Fast from the land of gold the good ship bore us,1
While the blue distance ebbed in silver mist ;2
The sunset, like a dove’s neck, changed before us,3
In hues of sapphire, gold, and amethyst,4
That went and came,5
Surged into shade, or melted into flame.6
We had been wed three summers. I had ta’en7
A helpmeet more for use than love or passion ;8
Our marriage days had passed in common fashion,9
Nor sweet nor bitter, neither joy nor pain.10
She was my wife, I knew, and nothing more,11
A labourer hired to pick up coin, and toil :12
Such wives were common on the young crude soil13
We sailed from, hailing for an English shore.14
And in the daily tumult when my brain15
Was busied in the earnest act of gain,16
I simply saw she helped the household store17
And did her duty, lending labour meet ;18
I had no time to find her incomplete.19
But when the toil was ended, and my place20
Was emptied in the wild imperfect land,21
I would have had a gentler face,22
A purer duty and a softer hand,23
To hush the happy tumult in my breast,24
And beautify the sense of well-earned rest.25
Then, worn with bitterness and sorely tried,26
Grown old in head and heart at thirty-seven,27
I thought the common woman at my side28
Looked petty by a sweeter face in Heaven.29
She saw it in my face as in a book,30
And made me shudder at her silent look ;31
Our lives were wide apart,32
She was my wife, but not my other heart.33
Her bitterness was silent as my pride,34
Our words were calm, our hearts were hard and deep ;35
But once, as I lay waking at her side,36
The common woman cursed me in her sleep !37
Rich hours were mine, those happy days at sea,38
Seasoned with pleasant talk of goodly minds ;39
Our vessel bravely took the driving winds,40
Swift as a ship could be.41
I loved to think of England, and the joy42
Found in her pleasant places when a boy,43
Her copsy villages, her streets and marts,44
Her woodland nooks, her peaceful country cheer,45
And some few friendly hearts46
That beat with happy hopes as I drew near.47
Then over all the pleasant dream there stole48
Soft fancies of a churchyard still and lone,49
A little hamlet, and a sweet lost soul50
Mocked by an epitaph as cold as stone ;51
But when I thought of her, before the best52
And very sweetest thought within my breast53
The patient wife I lost in other years,54
Once a sweet memory interdicting pain55
A dark doubt startled out from happy tears56
And stung along my brain.57
But with us in the ship sailed one, a maid,58
Whose sweetness pleased my humour calm and staid :59
I think her pretty childish ways destroyed60
The selfish demon in me, more or less ;61
For contrast made us friends, and I enjoyed62
Her chiding tricks of sinless tenderness.63
So, often in the calm and sunny weather,64
We, sitting side by side, read books together ;65
And whispered in the twilight shadows dun66
Of the green isle towards the setting sun.67
She put a boyhood in my blood again68
In kindred with her girlish views ; I caught69
Her fireside warmth of tone, her innocent thought,70
Taught by her clearer heart and giddier brain ;71
She gave my fancy wings,72
And brought me closer unto humankind,73
Giving new colour to my moody mind,74
And sober estimate of men and things.75
Yet, when I lay apart,76
And communed in the darkness with my heart,77
I shuddered—for this long-forgotten lore78
Would seem to vindicate my grosser part,79
And my thoughts wronged the sleeping woman more.80
I was the sinner, and not she,81
The woman with hard hands—’twas I alone ;82
I was the sinner, and my flesh and bone83
Were sinned against by me.84
I was the sinner—speak it out, O Heart !85
What God has linked no man shall dare to part ;86
And marriage is no whim of boyish blindness87
To change as fortune changes—we were one ;88
And a wife’s duty changes with our kindness,89
As flowers take colour from the shade or sun.90
She was no cultured woman, pure as snow91
Through patience to resist ;92
She changed when I changed, and ’twas I, I know,93
Who put the poison in the lips I kissed.94
She watched me, day and night,95
With a blanch’d bitterness upon her face ;96
A darkness veiled her in that marriage place97
Which gave her privilege to hold me base98
When it became unlovely in my sight :99
For women, when their use is undiscerned,100
Are spat upon and spurned.101
She watched me in the darkness and the light,102
With a scared anger like a wild affright.103
I lied against the love for which I yearned ;104
I saw no mission, blind with wretchedness,105
In her who held the right106
To be my mistress107
Who claimed her share of all my woe or bliss.108
I crushed all duty by ignoring this.109
One night, when all was still, she stood beside me,110
