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John Townsend Trowbridge (Джон Таунсенд Троубридж)

The Isle of Lambs

IN sunlight slept the gilded cliff,
The ocean beat below,
The gray gulls flapped along the wave,
The seas broke, huge and slow.

The drenched rocks rose like buffaloes,
With matted sea-weed manes;
Each shaggy hide shook off the tide
In dripping crystal rains.

Up rose Monk Rock's bald scalp and locks:
The heavy, drownèd hair
Below the crown hung sad and brown,
The crown was bleached and bare.

And out from shore, a league or more,
Entranced in purple calms,
Where summer seemed eternal, dreamed
The lovely Isle of Lambs.

I said: 'Those rocks like scattered flocks
Lie basking in the sun,
And fancy sees a golden fleece
Enfolding every one.'

An old man sat upon the cliff;
His hair like silver flame
Flared in the breeze: 'Not so,' he said,
'Our island got its name.

'But as each year our sheep we shear,
The younglings of the flock
Are chosen, and banished to that small
Green world of grass and rock.

'There, pastured on the virgin turf,
And watered faithfully
By rain and dew, the summer through,
Encircled by the sea,

'They sport, they lie beneath the sky,
Fenced in by shining waves,
Or shelter seek, when winds are bleak,
Among the cliffs and caves.'

Still as I questioned him, he said:
'This quiet farm I till.'
A house he showed high up the road,
Half hidden by the hill.

''Tis now threescore long years and more,
Long years of lonely toil,
Since Ruth and I came here, to try
Our fortunes on the soil.

'Not yet for me God's sun had risen,
His face I could not see;
But she, my light, my moon by night,
Reflected Him to me.

'So when she died my world was dark;
No hope, but grim Despair,
Despair and Hate, his gloomy mate,
Walked with me everywhere.

'They laid their burden on my soul;
They would not let me pray;
Hate and Despair, a dismal pair,
Were with me night and day.

'They said: 'Behold the fisher-boy!
He laughs a lengthened peal.
For bait he takes a worm, or breaks
The cockle with his heel;

''Nor heeds the whitening barnacles,
As crushingly he tramps
By the sea's edge, along the ledge
Encrusted with their camps.'

'Then I beheld the living fish
Their small companions slay,
And barnacles, in rocky wells,
That snatched a viewless prey.

'The barnacles, fine fishermen,
Their tiny scoop-nets swung;
Each breathing shell within the well
Shot forth a shadowy tongue.

'Then said Despair: 'So all things fare;
Alike the great and small.'
Then muttered Hate: 'Yea, God is great!
He preyeth upon all!'

'So shearing-time came round again;
And when my sheep were shorn,
Beneath the cliff I rigged my skiff,
One pleasant summer morn.

'The stars were gone; I saw the Dawn
Her crown of glory lay
With misty smile on yonder isle,
And something seemed to say:

''Who spread those pastures for thy flock?
Who sends the herb and dew?
Who curved round all this crystal wall?
He is thy Shepherd, too!'

'Windrows of kelp lay on the beach,
Sent hither by the storm;
The sea's rich spoil, our meagre soil
To nourish and to warm.

'Against the course of winds and foam,
Shoreward, from steadfast deeps,
With mighty flow the undertow
Its rolling burden sweeps.

And something whispered in my heart:
'Beneath the waves of wrong,
The surface flow of wrong and woe,
Are currents deep and strong,

''Unseen, that still to those who wait
Bring blessedness and help.'
But, dark and stern, I would not learn
The lesson of the kelp.

'The lambs were bound, and one by one
I took them from the sand,
Till, all afloat in my good boat,
I pushed out from the land.

'I took the oar, I pushed from shore;
And then I smiled to see
One poor, scared thing upstart and spring,
His fettered limbs to free.

''You foolish lamb!' I chided him,
'Have faith in me and wait.
You do but gain a needless pain
By striving with your fate.

''I know your grief, the end I know.
Those hazy slopes, that rise
From out the sea, to you shall be
A summer paradise.'

'The light oars dipped, they rose and dripped,
The ripples ran beneath,
In many a whirl of pink and pearl,
In many a sparkling wreath.

'With long, smooth swell arose and fell
The slow, uncertain seas,
Till something stole into my soul
Of their soft light and peace.

'A flush of hope, a breath of joy,
To know that still for me
The dawn's bright hues could so suffuse
That pure translucency.

'But, when the voyage was almost done,
The discontented lamb,
With one glad bleat, shook free his feet,
Leaped from the skiff, and swam.

'Far off the tall, forbidding wall
Of rocky coast was seen;
The sea was cold, the billows rolled
A restless host between.

'Billows before and all around—
A billowy world to swim;
Only the boat was there afloat
On the wide waves with him.

'He turned, dismayed; but looked in vain
His following mates to see;
All, snug and warm and safe from harm,
Were in the skiff with me.

'Ah! then he knew his shepherd's voice!
With cries of quick distress,
Straight to my beckoning hand he came,
In utter helplessness.

'With piteous cries, with pleading eyes,
Upon my friendly palm
He stretched his chin; I drew him in,
A chilled and dripping lamb.

''This poor, repentant beast,' I said,
'Is wiser far than I;
Against God's will rebellious still,
I beat the waves and cry.

''O Love look down! I sink! I drown!
Is there no hand to reach
A pleading soul?' My boat, meanwhile,
Drew near the rocky beach.

'How calm the waves! How clear the sea!
Mysterious and slow,
In that deep glass, the long eel-grass
Went waving to and fro.

'Safely to shore my freight I bore;
Their morning voyage was done.
I loosed their bands upon the sands
And freed them, one by one.

'They climbed the fresh and dewy slopes,
They wandered everywhere;
With many a sweet and gladsome bleat,
They blessed the island air.

'The beach-birds ran among the rocks,
And, like an infant's hand,
A little star-fish stretched its five
Pink fingers on the sand.

'Invisible, on some high crest,
One solitary bird
Trilled clear and strong his morning song,
The sweetest ever heard.

'The sky, all light and love, looked down
Upon the curtained sea;
The dimpled deep in rosy sleep
Lay breathing tranquilly.

'Upon the island's topmost rock
I basked in holy calms;
My proud heart there I bowed in prayer,
My joy broke forth in psalms.

'O stranger! you are young, and I
Am in the shadowy vale;
Fourscore and ten the years have been
Of him who tells this tale.

'And do you marvel at the peace
That goes with hoary hairs,
This heritage of blessed age
Which my glad spirit bears?

'The secret is not far to seek,
If you can tell me why
One lamb thenceforth, of all my flock,
Was precious in my eye;

'And wherefore he, more faithfully
And fondly than the rest,
Learned to obey my voice and lay
His head upon my breast.'

That old man rose, he passed away
In sunshine soft and still,
To his abode, high up the road,
Behind the sunlit hill.

Then half I thought, such peace he brought,
So clothed in light was he,
That on that coast a heavenly ghost
Had met and talked with me. 

John Townsend Trowbridge's other poems:
  1. Menotomy Lake
  2. The Old Man of the Mountains under the Moon and Stars
  3. Recollections of «Lalla Rookh»
  4. The Old Burying-Ground
  5. The Tragedy Queen

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