Pale virgins of the Arctic,
They pulse across the tides
To meet the lords Antarctic,
Who fain would make them brides.
The wicked White Fox spied them
Beyond the Frozen Sea,
With but dim Night to hide them,
Still sleeping nakedly.
A woman-seal, bewailing
Her dead cub in the floe,
Saw one tall wanton sailing
Out South’ard through the snow.
Down by the Crozets lying —
Storm-stricken on the waste —
In weedy seas slow dying
Her twin berg bids her haste.
A man-seal strangely bleeding
Beneath the midnight sun
Beheld him proudly speeding
Towards far Septentrion.
Long, long he fared and sought her
From realms of Night and Fire,
The gray North’s gracious daughter —
His lily of desire.
The clumsy cow-whale, giving
A great dug to her calf,
Breaks surges unforgiving
That built his cenotaph.
The petrel heard him groaning,
The penguin saw him die,
The dovekies mock her moaning,
The daft auks watch her by.
Now, in their bride-robes biding,
Throng down her sisters tall,
Whose lords-elect are chiding,
Whose waiting bridegrooms call;
In vain their mad dams stayed them —
The painted glaciers these,
Who on their cold breasts laid them
Through aching centuries.
Once came the Vikings sweeping —
Red fell the clean snows then —
Once came the long ships leaping
Of swart Basque sailor-men;
Once came John Cabot, sailing
Nor’-West for rich Cathay;
Once Baffin’s tub turned, trailing
A-leak to Melville Bay.
Came Ghosts — of Hudson steering,
To skirt the Middle Ice;
Came Shades — of Franklin, Behring,
First Sons of Sacrifice.
What heed these white maids, burning,
Who sweep by Cape Farewell?
What heeds the Earth-maid, yearning,
Doomstruck? — Love legends tell.
The ice-blink fadeth faster
From strange green water-skies;
Each berg her lot has cast her
Where now her love-lot lies.
Fierce Southern Seas enfold them,
Torn from their glacial shore,
And strong-armed breakers hold them
Yon’ wings the fond she-eider,
Yon’ creeps the lone white hare,
And with her cubs beside her
Slow hunts the Polar bear.
Bejewelled charms revealing.
Pink harlots they at noon,
But sinless ladies stealing
Soft homeward in the moon.
So comes the King-berg Nor’ward
To seek his love again;
So goes the Queen-berg forward,
Amort and all in vain.
She at the Grand Bank dieth,
Who thus the Sun-god dares;
He, worn and wasted, lieth
A-dying at the Snares.
He may not kiss his rover,
The warm blue seas between;
She may not clasp her lover,
Nor be his Boreal Queen.
They greet not, meet not ever;
They touch not mouth to mouth,
Who still go North forever,
Forever who go South.
E. J. Brady, The Earthen Floor, Grafton (N.S.W.): Grip Newspaper Co., 1902
fain = happily or gladly; ready or willing; obliged or compelled
Shade = ghost; disembodied spirit
swart = dark in color (as an adjective, “swarthy”)
yon’ = an abbreviation of “yonder”: at a distance; far away
Old spelling in the original text:
Vernacular spelling in the original text: