The Mariner’s Cave.

Once on a time there walked a mariner,1
That had been shipwrecked, on a lonely shore,2
And the green water made a restless stir,3
And a great flock of mews sped on before.4
He had nor food nor shelter, for the tide5
Rose on the one, and cliffs on the other side.6
Brown cliffs they were ; they seemed to pierce the sky,7
That was an awful deep of empty blue,8
Save that the wind was in it, and on high9
A wavering skein of wild-fowl tracked it through.10
He marked them not, but went with movement slow,11
Because his thoughts were sad, his courage low.12
His heart was numb, he neither wept nor sighed,13
But wearifully lingered by the wave,14
Until at length it chanced that he espied,15
Far up, an opening in the cliff, a cave,16
A shelter where to sleep in his distress,17
And lose his sorrow in forgetfulness.18
With that he clambered up the rugged face19
Of that’steep cliff that all in shadow lay,20
And, lo, there was a dry and home-like place,21
Comforting refuge for the cast away ;22
And he laid down his weary, weary head,23
And took his fill of sleep till dawn waxed red.24
When he awoke, warm stirring from the south25
Of delicate summer air did sough and flow ;26
He rose, and wending to the cavern’s mouth,27
He cast his eyes a little way below,28
Where on the narrow ledges, sharp and rude,29
Preening their wings the blue rock-pigeons cooed.30
Then he looked lower and saw the lavender31
And sea-thrift blooming in long crevices,32
And the brown wallflower—April’s messenger,33
The wallflower marshalled in her companies.34
Then lower yet he looked adown the steep,35
And sheer beneath him lapped the lovely deep.36
The laughing deep ;— and it was pacified37
As if it had not raged that other day ;38
And it went murmuring in the morningtide39
Innumerable flatteries on its way,40
Kissing the cliffs, and whispering at their feet,41
With exquisite advancement and retreat.42
This when the mariner beheld he sighed,43
And thought on his companions lying low :44
But while he gazed with eyes unsatisfied45
On the fair reaches of their overthrow,46
Thinking it strange he only lived of all,47
But not returning thanks, he heard a call !48
A soft sweet call, a voice of tender ruth.49
He thought it came from out the cave. And, lo,50
It whispered, “ Man, look up !”  But he, forsooth,51
Answered, “ I cannot, for the long waves flow52
Across my gallant ship, where sunk she lies53
With all my riches and my merchandise.54
Moreover, I am heavy for the fate55
Of these my mariners drowned in the deep ;56
I must lament me for their sad estate,57
Now they are gathered in their last long sleep.58
Oh ! the unpitying heavens upon me frown,59
Then how should I look up ?— I must look down.”60
And he stood yet watching the fair green sea61
Till hunger reached him ; then he made a fire,62
A driftwood fire, and wandered listlessly63
And gathered many eggs at his desire,64
And dressed them for his meal, and then he lay65
And slept, and woke upon the second day.66
Whenas he said, “ The cave shall be my home ;67
None will molest me, for the brown cliffs rise68
Like castles of defence behind,—the foam69
Of the remorseless sea beneath me lies ;70
Tis easy from the cliff my food to win71
The nations of the rock-dove breed therein.72
For fuel, at the ebb yon fair expanse73
Is strewed with driftwood by the breaking wave,74
And in the sea is fish for sustenance.75
I will build up the entrance of the cave,76
And leave therein a window and a door,77
And here will dwell and leave it nevermore.”78
Then even so he did ; and when his task,79
Many long days being over, was complete ;80
When he had eaten, as he sat to bask81
In the red firelight glowing at his feet,82
He was right glad of shelter, and he said,83
Now for my comrades am I comforted.”84
Then did the voice awake and speak again ;85
It murmured, “ Man, look up !”  But he replied,86
I cannot. Oh, mine eyes, mine eyes are fain87
Down on the red wood-ashes to abide,88
Because they warm me.” Then the voice was still,89
And left the lonely mariner to his will.90
And soon it came to pass that he got gain.91
He had great flocks of pigeons which he fed,92
And drew great store of fish from out the main,93
And down from eider-ducks ; and then he said,94
It is not good that I should lead my life95
In silence, I will take to me a wife.”96
He took a wife, and brought her home to him ;97
And he was good to her and cherished her,98
So that she loved him ; then when light waxed dim99
Gloom came no more ; and she would minister100
To all his wants ; while he, being well content,101
Counted her company right excellent.—102
A woman robed in white and illuminated by light stands at the center of the illustration. She holds the hand of a child, who sits on the ground and gazes up at her. Another woman in the foreground faces the illuminated woman and clutches her hands together in a pleading gesture. Full-page illustration contained within a single-ruled border.
