The Poems of Henry Kendall

The Helmsman

Henry Kendall

LIKE one who meets a staggering blow,
    The stout old ship doth reel,
And waters vast go seething past—
But will it last, this fearful blast,
On straining shroud and groaning mast,
    O sailor at the wheel?

His face is smitten with the wind,
    His cheeks are chilled with rain;
And you were right, his hair is white,
But eyes are calm and heart is light
He does not fear the strife to-night,
    He knows the roaring main.

Ho, Sailor! Will to-morrow bring
    The hours of pleasant rest?
An answer low—“I do not know,
The thunders grow and far winds blow,
But storms may come and storms may go—
    Our God, He judgeth best!”

Now you are right, brave mariner,
    But we are not like you;
We, used to shore, our fates deplore,
And fear the more when waters roar;
So few amongst us look before,
Or stop to think that Heaven is o’er—
    Ah! what you say is true.

And those who go abroad in ships,
    Who seldom see the land,
But sail and stray so far away,
Should trust and pray, for are not they,
When Darkness blinds them on their way,
    All guided by God’s hand?

But you are wrinkled, grey and worn;
    ’Tis time you dwelt in peace!
Your prime is past; we fail so fast;
You may not last through every blast,
And, oh, ’tis fearful to be cast
    Amongst the smothering seas!

Is there no absent face to love
    That you must live alone?
If faith did fade, if friends betrayed,
And turned, and staid resolves you’d made,
Ah, still ’tis pleasant to be laid
    Where you at least are known.

The answer slides betwixt our words—
    “The season shines and glooms
On ship and strand, on sea and land,
But life must go and Time is spanned,
As well you know when out you stand
    With Death amongst the tombs!

“It matters not to one so old
    Who mourns when Fate comes round,
And one may sleep down in the deep
    As well as those beneath the heap
That fifty stormy years will sweep
    And trample to the ground.”

Your speech is wise, brave mariner,
    And we would let you be;
You speak with truth, you strive to soothe;
But, oh, the wrecks of Love and Truth,
What say you to our tears for Youth
    And Beauty drowned at sea?

“Oh, talk not of the Beauty lost,
    Since first these decks I trod
The hopeless stare on faces fair,
The streaming, bare, dishevelled hair,
The wild despair, the sinking—where,
    Oh where, oh where?— My God!”

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