His Lights are Out.
Have I hung my cap on the main truck, lass or stood on the royal yard,
That you clutch my arm at a deck-wide cliff with a motherly damned regard? . . .
It’s little they reck of the way it hurts when they think of being kind,
But there isn’t a rock as sharp down there as the knife that sent me blind.
Aye, a sotted fool and his dirty lance, and a twice his thousand pound
Won’t pay for the ship that was half my soul — her keel on the outward bound.
Blind! blind, oh, my God, as a crawling mole! and never again to see, —
A star in the sky of the meanest thief, but a starless Night for me. . . .
They’re breaking a bit on the reef to-day. It blew half a gale last night,
And I laid and listened and fell asleep, — to dream again of the light,
Till I heard the wind in her cordage chime. Oh, she was my Queen of May,
And I dressed her up in her Sunday clothes, and laughed when she waltzed away.
How I paced the poop like a desert chief and felt the splash of the foam,
As she took the road like an Arab mare when I turned her head for home!
I woke in the dark and my face was wet — it’s hardly a sick man’s fault,
When he tastes the cup of his bitterness, if he finds that tears are salt.
Great Lord of Hosts, how they call down there!
Just hark how the young ones sing,
And tumble and roll away to the beach to play at kiss-in-the-ring!
King Lord of Hosts I how yon sun must shine, and glitter the heaven through,
And dance and blaze in a shower of gold out there on the white and blue.
They are cracking it on up-coast, I’ll bet. ’Tis a rattling tops’l breeze;
I can see the gloss of their wetted sides awash with the clinging seas;
I can catch the gleam of the Baltic pine with the caulking lines between;
And I know the rig of the yards of Tyne from the build of Aberdeen.
How the smell of it sets my heart to beat! There’s never a garden rose
With a scent like that from the salt sou’-east, when a ten-knot monsoon blows;
Oh, it brings things back in the dark to me — the dreams of the crippled dog —
Till I hear the grunt of the rudder-chains, the running out of the log;
Till I hear the churn of the bow-cut waves; the kiss of her cuddling dip;
Til I’m live and whole and a king again on the deck of my bonny ship.
Yes, I’m whole and live and I’m free to strive to pleasure me as I can —
So haul away on your halliards there and follow your chantey man!
I have laid her out for the brave west wind to battle the Horn round;
I have laid her up on the Channel course, and I’ll home her safe and sound.
For it’s north of Scilly the soundings shoal — a bottom of ooze and mud —
And the water’s deep on the coast of France, with a sand as red as blood.
Aye, I know the lay of the Seven Stones; I’ll steer by the lights in line;
Where the devil has set his traps for ships — the devil must wait for mine.
We have lost the fog at the Farallones, and carried her by the chart;
We have left the fog at the Farallones, but we’ll find it at the Start.
’Tis book and beacon, and beacon and book, and never forget the lead!
And beware Scar Rock with a nor’-east wind when the Whitby light turns red!
So a double reef in your topsails, lads! There’s hardly a ’prentice fool
But knows o’ the flood in Hasborough Gat and the lights at Hartlepool.
And I’ll steer my ship by the laws of God, as His wind or tide allows;
By the rules of the Merchant Shipping Act, and the rules of Trinity House.
She will take her berth in the London Docks, and add her load to the loads,
Though I stood at the wheel with Beelzebub, from the Downs to Margate Roads.
* * *
If I moon out here on the cliffs and think, my face to the open sea,
’Tis only because of the things I love that throng in the Dark to me.
’Tis only because of a world I knew; a world that was wholly mine;
It had three parts water and one part land, and plenty of teak and pine.
It had three parts water and one part land, and a Sun to light them o’er,
And the Sun and the Land and the Brave Deep Seas — I shall see them nevermore.
It had three parts water and one part land, and plenty of hemp and oak;
With Four Main Roads for the feet of Trade, and a crossing at Cape St. Roque.
The water’s blue in the Indian Seas and salt in the Great Gulf Stream,
And the little trade clouds they are fair to see, with the steady Trades abeam;
And the moonheads shine in the tropic nights when the sea-fire’s at the bow;
And the Cross hangs high in the Southern arch — but it doesn’t matter now.
I will never rest in a vault ashore, I couldn’t sleep in a hole;
They must take me out in a clipper ship and leave me under the roll;
They must lay me down at the Crossing-place, in the mid Atlantic sea,
And I’l1 say “Good-night” to the Voices then, and the Night will sleep with me.
E. J. Brady, The Earthen Floor, Grafton (N.S.W.): Grip Newspaper Co., 1902
Also published in:
E. J. Brady, Wardens of the Seas, Sydney: Endeavour Press, 1933
[Editor: Changed “deck—wide cliff” to “deck-wide cliff”.]