Pale as my thoughts, with eyes that looked away111
The dying friendship of our marriage day,112
And bitterly defied me.113
Gross words were hers, that only hurt and soil114
The mind from which they come ;115
Words of mind rough-hewn in petty toil,116
Yet with a meaning in them. I was dumb.117
But when she stained the name of that young maid,118
That dwelling-place for sunshine where I played,119
Like some glad boy, and pleased a heart grown cold,120
I spake out fierce and bold,121
With bitter phrases better left unsaid.122
I was as innocent as Faith in this :123
The pretty maiden, to my sober mind,124
Was like a pleasant thought of buried bliss,125
A memory of sweetness left behind,126
A sense of something lovely gone before, 127
A gentle friend too soon to be forgot, 128
Who made me gay because I loved her not, 129
Nor dreamed of loving—this and nothing more. 130
So angry speech was mine, and swift as thought, 131
Words that stung back upon my lips and died, 132
Perchance more pitiless because I sought 133
To justify the bitterness of thought 134
Which came between the woman and my pride. 135
She laughed a homeless laugh without a tear, 136
And as she left my side 137
There was a list’ning malice in her sneer.138
What demon urged me on to mock and dare her,139
To wound the snake that then began to stir ?140
To coin a paltry show of scorn for her,141
And love for one face fairer,142
To taunt her with the bitterness I bare her ?143
My blood no longer flowed with pulses cool ;144
I gave the woman whose hard hands had been145
Toiling to teach me how to think her mean,146
The right to scorn me and to hate me. Fool !147
And if I talked to that sweet friend, whenever148
My wedded wife was near,149
The selfish demon in me would rejoice,150
And put a softer pathos in my voice151
That she might vindicate her scorn, and hear.152
She watched us, sitting silently apart,153
With cruel eyes, and eyebrows knitted down ;154
The bright blood gushing upward from the heart155
Blackened about her frown.156
Fair winds of incense blew the good ship home,157
Through green sea shades from many a pleasant
And little snowy showers of ocean-foam ;159
And in the evening time160
We home-sick voyagers would stand in knots,161
And gaze towards the west with eager eyes,162
While, one by one, the stars in quiet skies163
Opened in light, like heaven’s forget-me-nots.164
And sometimes, leaning downward o’er the waves,165
Deep without end and blind to human sight,166
I seemed to see the shipwreck’d in their graves167
Of soundless purple shadows flaked with light ;168
Green gardens of the depths, so hush’d and fair,169
Still as a heart-beat, dumb without a sound,170
Where pipy sea-weeds scatter gems around171
The faces of the drowned,172
Cold, with the freezing ooze amid their hair.173
We slept. It was a pleasant night of June ;174
The sea that sighed around, was still and sweet ;175
And leaning duskly down in heaven, the moon176
Sucked the pale billows to her silver feet.177
We slept, or seemed to sleep, for all was calm, 178
And in our slumbers heard the waters croon 179
With musical motion, like a village psalm 180
Heard when blue distance drowns the sober tune ;181
My wedded wife was in my visions deep, 182
A bitter stony face 183
That seemed to haunt me on from place to place, 184
And as I wandered in the dark of sleep, 185
Her fitful footsteps faltered on my track, 186
Through shadows where I heard the lost one weep, 187
And echoed at my back.188
I started with a cry,189
And strained towards the darkness eager-eyed ;190
A shudder at my side191
Quickened my pulses, then a sobbing sigh,192
My heart thronged hotly through the blood and brain193
Till silence seemed a portion of its pain.194
I stretched out hands and gazed along the night ;195
I caught the glimmer of a fluttering gown,196
Which as I touched it rustled out of sight,197
When something, with a face as deadly white198
As dead men’s faces floating fathoms down,199
Turned, trembling from me in a cold affright,200
The wedded woman with her eyes of light201
Frozen to terror in the act to frown !202
Then, as I gazed and tried in vain to speak,203
From some far corner of the ship I heard204
A cry of wonder and a smothered shriek,205
At which the brooding silence shook and stirred.206
There came a busy hum of voices, then207
The whispered words and heavy tramp of men,208
And a low murmuring as from underground ;209
And as the moon crept in upon the place210
The lips were parted on the ghastly face211
That looked a list’ning horror at the sound.212
The wondering sleepers stirred with waking sighs,213
With terror-stricken eyes214
Gazed askingly around.215
The woman shuddered from me with a cry,216
