MISTS are his heavens. His moon behind a veil
Unseen, her silvern circle slowly fills;
How fair in twilight pale
Are shy young stars down vistas in the hills
He knows not, nor the golden pomps of June.
When high o’erhead by shimmering bastions hoary
The sun in tranquil glory
Goes westering down some star-deep, blue lagoon;
But spindrift clouds his island outlines blur,
And long rains round him purr,
And ceaseless fogs, of Asian sea-winds borne,
Swirl in, till night and noon
Are writ in one dull Arctic character,
Alike of shadow and of shining shorn.
Our tumult of the street,
Trample of feet,
Harsh-roaring wheels, and throbbing bells, and cries,
To that swart islander were strangest dream —
Save when the tempest flies,
No mightier voices rise
Than barking seal-herds, or the sea-birds’ scream,
All round his isles; and tales of tower and dome
Seem but a shipwrecked stranger’s rude romancing
To him, whose vagrant home
Is a light kayak mid the whitecaps dancing
In wild seas west of Nome.
For him no ripe fields rustle,
Waiting the fruitful bustle
Of harvest-scenes, nor autumn orchards bending
Beneath their painted burdens, perfume lending
To every passing air —
’T is his to reap the unsown waters wide,
To strike the salmon swift in swinging sea,
Silent as foam across the foam to glide
Among the basking seals before they flee;
And if no garden fair
Allure his care,
No bit of heavenly blue in blossoms molden,
Nor roses red nor golden,
Gladden his path, yet sometimes round the year
A great hand sweeps the curtains from his skies,
And spired Auroras dazzling up the sphere
Foreshow him Paradise.
No race behind him lies
Rooted in memories,
No shining deeds with such rare art rehearsed
That men are nigh forgetting
The jewel in the setting —
His lonely soul is versed
In one scant tongue; a few rough shards of speech
Serve all his need; but when beneath the moon
That still sets sidewise down the frozen beach,
In the dim hut he hears his wife’s low croon,
His first-born’s gurgling laugh, well knows he then
That song, that laughter, speaks all tongues of men.
What if to him the storied past is dumb,
Or, finding speech, but stirs a troubled doubting?
Can Cæsar’s ashes warm the fingers numb ?
What helps Achilles’ shouting,
Or hinders, Helen’s pouting,
Far by Scamander and the doomèd wall,
To him whose spear-long barque of lightest leather,
Mid ghostly icebergs towering Andes-tall,
Must Arctic tempests weather ?
Nay, ’t is not Art alone,
Nor sad-eyed centuries of weary lore,
Nor rugged northern zone,
And hard-earned harvests wrung from watery floor,
Makes men or mars : in Heaven’s eternal plan
’T is living only makes a man a man.