The Restless

A SEA-BORN captain came,
A constant winter in his beard ;
None knew what skies had harbored him, —
What shoals his heart had cleared.
He looked a very king ;
You might have set him on a throne,
And king to king would nod and swear,
“ He is bone of our bone.”
“ I need a ship,” he said ;
“Not a crank jade to start and cringe,
Though tempests unreluctant strike,
And the quick lightnings singe ; —
“A clipper, class A I ;
Not for your tricky cotton bales,
But one to make my purpose hers,
With seldom idle sails.”
The eager shipwrights eyed
A mighty oak, the sea-mark there,
And felled it; with unuttered fear,
They laid its gray heart bare.
One withered bough had borne
A woman ; hoary elders said,
Her art had turned to seeming stone
Their sacramental bread.
The gaunt oak shrank beneath
The snap of ever-angry steel;
In every thought the witch’s curse,
They hewed a lusty keel.
And often while they built,
A phantom navy held the coast;
It stayed the labor-prompted song,—
The master’s ready boast.
And in an under breath
’T was said that other workmen wrought,
At night, beneath the captain’s eye,
With clearer will and thought.
As one before a loom,
Of every touch secure and proud,
Sees not the shadow, Fate, who weaves
Or wedding-robe or shroud ;
So the chief builder stood
Before his handiwork ; he knew
'T is ill when hidden hammers fall,
And silent axes hew.
The troubled builder built,
The captain queried left and right;
The ship, apparelled now, bird-like,
Shook in her dreams of flight.
To meet the sea’s desire,
She fled one wild November day,
And after her the spectral fleet
Ran down the shuddering bay.
Each year the four winds brought
A fisherman from Labrador,
A merchantman from tropic seas,
Or sullen man-of-war.
And each sea-record said:
“A sail went flying by to-night,
With not a breath of wind, and left
A wake of branching light.
“ We caught the hurried words,
‘ Report the Restless at St. Ann,
Report the Restless anywhere,’
The final order ran,”
Men slowly came to know
The doom her tired pennons trailed,
While second childhood crooned this curse,
Upon the oak entailed : —
“Who builds it in a ship
May only look for her return
When tides refuse to go and come,
And stars forget to burn.
“ Though she may long for land,
And grope for it with weary keel,
No harbor-light shall comfort her,
With my will at the wheel.’'