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John Townsend Trowbridge (Джон Таунсенд Троубридж)

The Old Lobsterman


JUST back from a beach of sand and shells,
And shingle the tides leave oozy and dank,
Summer and winter the old man dwells
In his low brown house on the river bank.
Tempest and sea-fog sweep the hoar
And wrinkled sand-drifts round his door,
Where often I see him sit, as gray
And weather-beaten and lonely as they.

Coarse grasses wave on the arid swells
In the wind; and two bright poplar-trees
Seem hung all over with silver bells
That tinkle and twinkle in sun and breeze.
All else is desolate sand and stone:
And here the old lobsterman lives alone:
Nor other companionship has he
But to sit in his house and gaze at the sea.

A furlong or more away to the south,
On the bar beyond the huge sea-walls
That keep the channel and guard its mouth,
The high, curved billow whitens and falls;
And the racing tides through the granite gate,
On their wild errands that will not wait,
Forever, unresting, to and fro,
Course with impetuous ebb and flow.

They bury the barnacled ledge, and make
Into every inlet and crooked creek,
And flood the flats with a shining lake,
Which the proud ship plows with foam at her beak:
The ships go up to yonder town,
Or over the sea their hulls sink down,
And many a pleasure pinnace rides
On the restless backs of the rushing tides.

I try to fathom the gazer's dreams,
But little I gain from his gruff replies;
Far off, far off the spirit seems,
As he looks at me with those strange gray eyes;
Never a hail from the shipwrecked heart !
Mysterious oceans seem to part
The desolate man from all his kind—
The Selkirk of his lonely mind.

He has growls for me when I bring him back
My unused bait—his way to thank;
And a good shrill curse for the fishing-smack
That jams his dory against the bank;
But never a word of love to give
For love,—ah! how can he bear to live?
I marvel, and make my own heart ache
With thinking how his must sometimes break.

Solace he finds in the sea, no doubt.
To catch the ebb he is up and away.
I see him silently pushing out
On the broad bright gleam at break of day;
And watch his lessening dory toss
On the purple crests as he pulls across,
Round reefs where silvery surges leap,
And meets the dawn on the rosy deep.

His soul, is it open to sea and sky?
His spirit, alive to sound and sight?
What wondrous tints on the water lie—
Wild, wavering, liquid realm of light!
Between two glories looms the shape
Of the wood-crested, cool green cape,
Sloping all round to foam-laced ledge,
And cavern and cove, at the bright sea's edge.

He makes for the floats that mark the spots,
And rises and falls on the sweeping swells,
Ships oars, and pulls his lobster-pots,
And tumbles the tangled claws and shells
In the leaky bottom; and bails his skiff;
While the slow waves thunder along the cliff,
And foam far away where sun and mist
Edge all the region with amethyst.

I watch him, and fancy how, a boy,
Round these same reefs, in the rising sun,
He rowed and rocked, and shouted for joy,
As over the boat-side one by one
He lifted and launched his lobster-traps,
And reckoned his gains, and dreamed, perhaps,
Of a future as glorious, vast and bright
As the ocean, unrolled in the morning light.

He quitted his skiff for a merchant-ship;
Was sailor-boy, mate,—gained skill and command;
And brought home once from a fortunate trip
A wife he had found in a foreign land:
So the story is told: then settled down
With the nabobs of his native town,—
Jolly old skippers, bluff and hale,
Who owned the bottoms they used to sail.

Does he sometimes now, in his loneliness,
Live over again that happy time,
Beguile his poverty and distress
With pictures of his prosperous prime?
Does ever, at dusk, a fond young bride
Start forth and sit by the old man's side;
Children frolic, and friends look in;
With all the blessings that might have been?

Yet might not be! The same sad day
Saw wife and babe to the churchyard borne;
And he sailed away, he sailed away,—
For that is the sailor's way to mourn.
And ever, 't is said, as he sailed and sailed,
Heart grew reckless and fortune failed,
Till old age drifted him back to shore,
To his hut and his lobster-pots once more.

The house is empty, the board is bare;
His dish he scours, his jacket he mends;
And now 't is the dory that needs repair;
He fishes; his lobster-traps he tends;
And, rowing at nightfall many a mile,
Brings floodwood home to his winter pile;
Then his fire 's to kindle, and supper to cook;
The storm his music, his thoughts his book.

He sleeps, he wakes; and this is his life.
Nor kindred nor friend in all the earth;
Nor laughter of child, nor gossip of wife;
Not even a cat to his silent hearth !

Only the sand-hills, wrinkled and hoar,
Bask in the sunset, round his door,
Where now I can see him sit, as gray
And weather-beaten and lonely as they. 

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. An Idyl of Harvest Time

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