But once as on the lintel of the door103
She leaned to watch him while he put to sea,104
This happy wife, down-gazing at the shore,105
Said sweetly, “ It is better now with me106
Than it was lately when I used to spin107
In my old father’s house beside the lin.”108
And then the soft voice of the cave awoke109
The soft voice which had haunted it erewhile110
And gently to the wife it also spoke,111
Woman, look up !”  But she, with tender guile,112
Gave it denial, answering, “ Nay, not so,113
For all that I should look on lieth below.114
The great sky overhead is not so good115
For my two eyes as yonder stainless sea,116
The source and yielder of our livelihood,117
Where rocks his little boat that loveth me.”118
This when the wife had said she moved away,119
And looked no higher than the wave all day.120
Now when the year ran out a child she bore,121
And there was such rejoicing in the cave122
As surely never had there been before123
Since first God made it. Then, full, sweet, and grave,124
The voice— “ God’s utmost blessing brims thy cup,125
Oh, father of this child, look up, look up !”126
Speak to my wife,” the mariner replied :127
I have much work—right welcome work ’tis true128
Another mouth to feed.” And then it sighed,129
Woman, look up !” She said, “ Make no ado,130
For I must needs look down, on anywise,131
My heaven is in the blue of these dear eyes.”132
The seasons of the year did swiftly whirl,133
They measured time by one small life alone :134
On such a day the pretty pushing pearl,135
That mouth they loved to kiss had sweetly shown,136
That smiling month ; and it had made essay137
To give them names on such another day.138
And afterward his infant history,139
Whether he played with baubles on the floor,140
Or crept to pat the rock-doves pecking nigh,141
And feeding on the threshold of the door,142
They loved to mark, and all his marvellings dim,143
The mysteries that beguiled and baffled him.144
He was so sweet, that oft his mother said.145
Oh, child, how was it that I dwelt content146
Before thou camest ?  Blessings on thy head,147
Thy pretty talk it is so innocent,148
That oft for all my joy, although it be deep,149
When thou art prattling, I am like to weep.”150
Summer and winter spent themselves again,151
The rock-doves in their season bred, the cliff152
Grew sweet, for every cleft would entertain153
Its tuft of blossom, and the mariner’s skiff,154
Early and late, would linger in the bay,155
Because the sea was calm and winds away.156
The little child about that rocky height,157
Led by her loving hand who gave him birth,158
Might wander in the clear unclouded light,159
And take his pastime in the beauteous earth ;160
Smell the fair flowers in stony cradles swung,161
And see God’s happy creatures feed their young.162
And once it came to pass at eventide,163
His mother set him in the cavern door,164
And filled his lap with grain, and stood aside165
To watch the circling rock-doves soar, and soar,166
Then dip, alight, and run in circling bands,167
To take the barley from his open hands.168
And even while she stood and gazed at him,169
And his grave father’s eyes upon him dwelt,170
They heard the tender voice, and it was dim,171
And seemed full softly in the air to melt ;172
Father,” it murmured, “ Mother,” dying away,173
Look up, while yet the hours are called to-day.”174
I will,” the father answered, “ but not now ;”175
The mother said, “ Sweet voice, O speak to me176
At a convenient season.” And the brow177
Of the cliff began to quake right fearfully,178
There was a rending crash, and there did leap179
A riven rock and plunge into the deep.180
They said, “ A storm is coming ;” but they slept181
That night in peace, and though the storm had
For there was not a cloud to intercept183
The sacred moonlight on the cradle cast ;184
And to his rocking boat at dawn of day,185
With joy of heart the mariner took his way.186
But when he mounted up the path at night,187
Foreboding not of trouble or mischance,188
His wife came out into the fading light,189
And met him with a serious countenance ;190
And she broke out in tears and sobbings thick,191
The child is sick—my little child is sick !”192
They knelt beside him in the sultry dark,193
And when the moon looked in, his face was pale,194
And when the red sun, like a burning barque,195
Rose in a fog at sea, his tender wail196
Sank deep into their hearts, and piteously197
They fell to chiding of their destiny.198
The doves unheeded cooed that livelong day,199
Their pretty playmate cared for them no more ;200
The sea-thrift nodded, wet with glistening spray,201
None gathered it ; the long wave washed the shore ;202
He did not know, nor lift his eyes to trace,203
The new fall’n shadow in his dwelling-place.204
The sultry sun beat on the cliffs all day,205
And hot calm airs slept on the polished sea,206
The mournful mother wore her time away,207
Bemoaning of her helpless misery,208
Pleading and plaiping, till the day was done,209
Oh, look on me, my love, my little one !210
What aileth thee, that thou dost lie and moan ?211
