[Editor: This poem by C. J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Later Verses (1918).]
I hold by stern morality,
Despite the worldlings’ scoffing;
But when I sit beside the sea
And gaze into the offing
The bathers, mingling on the beach,
Stir thoughts I cannot put in speech.
Indeed, my sad soul loathes a sight
So ill to minds ascetic;
Yet from the narrow path of right
I feel a tug magnetic
That seeks to draw me o’er the sand,
Out to the siren-haunted strand.
“Come, mingle,” sings the restless sea.
This urging sorely vexes.
E’en fish, when caught and tinned, may be
Unwed and mixed in sexes.
But who has heard of potted sin,
Or found temptation in a tin?
Hark, by the seaside yester eve
I had a wondrous vision.
The sun was just about to leave
With his well-known precision,
When I espied upon the sand
A tin of a familar brand.
And, as I gazed, my limbs grew limp
And giddiness came o’er me;
For from it stepped a fish-like imp
That smirked and bowed before me;
His puckered features seemed to be
Awry with spite and devilry.
“Young man,” he said, “You’re wasting time.
Why do you sit there mooning?
So brave a youth, just in his prime,
Should find more joy in spooning.
For, see! the ocean hath its pearls;
Go forth and mingle with the girls!”
And from the tins that lay about
Upon the silver shingle
I heard a wee shrill chorus shout,
“Young man, go forth and mingle!”
And then I knew each empty tin
Concealed its special imp within.
I felt the red blood course anew,
I felt my pulses tingle;
And still the tiny chorus grew;
“Young man, go forth and mingle!” . . . .
Then, from an old, bashed can I saw
A lordly lobster wave a claw.
“Good fellow, have a care!” he said,
“Stray not from pathways upper!
I am the ghost of one long dead,
Slain for a sinful supper.
But once good works were done by me
Among the sinners of the sea.
“In life I roamed the vasty deep
Engaged upon a mission,
Which was my fellow-fish to keep
From swimming to perdition.
Now I am dead” (his voice grew thin),
“Alas! they mingle in the tin!
“Beware the blood that bounds and leaps!
Your sinful feelings throttle.
Beware the imp that leers and peeps
From out each tin and bottle!
A submarine reformer speaks.
Beware when gay Belinda squeaks!”
Lo, as he spoke my blood grew chill,
The spell no longer bound me,
The impish chorus now was still
And silence reigned around me.
The ghostly lobster disappeared;
My heart of base desire was cleared.
But, to this day, I feel a thrill
’Mid tins upon the shingle;
I seem to hear that chorus shrill:
“Young man, go forth and mingle!”. . . .
But then I hear the lobster’s voice,
And, knowing I am saved, rejoice.
C. J. Dennis, Backblock Ballads and Later Verses, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918, pages 143-146
Leave a Reply