Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE FISHERMAN'S WIFE, by ALICE CARY



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THE FISHERMAN'S WIFE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Peace! For my brain is on the rack!
Last Line: The hindering veil and the spangled new gown.
Subject(s): Fish & Fishing; Anglers


PEACE! for my brain is on the rack!
Peace of your idle prattling, John!
Ere peep o' daylight he was gone:
And my thoughts they run as wild and black
As the clouds in the sky, from fear to fear.
Mother o' mercy! would he were here --
Oh! would that he only were safely here --
Would that I knew he would ever come back!
Yet surely he will come anon;
Let's see -- the clock is almost on
The stroke o' ten. Even ere it strike,
His hand will be at the latch belike.
Set up his chair in the corner, John,
Add a fresh log, and stir the coals:
We can afford it, I reckon, yet.
The night is chilly and wild and wet,
And all the fishers' wives, poor souls,
Must watch and wait! There are otherwhere
Burdens heavy as mine to bear,
Though not so bitter. It was my fret
And worry that sent him to his boat.
Here, Johnny, come kneel down by me,
And pray the best man keep afloat
That ever trusted his life at sea!
So: let your pretty head be bowed,
Like a stricken flower, upon my knee;
And when you come to the sweet, sweet word
Of best, my little one -- my bird,
Say it over twice, and say it loud.
I do not dare to lift my eyes
To our meek Master in the skies;
For it was my wicked pride, alas!
That brought me to the heavy pass
Of weary waiting and listening sad
To the winds as they drearily drift and drive.
So pray in your praying for me, my lad!
Oh! if he were there in the chair you set,
With never a silvery fish in his net,
I'd be the happiest woman alive!

But he will come ere long, I know:
Here, Johnny, put your hand in mine,
And climb up to my shoulder -- so:
Upon the cupboard's highest shelf
You'll see a bottle of good old wine --
I pressed the berry-juice myself.
Ah! how it sparkles in the light,
To make us loath to break the seal;
But though its warm red life could feel,
We would not spare it -- not to-night!

Another hour! and he comes not yet:
And I hear the long waves wash the beach,
With the moan of a drowning man in each,
And the star of hope is near to set.
The proudest lady in all the land
That sits in her chamber fine and high,
That sits in her chamber large and grand,
I would not envy to-night -- not I --
If I had his cold wet locks in my hand,
To make them warm and to make them dry,
And to comb them with my fingers free
From the clinging sea-weed and the sand
Washing over them, it may be.
Ah! how should I envy the lady fair
With white arms hidden in folds of lace,
If my dear old fisher were sitting there,
His pipe in his hand, and his sunbrown face
Turning this way and that to me,
As I broiled the salmon and steeped the tea.
O empty heart! and O empty chair!
My boy, my Johnny, say over your prayer;
And straight to the words I told you keep,
Till you pass the best man out on the deep,
And then say this: If thou grantest, Lord,
That he come back alive, and with fish in his net,
The church shall have them for her reward,
And we, of our thankfulness, will set
A day for fasting and scourge and pain.
Hark! hark to the crazy winds again!
The tide is high as high can be,
The waters are boiling over the bar,
And drawing under them near and far
The low black land. Ah me! ah me!
I can only think of the mad, mad sea;
I can only think, and think, and think
How quickly a foundered boat would sink,
And how soon the stoutest arms would fail.
'T is all of my worry and all of my fret,
For I brewed the bitter draught I drink:
I teased for a foolish, flimsy veil.
And teased and teased for a spangled gown,
And to have a holiday in the town.
There was only just one way, one way,
And he mended his net and trimmed his sail,
And trusted his life to the pitiless sea,
My dear old fisher, for love of me,
When a better wife would have said him nay;
And so my folly forlorn I bewail.
Hark! Midnight! All the hearth is dim
And cold; but sure we need not strive
To keep it warm and bright for him --
He never will come back alive.
I hear the creak of masts a-strain,
As the mad winds rush madly on.
Kneel down and say yet once again
The prayer I told you a while ago;
And be not loud, my boy, my John --
Nay, it befits us to be low --
Nor yet so straight to the wording keep,
As I did give you charge before:
The best man ever was on the deep
Pray for; and say the best twice o'er.
But when through our blessed Redeemer you say
The sweet supplication for him that's away,
That saints bring him back to us saved from ill,
Add this to the Father: If so be Thy will.
And I, lest again my temptation assail,
Will yield to my chast'ning, and cover up head
With blackness of darkness, instead of the veil
I pined for in worry and pined for in fret,
Till my good man was fain to be gone with his net
Where but the winds scolded. Now get from your knees,
For I, from the depths of contrition, have said
The Amen before you. And we'll to the seas:
Belike some kind wave may be washing ashore,
With coils of rope and salt sea-weed, some sign
To be as a letter sent out of the brine
To tell us the last news -- to say if he struck
On the rocks and went down -- but hush! breathe not, my lad.
O sweet Lord of Mercy! my brain is gone mad!
Or that was the tune that he whistles for luck!
Run! run to the door! open wide -- wider yet!
He is there! -- he is here! and my arms are outspread
I am clasping and kissing his hands rough and brown.
Are you living? or are you the ghost of my dead?
'T is all of my worry and all of my fret;
Ashamed in his bosom I hung down my head.
He has been with his fishes to sell in the town,
For I see, snugly wrapt in the folds of his net,
The hindering veil and the spangled new gown.





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