The Ports of the Open Sea
Down here where the ships loom large in
The gloom when the sea-storms veer,
Down here on the south-west margin
Of the western hemisphere,
Where the might of a world-wide ocean
Round the youngest land rolls free —
Storm-bound from the world’s commotion,
Lie the Ports of the Open Sea.
By the bluff where the grey sand reaches
To the kerb of the spray-swept street,
By the sweep of the black sand beaches
From the main-road travellers’ feet,
By the heights like a work Titanic,
Begun ere the gods’ work ceased,
By a bluff-lined coast volcanic
Lie the Ports of the wild South-east.
By the steeps of the snow-capped ranges,
By the scarped and terraced hills —
Far away from the swift life-changes,
From the wear of the strife that kills —
Where the land in the Spring seems younger
Than a land of the Earth might be —
Oh ! the hearts of the rovers hunger
For the Ports of the Open Sea.
But the captains watch and hearken
For a sign of the South Sea wrath —
Let the face of the South-east darken,
And they turn to the ocean path.
Ay, the sea-boats dare not linger,
Whatever the cargo be ;
When the South-east lifts a finger
By the Ports of the Open Sea.
South by the bleak Bluff faring,
North where the Three Kings wait,
South-east the tempest daring —
Flight through the storm-tossed strait ;
Yonder a white-winged roamer
Struck where the rollers roar —
Where the great green froth-flaked comber
Breaks down on a black-ribbed shore.
For the South-east lands are dread lands
To the sailor in the shrouds,
Where the low clouds loom like headlands,
And the black bluffs blur like clouds.
When the breakers rage to windward
And the lights are masked a-lee,
And the sunken rocks run inward
To a Port of the Open Sea.
But oh ! for the South-east weather —
The sweep of the three-days’ gale —
When, far through the flax and heather,
The spindrift drives like hail.
Glory to man’s creations
That drive where the gale grows gruff,
When the homes of the sea-coast stations
Flash white from the dark’ning bluff !
When the swell of the South-east rouses
The wrath of the Maori sprite,
And the brown folk flee their houses
And crouch in the flax by night,
And wait as they long have waited —
In fear as the brown folk be —
The wave of destruction fated
For the Ports of the Open Sea.
* * * * *
Grey cloud to the mountain bases,
Wild boughs that rush and sweep ;
On the rounded hills the tussocks
Like flocks of flying sheep ;
A lonely storm-bird soaring
O’er tussock, fern and tree ;
And the boulder beaches roaring
The Hymn of the Open Sea.
Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 1-4
a-lee = (also spelt “alee”) something on or toward the lee side of a ship or other vessel; or, in a wider context, away from the wind (distinct from “aweather”, regarding something on or toward the windward or weather side of a ship or other vessel; or, in a wider context, toward the wind)
comber = a long curling wave
flax = any plant of the genus Linum, particularly Linum usitatissimum; or, the textile fiber produced from the flax plant
scarped = to cut into a scarp (an escarpment or steep slope); in the context of this poem, “scarped and terraced hills” is referring to hills which have escarpments and terraces