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(I war with a darkling sea);

Would he stoop to my work in the gusty mirk? ('Shoal! 'Ware shoal!') Not he!

There was never a priest to pray,
There was never a hand to toll,
When they made me guard of the bay,
And moored me over the shoal.

I rock, I reel, and I roll

My four great hammers ply

Could I speak or be still at the Church's will?
Shoal! 'Ware shoal!') Not I!

The landward marks have failed,
The fog-bank glides unguessed,
The seaward lights are veiled,
The spent deep feigns her rest.
But my ear is laid to her breast,

I lift to the swell-I cry!

Could I wait in sloth on the Church's oath? ('Shoal! 'Ware shoal!') Not I!

At the careless end of night

I thrill to the nearing screw;

I turn in the nearing light

And I call to the drowsy crew;

And the mud boils foul and blue

As the blind bow backs away.

Will they give me their thanks if they clear the banks? ('Shoal! 'Ware shoal!') Not they!


The beach-pools cake and skim,
The bursting spray-heads freeze,
I gather on crown and rim

The gray, grained ice of the seas

Where, sheathed from bitt to trees,

The plunging colliers lie.

Would I barter my place for the Church's grace?

('Shoal! 'Ware shoal!') Not I!

Through the blur of the whirling snow,

Or the black of the inky sleet,

The lanterns gather and grow,

And I look for the homeward fleet.

Rattle of block and sheet

'Ready about-stand by!'

Shall I ask them a fee ere they fetch the quay? ('Shoal! 'Ware shoal!') Not I!

I dip and I surge and I swing
In the rip of the racing tide,
By the gates of doom I sing,
On the horns of death I ride.
A ship-length overside,

Between the course and the sand,

Fretted and bound I bide

Peril whereof I cry.

Would I change with my brother a league inland? ('Shoal! 'Ware shoal!') Not I!


S our mother the Frigate, bepainted and fine,
Made play for her bully the Ship of the Line;


So we, her bold daughters by iron and fire,

Accost and decoy to our masters' desire.

Now pray you consider what toils we endure,
Night-walking wet sea-lanes, a guard and a lure;
Since half of our trade is that same pretty sort
As mettlesome wenches do practise in port.

For this is our office: to spy and make room,
As hiding yet guiding the foe to their doom;
Surrounding, confounding, to bait and betray
And tempt them to battle the seas' width away.

The pot-bellied merchant foreboding no wrong
With headlight and sidelight he lieth along,
Till, lightless and lightfoot and lurking, leap we
To force him discover his business by sea.

And when we have wakened the lust of a foe,

To draw him by flight toward our bullies we go,

Till, 'ware of strange smoke stealing nearer, he fliesOr our bullies close in for to make him good prize.


So, when we have spied on the path of their host,
One flieth to carry that word to the coast;

And, lest by false doubling they turn and go free,
One lieth behind them to follow and see.

Anon we return, being gathered again,

Across the sad valleys all drabbled with rain—
Across the gray ridges all crisped and curled-
To join the long dance round the curve of the world.

The bitter salt spindrift: the sun-glare likewise:
The moon-track a-tremble bewilders our eyes,
Where, linking and lifting, our sisters we hail
'Twixt wrench of cross-surges or plunge of head-gale.

As maidens awaiting the bride to come forth
Make play with light jestings and wit of no worth,
So, widdershins circling the bride-bed of death,
Each fleereth her neighbour and signeth and saith:-

'What see ye? Their signals, or levin afar?

What hear ye?

What mark ye? blown?

God's thunder, or guns of our war?

Their smoke, or the cloud-rack out

What chase ye? Their lights, or the Day-star low down?'

So, times past all number deceived by false shows,
Deceiving we cumber the road of our foes,
For this is our virtue: to track and betray;
Preparing great battles a sea's width away.

Now peace is at end and our peoples take heart,
For the laws are clean gone that restrained our art;
Up and down the near headlands and against the far

We are loosed (O be swift!) to the work of our kind!

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