They Have Bound Us [poem by E. J. Brady]

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


They Have Bound Us.

The round world glows in its green and rose,
And the full buds burst to bloom:
The earth is ours with its wine and flowers —
But the shore-shot rollers boom;

And we’d cramp and choke in the grit and smoke,
And our hearts would yearn always
For the sight and smell of the ocean swell,
And the splash of the sparkling spray.

For the roll and dip of a royal ship
In the trough of the turgid seethe,
For the ramp and roar of the free winds four
And the breath that a man may breathe.

The land-bird sings on its high-poised wings,
And the coaxing girls are fair;
The rich earth teems in its slopes and streams
As we laugh and take our share.

’T is good to move in the level groove —
To drink, and to love — but still
Do the spring-tides rise in the moon’s white eyes,
And her sails will flap and fill;

And the sun streaks dim on the water’s rim,
With the heaving miles before,
And the still stars beam on the swirling stream
As she heels, hull down, once more.

Aye, her yards will sway on the inward way,
And swing on the outward track,
And we’ll haul her through to the land-line blue,
And we’ll merrily haul her back.

Oh! her blocks may creak when the typhoons shriek
As the white surf beats ahead,
But we’ll all come back on the outward track,
Or we’ll all be damned and dead!

By the gull’s white breast on the rising crest
Of the far, unfathomed sea;
By the roll and dip of a royal ship,
By a thousand things that be;

By the girls we love, by the God above,
By the Surge, and the Surf, and the Wind,
By the Sun and Air, and the Death we dare,
Is the charm of the chains that bind.

By those days of yore, when their captain swore
In the beards of his canoneers,
By the steel that rang in the battle clang,
And the shouts of our privateers;

By the clean back-stroke in the rifted smoke,
When the grappling-irons held
By the right arm red of the Rover, dead
In the fighting years of Eld;

By the pirate’s flag, where the mangroves sag
To the edge of the dark bayou.
By the tale and song of the Rover’s wrong,
And the deeds of his derring-do;

By those black eyes bold on the Coast of Gold,
By the fire of the Creole’s kiss,
By the Hindoo dance and the French girl’s glance,
The chain of our bondage is.

Oh, the seas that roll to the frozen Pole
In the bright Aurora’s beam,
And the seas that sleep by the palm-clad steep,
Where the brown-skinned beauties dream;

Oh, the waves that doze where the Gulf Stream flows
From its head to the warm Antilles
Are the books we read and the signs we heed,
And the things we know and feel!

And the Sea’s our place from around Cape Race
To the bergs of Behring Strait,
And we’ve Tokio tied to the Firth o’ Clyde,
With a hitch of the Rio Plate.

We have swilled sam-shu with the Chinese crew
Of a swab-nosed pirate junk;
We have seen Ceylon with her colours on
Go mad on an arrack drunk:

We have heard the crash of the lightning flash
In the dark of the Indian Sea,
We have seen men’s lives cut out with the knives
Of the treacherous Portugee.

We have made our call where the ladies tall
Of the coral islands laze;
We have known Japan, as a sailor can;
We have fooled with the dark Malays.

We are burnt and brown, with our lips clewed down
By the salt of the ocean spume,
We are hard and lean, we are none too clean,
And the tar is our own perfume;

But we’ve come to drink and to burst our jink
With the girls who are fair and free,
If we pay the price of our varied vice
When she skips on the open sea.

Oh, the Spaniard went when his sails were bent,
And the Dutchman kissed his frau,
And the days were good when they built of wood
What they build of iron now.

But the Dawn will red and the Day will spread
On the track of the Rovers old,
Where the galleon brave to her seething grave
Lurched down with the Inca’s gold.

And the sea’s our ground from the Land’s End round
To the sight of the Golden Gate,
For we’ve Tokio tied to the Firth o’ Clyde,
With a hitch of the River Plate.

By the roll and dip of a royal ship
Is the link of our bondage chain;
By her dip and roll from the frozen Pole
To the Indies — and round again!

E. J. Brady, The Ways of Many Waters, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1909 [first published 1899], pages 116-120

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