Blanched with the stifling sense of some despair,217
With a wild look that lifted up my hair,218
And, in a wild impalpable terror, I219
Rushed upward to the air.220
Oh, what a horror shut my pulses there !221
On the dim deck I stood, as pale as snow.222
From the dark centre of the ship there came223
A blackened mist of smoke, and down below224
A flood of hissing flame,225
That like a living thing rushed to and fro,226
And grasped the crackling wood with murmurs dire.227
Fire !”228
Shrieked one, in mingled horror and surprise ;229
And higher yet and higher230
The demon surged towards the moonlit skies,231
With fiery arms and eyes,232
Grasping the deck with sobs, and shrieks, and sighs.233
Fire !  Men and women rose in wild affright234
To glut their stifled senses with the sight.235
Pale mothers with their babes, and men, and boys,236
As pale as phantoms from the drowned dead,237
While the calm master with his guiding voice238
Led the pale seamen, as the waves were shed239
Upon the demon’s head !240
Blind with our terror round the flames we stood,241
In a pale cloud of smoke and hissing steam,242
Like shapes in some dark dream,243
With muttered prayers for good,244
And faces icy pale ;245
A newly risen wind246
Moaned mournfully behind,247
Dragged up the shuddering demon by the hair,248
Then crushed him backward to his smoky lair,249
And shrieked in shroud and sail.250
Higher, higher, higher, higher,251
Panting and shrieking, clomb the fiend of Fire ;252
Until the radiance of the moon was drowned,253
And the red light with breath of furnace heat254
Now ghastily illumed us head to feet,255
Now with a smoky blackness wrapt us round.256
Then ever and anon with smothered cries,257
With waving arms and blood-red eyes,258
The fiend fell fainting with a softer sound,259
And in a pause as still and calm as death260
We heard the ocean moan with quiet breath,261
Until the demon-shape was up again,262
Shrieking like one in pain,263
And the quick heart seemed throbbing in the brain.264
Fire !— fire !— fire !—fire !265
The waters struggled with its strength in vain !266
Fire !— fire !— fire!—fire !267
Cried men and women, going to and fro ;268
But higher, higher, higher, higher, higher,269
Panting on cheeks still pale amid the glow,270
With clouds of flame that seemed to melt and grow271
The raving fiend surged upward from his pyre272
At white heat down below.273
Then, up and down the deck with shrieks and cries274
Ran women wringing hands275
One, that sweet maid, whose eyes276
Mixed dust of gold with my heart’s sinking sand277
Some, leading little ones that sobbed in fright,278
And called them by tender piteous names ;279
While men rushed here and there with faces white,280
And heaped the waves of ocean on the flames.281
But climbing higher, higher, higher,282
Panting in sobs and shrieks, and with a power283
Increasing with the minutes of the hour,284
The fiend of Fire285
Scattered his sparks above us in a shower.286
I had forgot the woman in my fear,287
But now I saw her standing calmly near,288
Watching the dim red shadow of the light,289
Reflected up among the stars of night :290
The radiance fell like blood upon her face,291
And like a blood-red garment wrapt her frame,292
And in her silent horror I could trace293
The shadow of the sin I cannot name,294
The sin of that red threat295
Of death, whose mad remembrance haunts me yet,296
A bitter sorrow and a cruel aim.297
My limbs were struck to stone,298
A freezing ice was in my blood and bone,299
When on my terror struck a sudden cry300
To man the boats, and fly !301
Her eye flashed back on mine, and ere she wist,302
I reached her side and took her by the wrist,303
And with my breath upon her eyes and hair304
I pointed, speechless, to the furnace-flare,305
The radiant cavern where306
Th’ unconquerable demon shrieked and hissed ;307
All then was silent, and she might have heard308
My aching heart (although I spake no word)309
Beat thick towards the lips I once had kissed.310
Her sin was palpable in that huge dread311
Which made her crouch before me,312
And she was silent as a corse whose fled313
Soul might be moaning in the brightness o’er me ;314
Yet gazing on her with a heart fall’n dead,315
I seemed to pity her for the hate she bore me.316
And thus we stood together, while the Fire317
Seethed round about in jets of lurid light,318
And ever climbing higher, higher, higher,319
Ate at the heart of Night.320
Forward!” the Master cried :321
The boats were tossing at the lost ship’s side,322
Full of dark shapes of men and women frail,323
With utter fear grown dumb,324
And dread of something terrible to come,325
With the red light upon their faces pale.326
I started from my trance in pain and wonder,327
