracks of homeward-bound:
From Melbourne pier to Plymouth
In level miles are laid
The highways of the waters,
The streets and lanes of trade.

Though no man marked a passage,
Though no man blazed the trees,
That other feet might follow
His footsteps on the seas;
Though no man lit the camp-fire,
Or carried staff and chain,
The pathways of the waters
Were ever placed and plain;

With here and there, for milestones,
A roving sailor’s bones;
Or, by some coral cross-roads,
The Inn of Davy Jones,
Where rowdy Jacks make revel
And drunken pirates roar —
St. Elmo’s lights to flicker
Their shadows on the floor.

Perchance by night they gather,
A grizzled company,
Who bore the flags of Traffic
And War across the Sea,
To count the glinting moidores
Deep-fathomed where they lie,
To watch the cutlass flashing
And drain their beakers dry.

The silk-and-ruffle gallants
Of Frobisher and Drake,
The brawling men of Morgan,
Mayhap by night awake
To loot the Spaniard’s cargoes,
To lop the Frenchman’s ears,
To share again the gleanings
Of Rotterdam Mynheers.

Oh, what gay converse making,
They meet along the roads,
These friends and friendly foemen
Of storied episodes!
These simple, pig-tailed heroes,
These wags of Wapping Stairs,
These rowdy-dowdy ruffians —
Fire-eaters and corsairs.

The loads they brought and carried
Have left no trace of wheels,
No track of stout caragues
Or deep Dutch trader’s keels —
Of galleons full-freighted,
Of clumsy brigantines,
Or jaunty India traders
With silks and bugazeens.

But they have trimmed and travelled
From Ganges-Mouth to Thames
With their stout hulls, low laden,
Their idols’ eyes and gems!
They scoured the Western oceans,
They ploughed the Eastern seas,
To sell on London markets
Their spices and their teas!

They raced for cotton cargoes
To merry Mobile Bay,
And out of Buenos-Ayres
They walked in brave array,
With drums and bugles sounding
And bouncing cannonade,
These Arabs of the ocean
Rode out in cavalcade!

Across the rolling desert,
And haply home again,
With rum and sperm and spices,
With Yankee pork and grain,
They trafficked and they traded;
And wealth was any man’s
With lust of wealth to courage
His white-sailed caravans.

Though Time shall write his traces
Upon the ways of men,
The ways of open waters
Are even now as then;
But where the sunrise reddened
Columbus’ creeping sail,
Now whirls her great propeller
The strong Atlantic mail.

And where the ships of Ophir
Came crawling south’ard slow
Now flaunts in pride of progress
The painted P. and O.;
Aye, where their fearful helmsman
First trimmed his lonely light
Ablaze the cargo steamer
Churns onward through the night.

But, circled by the sunrise,
And spread beyond his set,
The breezy roads and bonny
Are rolling bravely yet!
Beneath the grand expanses
Of guiding, starlit sky
The tracks the rovers travelled
Still wide, unbounded lie.

And till old Gabriel’s trumpet
Shall echo overhead,
And from their place of biding
Come up the wakened dead;
Till lost ships all deliver
Their long-forgotten loads,
Still will they shine and sparkle —
The splendid water-roads!

E. J. Brady, The Ways of Many Waters, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1909 [first published 1899], pages 125-129

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