The Meeting of the Ships

JUST aft of our beam comes the rising breeze,
A point and a half on the starboard quarter.
The sharp bow sheers through the long, slow seas,
The port guy slackens, the sheet strains tauter.
Over the taffrail, fading fast,
The land we leave lies a dim blue haze;
The downhauls are throbbing against the mast
To the song of the wind through shrouds and stays.
Whiter and swifter the foam-wreaths fly
Along the lee and the eddying wake ;
Over our heads sounds the sea-gull’s cry,
The mainsail leach has a quivering shake.
“ Nothe-east half-nothe ” the Navahoe speeds
To win, if she may, the lost cups back,
To break the record of yachting deeds,
To follow the Viking’s ancient track.
And lo, on the eastern board a strange,
Weird phantom of eld doth ghostlike loom,
The head of a broad brown sail in the range
Of the tapering point of our lithe jib-boom.
We watch, as she rises by slow degrees,
Till we may from our deck with the glass discern
A freeboard all but awash to the seas,
A dragon prow and a castled stern.
A row of shields of the bull’s hide black
Fends off the crests of the breaking waves ;
Slight guard ’mid the gales of the Skager Rack,
Or where Categat rolls o’er the Norsemen’s graves.
To port and to starboard along the waist
The stout ash oars fore and aft are triced ;
Sharp on the wind is the one yard braced,
And the shrouds and stays are all knotted and spliced.
For ballast are chests of the carven oak
Lashed up with cordage twisted and brown.
Filled with the arms of the Norseland folk,
Rich with the booty of castle and town.
There are helms and corselets, and bills and bows,
Pole-axe and halberd and morgenstern,
Grappling irons which the Viking throws
When the shrinking foeman to flight would turn.
By the side of the huge casks, stained and dusk
With the brown of the ale and red of the wine,
Lie the drinking-horns of the walrus tusk,
Hooped with the silver of Trondhjem’s mine.
There are trophies of war and spoils of the chase,
Skins of the seal and furs of the bear ;
The blades are bright and the weapons in place,
But the garments sea-stained and worse for wear.
With a sweeping yaw and a sharp come-to,
Rolling and pitching the seas athwart,
She vexes the souls of her weary crew,
Whose watches are long and whose sleeps are short.
Like a strong bird balanced on wings widespread,
True to her course as the arrow’s flight,
A vision of beauty, a dream of dread,
The Navahoe glides on the Viking’s sight.
Since Leif Erikson skirted the Vinland coast
Nine centuries now do their course complete,
As the Pride of to-day and the Old World’s Ghost,
The cup-rewinner and Viking meet.
Walter Mitchell.