And, dropping to a full frail boat, forgot328
The sinful woman whom I pitied not,329
What time a sound like groaning distant thunder330
Threatened to rend the burning ship asunder.331
Off ?” cried the Master, and we swung away,332
Rising and falling with the waves of ocean,333
Surging from side to side with even motion,334
Amid a slender mist of salt sea-spray.335
We pulled with willing heart and willing mind,336
While words of cheer passed on from lip to lip,337
And every eye looked backward on the ship338
Flaming along before a steady wind.339
Then I again was ’ware340
Of the pale woman, sitting by me there,341
And gazing, as before, with quiet eyes342
At the ship’s shadow flaming in the skies,343
Blind to all other sorrow, hope, or care.344
A burning beacon on the sighing sea,345
The ship swept on beneath the stars and moon,346
That quiet night of June ;347
And when the light itself was lost to me,348
And the sweet stars were seen again, like Love,349
I followed those despairing eyes with mine,350
And saw the moving shadow duskly shine351
Still in the mists of moonlight up above.352
Then o’er the long sea-wave353
A sudden murmur came,354
The shade died out in one bright jet of flame355
The ship had fallen to its homeless grave.356
But still my wedded wife was at my side,357
Gazing on heaven, pale and eager-eyed,358
Lost to the sense of hope no love could save.359
I murmured in my heart :360
If Heaven shall spare my life, so I her shame :361
But she shall part for ever with my name,362
And we will dwell apart.”363
And, looking on her woe, I said again :364
The punishment is God’s, and ours the pain ;365
The sin is hers and mine, though hers the deed366
That choked our dreams of heaven while we slept ;367
This tongue which made her love me in my need368
Shall never sting her bosom till it bleed369
For I have sinned against her.” And I wept.370
The orange dawn broke in the east at last,371
And kindling into wider crimson shone372
On faces blanched with danger not yet passed,373
And two frail boats upon the sea alone ;374
And scarce a word was spoken,375
But though our tongues were silent we were
Each knew the prayer his neighbour’s heart was
And in the calm unbroken378
Each sought another’s glances as a token.379
Then spake the Master words of hearty cheer,380
That Spanish ground, or else he erred, was near,381
And with a pause of joy,382
We travellers, woman, man, and boy,383
Then prayed aloud with many a thankful tear.384
And thus the boats sailed swiftly on together,385
Straining with sail and oar386
Towards the Spanish shore,387
Asleep in sunny folds of summer weather.388
Then came the quiet eve,389
And stars stole out again like thoughts of home ;390
Rising and falling, wet with flying foam,391
We almost ceased to grieve.392
The silver twilight came like quiet rest,393
And I was thinking of the buried wreck,394
When Wife came creeping up against my breast,395
And twined her long warm arms about my neck,396
And laid her cheek to mine with love unblest.397
And thrice I thrust ber from me, but in vain ;398
She panted trembling to my arms again,399
With kisses that seemed burning in my brain ;400
And so at last I yielded, and she clung401
About me, breathing breath that scorched and stung ;402
My heart was hard and pitiless with pain.403
Then as she watched me with her piteous eyes,404
Robbed of her scorn and hate, and full of sighs,405
While I was thinking of the marriage vow,406
That still would chide the blackness on my brow,407
See !” cried a seaman— ‘ comrade, see—she dies !”408
I gazed upon her, as she trembled there409
Upon my bosom, with a heart that bled ;410
Her toil-worn hand was smoothing back my hair,411
And the old scorn seemed fled.412
Then she, with cheek and hands grown cold as snow,413
Crept closer to me, murmuring soft and low,414
Half to herself, her breath on eyes and head,415
In her new friendship looking very fair,416
Forgive me !” and “ Forgive me !” —and I said, 417
May God forgive thee, woman !” unaware.418
Then one cried out aloud, that she was dead.419
My tale is almost told.420
Enough to know all touched the shore, worn out421
With bitter fear and agonising doubt,422
Bearing one dead—a woman, stiff and cold.423
And when I laid her underneath the sod,424
Close by the singing sea,425
I half believed that I had loved her.—God426
Forgive the wounded wife, and pardon me !427
She was the sinner and the punished too ;428
And now that I am old and grey, I find429
That she, and not the shallow maiden, drew430
My footsteps closer unto humankind.431
Perchance she perished, as she sinned, to win432
Some gleams of better wisdom to my sight ;433
Perchance her love was greater than the sin434
That threatened death that night !435