WHOSE will, or whether law transgressed or wrath
Incurred, hath bound me captive to this rock,
Poised in the windy hollow of the skies,
To fret for the blue empyrean where
My fancy sails, I know not. Were I free
To plunge and with the stars companion me,
Happy were I, at will returning here,
To make of this Tellurian orb a home.
To be a captive, this my spirit irks.
For not of choice, a willing immigrant,
I came, but by some mandate stern constrained
And unrelenting force ; where all these years
Pent up I watch to snatch from the abyss
Some grain of truth, at random here and there
By unseen hands flung blazing down the night.
And now the world, like an oft-traveled road,
Shrinks, till it scarce exceeds the rocky isle
Ulysses found too small for his large wish.
But yonder fathomless profundity
Hath scope and freedom, — nothing lacking save
Courage and a contriving mind. There gleams
Expanse uncharted, where no admiral
E’er sailed, and undiscovered continents
And ports beyond the utmost Hyades.
Cut off from which — and God knows what of sweet
Companionship and fruit of wisest minds —
Must I crouch here, as little thought of as
A naked islander in the South Sea,
Who from some vantage of his shipless strand
Beholds the sails that bear the commerce of
The world ?
Must I be dumb while great events
To mighty being heave in yonder space
Unreeked by me, or in some furthest star
A work begins — perhaps to-day — whose end
Shall shape all life anew ? I cannot rest
To sleep and feed and nurse an ebbing might,
While hearing with Imagination’s ear
The shining beaches of a million worlds
Thunder beneath the on-rush of the wave
That bathes yon peak with Neptune’s light! This earth,
Upon the cold periphery of heaven
Heaved up, is not enough ! One spot hath still
Its secret: where the north wind heaps the waste
With hoarded winter, filched from lands despoiled
Of coolness, where the iceberg-builder toils
To launch his miracles of frost. My fires
Draw nearer ; soon the Hyperborean
Upon his door will hear my knock.
But yon
Abyss that sparkles down on this rude shore
Its nightly blaze, like some rich ocean seen
In dream of a poor diver, thwarts my will
With tantalizing vision. Shall no stout
Discoverer — beyond night’s ebon cone
Pushing far out his solitary prow —
To that charmed deep e’er bear intelligence
Of me ? No cairn or sea-mark reared on crag
Or precipice record where man hath been ?
In dreams oft have I seen the earth recede
And wane far down the vault, and the brave sun
Plunge after her ; and thus left lone have heard
The creaking tackle, felt the canvas puff
With the shrill wind that blows among the stars.
And domes of airy capitals I saw,
And ports and cities thronged ; the carven beaks
Of ships encrusted with salt spray and rich
With spoil, from some adventure to the north
Of Taurus, or from voyaging to some old,
Most fabulous Orient of the universe.
A dream ! but in a dream all things begin.
The reptile’s dream of wings the alchemy
Of some millennial spring hides in an egg.
Amid the austral solitudes of space
It may be that I dwell, afar from thronged
Highways and charted main. Yet if I read
Aright the starry drift, this restless sphere,
That steadfast wheels with its companion orbs,
Like a migrating flock of birds, in flight
Toward its far doomsday, bears me to a fate
Nobler than poets sing. Who knows what warm
Gulf Streams of heaven, what light of other stars,
Await my coming, whose sweet influence may
Uncoil the sinuous perplexities
That vex me here, and wake a finer strength,
Now slumbering unsuspected in my soul ?
Spirits there are, no doubt, in yonder space,
As keen as mine for new discovery,
And eyes that burn to see strange coasts. Some swift
Celestial bark erelong will heave in sight
With news of mighty import, or bright forms
Be visible descending from the stars.
Meanwhile, impatient, pondering all things, I
Peruse the blue depth of the upper sea,
Hungry to hear of other worlds than mine.
William Prescott Foster.