Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE FOREIGN SAILOR, by WILLIAM ROSE BENET



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THE FOREIGN SAILOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: This is what I heard from a foreign sailor
Last Line: Whispering, and gesturing with lean, dark hands!
Subject(s): Sailing & Sailors; Sea; Seashore; Ships & Shipping; Water; Seamen; Sails; Ocean; Beach; Coast; Shore


This is what I heard from a foreign sailor,
A foreign sailor looking out to sea,
Sitting on a string-piece where the wharves were crowded,
Crowded with the cargoes of an hundred lands.
Golden were his earrings, and his eyes were clouded,
Clouded with the memories he shared with me.
This is what I heard from a foreign sailor
Whispering, and gesturing with lean, dark hands.

"Beirut and Alexandria, Port Said and Zanzibar!
The Straits of Bonifacio stretch dim behind and far.
Across the blue Tyrrhenian Sea, Messina's Straits will make you free,
With spices heavy-laden,
Of the glaring Gulf of Aden,
Of Hongkong, or Tokio, or wheresoe'er you'd be!

"With amber and tobacco bars according to your needs,
Bright calico for petticoats, or gaudy-colored beads,
Adown the coast of Senegal (if you are bound to see it all),
I know the nights and days of it,—
Can show you all the ways of it
By sunrise and moonrise and tides that rise and fall.

"This is a land called Africa, a land that I have seen,
Palavering with black alkaids, with kafir and bushreen,
Where striped hyaenas howl at dark, haunting the land of Mungo Park,
And the sun's as hot as Tophet,
And Mohammed is their prophet
In slave-marts and villages with houses built of bark.

"Well, 'La illah el allah—(as the good disciple saith)
Mahomet rasowl allahi!' (for evidence of faith!)
Long since I sickened to behold the coasts of ivory and gold;
And the things that I have seen in
The bight of bloody Benin,
Like hot sun and black plague they change and make you old.

"But—I was born in far Cathay when this bright world was new,
In the kingdom Kesmacoran, or the city Kanbalu!
Red sandalwood I traded thence,—white Abyssian frankincense,
Camelopards from overseas
And Madagascar ambergris
And roc's eggs and ivory, amid the Tartar tents.

"And how they hunt the foxes and martens from a sledge
In the region of great darkness at the world's remotest edge
I know, and how they meet the rains and snows on gloomy Scythian plains!
Their yelling hordes have led me,
And their mares'-milk often fed me
In strange dreams—in true dreams—in legend-rich domains!

"Beirut and Alexandria, Port Said and Zanzibar!
And at their names the centuries slip dim behind and far,
And, through this sunset's gaudy gleams, what seems is true,—the truth but
seems!
So, lay your world's embargo
On my mind's fantastic cargo,—
But while seas run and ships ply our life's the stuff of dreams!"

That was what I heard from a foreign sailor,
A foreign sailor looking out to sea,
Loafing by a bollard where the quays were crowded,
Crowded with the cargoes of an hundred lands.
Brilliant was the scarf he wore. His eyes were clouded,
Clouded with the memories he gave to me.
That was what I heard from a foreign sailor
Whispering, and gesturing with lean, dark hands!





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