O Sea, That Knowest Thy Strength

- 1885-1979

Hast thou been known to sing,
        O sea, that knowest thy strength?
Hast thou been known to sing? 
        Thy voice, can it rejoice?
Naught save great sorrowing,
        To me, thy sounds incessant
Do express, naught save great sorrowing.
Thy lips, they daily kiss the sand,
        In wanton mockery.
Deep in thine awful heart
        Thou dost not love the land.
        Thou dost not love the land.
        O sea, that knowest thy strength.

“These sands, these listless, helpless,
        Sun-gold sands, I’ll play with these,
Or crush them in my white-fanged hands
        For leagues, to please
The thing in me that is the Sea,
        Intangible, untamed,
        Untamed and wild,
        And wild and weird and strong!”

Morning Light

(The Dew-drier)

It is a custom in some parts of Africa for travelers into the jungles to send before them in the early morning little African boys called “Dew-driers” to brush with their bodies the dew from the high grasses—and be, perchance, the first to meet the leopard’s or hyena’s challenge—and so open the road. “Human Brooms,” Dan Crawford calls them.

Brother to the firefly—
For as the firefly lights the night
So lights he the morning—
Bathed in the dank dews as he goes forth
Through heavy menace and mystery
Of half-waking tropic dawns,
Behold a little black boy, a naked black boy,
Sweeping aside with his slight frame
Night’s pregnant tears,
And making a morning path to the light
For the tropic traveler!

Bathed in the blood of battle,
Treading toward a new morning,
May not his race—its body long bared to the world’s disdain,
Its face schooled to smile for a light to come—
May not his race, even as the dew-boy leads,
Bear onward the world toward a new day-dawn
When tolerance, forgiveness,
Such as reigned in the heart of One
Whose heart was gold,
Shall shape the earth for that fresh dawning
     After the dews of blood?


O Autumn, Autumn!

O Autumn, Autumn! O pensive light
     and wistful sound!
Gold-haunted sky, green-haunted ground!

When, wan, the dead leaves flutter by
     Deserted realms of butterfly!
When robins band themselves together

     To seek the sound of sun-steeped weather;
And all of summer’s largesse goes
     For lands of olive and the rose!

The Bronze Legacy

To a Brown Boy

Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,
     Like the strongest things that make up this earth,
Like the mountains grave and grand,
     Even like the very land,
     Even like the trunks of trees—
     Even oaks, to be like these!
God builds His strength in bronze.

To be brown like thrush and lark!
     Like the subtle wren so dark!
Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;
     Eagles are of this same hue.
I thank God, then, I am brown.
     Brown has mighty things to do.

Related Poems

Haunted Seas

A gleaming glassy ocean
  Under a sky of grey;
A tide that dreams of motion,
  Or moves, as the dead may;
A bird that dips and wavers
  Over lone waters round,
Then with a cry that quavers
  Is gone—a spectral sound.

The brown sad sea-weed drifting
  Far from the land, and lost;
The faint warm fog unlifting,
  The derelict long tossed,
But now at rest—though haunted
  By the death-scenting shark,
Whose prey no more undaunted
  Slips from it, spent and stark.

Eternity

Rock me to sleep, ye waves, and drift my boat, 
With undulations soft, far out to sea; 
Perchance, where sky and wave wear one blue coat, 
My heart shall find some hidden rest remote. 
My spirit swoons, and all my senses cry
For ocean's breast and covering of the sky.
Rock me to sleep, ye waves, and, outward bound,
Just let me drift far out toil and care,
Where lapping of the waves shall be the sound
Which, mingled with the winds that gently bear
Me on between a peaceful sea and sky,
To make my soothing, slumberous lullaby.
Thus drifting on and on upon thy breast,
My heart shall go to sleep and rest, and rest. 

The Shark

(Carcharias glaucus.)

The seaboy sailing o'er the main,
   Far-gazing o'er the watery plain,
Sees oft the black fin of the shark
   Pursuing his careering bark,
Quick thro' the ship the joyful news
   Like wildfire runs from stem to stern;
From bulwark high, from sloping mast,
   Leeward all eager glances turn.
The master seeks the massive hook
   With iron chain and hempen line,
And soon the baited snare is out
   Far trailing o'er the seething brine.

The greedy monster with a plunge
   Rushes to seize the tempting bait,
And, rolling on his dusky back,
   Gorges the hook and finds his fate.
Away in madden'd haste he flies,
   Lashing the wave with forked tail,
But 'gainst a score of tugging hands
   His desperate strength may naught avail.
Soon bleeding on the deck, a prize,
   The ruthless ocean tyrant dies.
'Tis said in Indian seas remote,
   Off the white reef of Bengal Bay,
Cruises the great man-eater shark,
   Hungry and keen for human prey.
There Indian damsels dread to plunge
   In combing surf and curling wave,
Fearing that terror of sharp teeth,
   That jaw remorseless as the grave.
But brave the manly diver dares
   With sharpen'd creese to meet his foe,
And, plung'd beneath the lurking fiend,
   Stabs till the tides with slaughter flow.
So the swart diver for the pearl,
   Taught from his youth to search the deeps,
With keen blade meets him in the surf,
   And slays him wheresoe'er he sweeps.