Ah, would that I might bear it in thy stead !”212
The father made not his forebodings known,213
But gazed, and in his secret soul he said,214
I may have sinned, on sin waits punishment,215
But as for him, sweet blameless innocent,216
What has he done that he is stricken down ?217
Oh, it is hard to see him sink and fade,218
When I, that counted him my dear life’s crown,219
So willingly have worked while he has played ;220
That he might sleep, have risen, come storm, come
And thankfully would fast that he might eat !”222
My God, how short our happy days appear !223
How long the sorrowful !  They thought it long,224
The sultry morn that brought such evil cheer,225
And sat, and wished, and sighed for evensong ;226
It came, and cooling wafts about him stirred,227
Yet when they spoke he answered. not-a word.228
Take heart,” they cried, but their sad hearts sank
When he would moan and turn his restless head,230
And wearily the lagging morns would go,231
And nights while they sat watching by his bed,232
Until a storm came up with wind and rain,233
And lightning ran along the troubled main.234
Over their heads the mighty thunders brake,235
Leaping and tumbling down from rock to rock ;236
Then burst anew and made the cliffs to quake237
As they were living things and felt the shock ;238
The wailing sea to sob as if in pain,239
And all the midnight vault to ring again.240
A lamp was burning in the mariner’s cave,241
But the blue lightning flashes made it dim ;242
And when the mother heard those thunders rave,243
She took her little child to cherish him ;244
She took him in her arms, and on her breast245
Full wearily she courted him to rest,246
And soothed him long until the storm was spent,247
And the last thunder peal had died away,248
And stars were out in all the firmament.249
Then did he cease to moan, and slumbering lay,250
While in the welcome silence, pure and deep,251
The care-worn parents sweetly fell asleep.252
And in a dream, enwrought with fancies thick,253
The mother thought she heard the rock-doves coo254
(She had forgotten that her child was sick),255
And she went forth their morning meal to strew ;256
Then over all the cliff with earnest care,257
She sought her child, and, lo, he was not there !258
But she was not afraid, though long she sought259
And climbed the cliff, and set her feet in grass,260
Then reached a river, broad and full, she thought,261
And at its brink he sat. Alas ! alas !262
For one stood near him, fair and undefiled,263
An innocent, a marvellous man-child.264
In garments white as wool, and, oh, most fair,265
A rainbow covered him with mystic light ;266
Upon the warméd grass his feet were bare ;267
And as he breathed, the rainbow in her sight,268
In passions of clear crimson, trembling lay,269
With gold and violet mist made fair the day.270
Her little life ! she thought, his little hands271
Were full of flowers that he did play withal ;272
But when he saw the boy o’ the golden lands,273
And looked him in the face, he let them fall,274
Held through a rapturous pause in wistful wise,275
To the sweet strangeness of those keen child-eyes.276
Ah, dear and awful God, who chastenest me,277
How shall my soul to this be reconciled ?278
It is the Saviour of the world,” quoth she,279
And to my child He cometh as a child.”280
Then on her knees she fell by that vast stream281
Oh, it-was sorrowful, this woman’s dream !282
For, lo, that Elder Child drew nearer now,283
Fair as the light, and purer than the sun.284
The-calms of heaven were brooding on his brow,285
And in his arms He took her little one,286
Her child, that knew her, but with sweet demur287
Drew back, nor held his hands to come to her.288
With that in mother-misery sore she wept289
O Lamb of God, I love my child so much !290
He stole away to thee while we two slept,291
But give him back, for Thou hast many such ;292
And as for me I have but one. O deign,293
Dear Pity of God, to give him me again !”294
His feet were on the river. Oh, his feet295
Had touched the river now, and it was great ;296
And yet He hearkened when she did entreat,297
And turned in quietness as He would wait298
Wait till she looked upon Him ; and, behold,299
There lay a long way off a city of gold,300
Like to a jasper and a sardine stone,301
Whelmed in the rainbow stood that fair man-child,302
Mighty and innocent, that held her own,303
And as might be his manner at home, he smiled ;304
Then while she looked and looked, the vision brake,305
And all amazed she started up awake.306
And, lo, her little child was gone indeed !307
The sleep that knows no waking he had slept,308
Folded to heaven’s own heart; in rainbow brede309
Clothed and made glad, while they two mourned
and wept :
But in the drinking of their bitter cup311
The sweet voice spoke once more and sighed,
Look up !”
They heard, and straightaway answered, “ Even so :313
For what abides that we should look on here ?314
The heavens are better than this earth below,315
They are of more account, and far more dear.316
We will look up, for all most sweet and fair,317
Most pure, most excellent, is garnered there.”318