At Sainte-Marguerite

The gray tide flows and flounders in the rocks 
Along the crannies up the swollen sand. 
Far out the reefs lie naked—dunes and blocks 
Low in the watery wind. A shaft of land 
Going to sea thins out the western strand. 

It rains, and all along and always gulls 
Career sea-screaming in and weather-glossed. 
It blows here, pushing round the cliff; in lulls 
Within the humid stone a motion lost 
Ekes out the flurried heart-beat of the coast. 

It blows and rains a pale and whirling mist 
This summer morning. I that hither came— 
Was it to pluck this savage from the schist, 
This crazy yellowish bloom without a name, 
With leathern blade and tortured wiry frame? 

Why here alone, away, the forehead pricked 
With dripping salt and fingers damp with brine, 
Before the offal and the derelict 
And where the hungry sea-wolves howl and whine 
Live human hours? now that the columbine 

Stands somewhere shaded near the fields that fall 
Great starry sheaves of the delighted year, 
And globing rosy on the garden wall 
The peach and apricot and soon the pear 
Drip in the teasing hand their sugared tear. 

Inland a little way the summer lies. 
Inland a little and but yesterday 
I saw the weary teams, I heard the cries 
Of sicklemen across the fallen hay, 
And buried in the sunburned stacks I lay 

Tasting the straws and tossing, laughing soft 
Into the sky’s great eyes of gold and blue 
And nodding to the breezy leaves aloft 
Over the harvest’s mellow residue.
But sudden then—then strangely dark it grew. 

How good it is, before the dreary flow 
Of cloud and water, here to lie alone 
And in this desolation to let go 
Down the ravine one with another, down 
Across the surf to linger or to drown 

The loves that none can give and none receive, 
The fearful asking and the small retort, 
The life to dream of and the dream to live! 
Very much more is nothing than a part, 
Nothing at all and darkness in the heart. 

I would my manhood now were like the sea.—
Thou at high-tide, when compassing the land 
Thou find’st the issue short, questioningly 
A moment poised, thy floods then down the strand 
Sink without rancour, sink without command, 

Sink of themselves in peace without despair, 
And turn as still the calm horizon turns, 
Till they repose little by little nowhere 
And the long light unfathomable burns 
Clear from the zenith stars to the sea-ferns. 

Thou art thy Priest, thy Victim and thy God. 
Thy life is bulwarked with a thread of foam, 
And of the sky, the mountains and the sod 
Thou askest nothing, evermore at home. 
In thy own self’s perennial masterdom.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.