Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, POSTHUMOUS TALES: TALE 18. THE BOAT RACE, by GEORGE CRABBE

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

POSTHUMOUS TALES: TALE 18. THE BOAT RACE, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: The man who dwells where party-spirit reigns
Last Line: Where sin and suffering never more shall be.


THE man who dwells where party-spirit reigns,
May feel its triumphs, but must wear its chains;
He must the friends and foes of party take
For his, and suffer for his honour's sake;
When once enlisted upon either side,
He must the rude septennial storm abide --
A storm that when its utmost rage is gone,
In cold and angry mutterings murmurs on:
A slow unbending scorn, a cold disdain,
Till years bring the full tempest back again.
Within our Borough two stiff sailors dwelt,
Who both this party storm and triumph felt;
Men who had talents, and were both design'd
For better things, but anger made them blind.
In the same year they married, and their wives
Had pass'd in friendship their yet peaceful lives,
And, as they married in a time of peace,
Had no suspicion that their love must cease.
In fact it did not; but they met by stealth,
And that perhaps might keep their love in health;
Like children watch'd, desirous yet afraid,
Their visits all were with discretion paid.
One Captain, so by courtesy we call
Our hoy's commanders -- they are captains all --
Had sons and daughters many; while but one
The rival Captain bless'd -- a darling son.
Each was a burgess to his party tied,
And each was fix'd, but on a different side;
And he who sought his son's pure mind to fill
With wholesome food, would evil too instil.
The last in part succeeded -- but in part --
For Charles had sense, had virtue, had a heart;
And he had soon the cause of Nature tried
With the stern father, but this father died;
Who on his death-bed thus his son address'd: --
'Swear to me, Charles, and let my spirit rest --
Swear to our party to be ever true,
And let me die in peace -- I pray thee, do.'
With some reluctance, but obedience more,
The weeping youth reflected, sigh'd, and swore;
Trembling, he swore for ever to be true,
And wear no colour but the untainted Blue:
This done, the Captain died in so much joy,
As if he'd wrought salvation for his boy.
The female friends their wishes yet retain'd,
But seldom met, by female fears restrain'd;
Yet in such town, where girls and boys must meet,
And every house is known in every street,
Charles had before, nay since his father's death,
Met, say by chance, the young Elizabeth;
Who was both good and graceful, and in truth
Was but too pleasing to th' observing youth;
And why I know not, but the youth to her
Seem'd just that being that she could prefer.
Both were disposed to think that party-strife
Destroy'd the happiest intercourse of life;
Charles, too, his growing passion could defend --
His father's foe he call'd his mother's friend.
Mothers, indeed, he knew were ever kind;
But in the Captain should he favour find?
He doubted this -- yet could he that command
Which fathers love, and few its power withstand,
The mothers both agreed their joint request
Should to the Captain jointly be address'd;
And first the lover should his heart assail,
And then the ladies, and if all should fail,
They'd singly watch the hour, and jointly might prevail.
The Captain's heart, although unused to melt,
A strong impression from persuasion felt;
His pride was soften'd by the prayers he heard,
And then advantage in the match appear'd.
At length he answer'd, -- 'Let the lad enlist
In our good cause, and I no more resist;
For I have sworn, and to my oath am true,
To hate that colour, that rebellious Blue.
His father once, ere master of the brig,
For that advantage turn'd a rascal Whig:
Now let the son -- a wife's a better thing --
A Tory turn, and say, God save the King!
For I am pledged to serve that sacred cause,
And love my country, while I keep her laws.'
The women trembled; for they knew full well
The fact they dare not to the Captain tell;
And the poor youth declared, with tears and sighs,
'My oath was pass'd: I dare not compromise.'
But Charles to reason made his strong appeal,
And to the heart -- he bade him think and feel:
The Captain answering, with reply as strong --
'If you be right, then how can I be wrong?
You to your father swore to take his part;
I to oppose it ever, head and heart;
You to a parent made your oath, and I
To God! and can I to my Maker lie?
Much, my dear lad, I for your sake would do,
But I have sworn, and to my oath am true.'
Thus stood the parties when my fortunes bore
Me far away from this my native shore:
And who prevail'd, I know not -- Young or Old;
But, I beseech you, let the tale be told.


P. HOW fared these lovers? Many a time I thought
How with their ill-starr'd passion Time had wrought.
Did either party from his oath recede,
Or were they never from the bondage freed?
F. Alas! replied my Friend -- the tale I tell
With some reluctance, nor can do it well.
There are three females in the place, and they,
Like skilful painters, could the facts portray,
In their strong colours -- all that I can do
Is to present a weak imperfect view;
The colours I must leave -- the outlines shall be true.
Soon did each party see the other's mind,
What bound them both, and what was like to bind;
Oaths deeply taken in such time and place,
To break them now was dreadful -- was disgrace!
'That oath a dying father bade me take,
Can I -- yourself a father -- can I break?'
'That oath which I a living sinner took,
Shall I make void, and yet for mercy look?'
The women wept; the men, themselves distress'd,
The cruel rage of party zeal confess'd:
But solemn oaths, though sprung from party zeal,
Feel them we must, as Christians ought to feel.
Yet shall a youth so good, a girl so fair,
From their obedience only draw despair?
Must they be parted? Is there not a way
For them both love and duty to obey?
Strongly they hoped; and by their friends around
A way, at least a lover's way, was found.
'Give up your vote; you'll then no longer be
Free in one sense, but in the better free.'
Such was of reasoning friends the kind advice,
And how could lovers in such case be nice?
A man may swear to walk directly on
While sight remains; but how if sight be gone?
'Oaths are not binding when the party's dead;
Or when the power to keep the oath is fled:
If I've no vote, I've neither friend nor foe,
Nor can be said on either side to go.'
They were no casuists: -- 'Well!' the Captain cried,
'Give up your vote, man, and behold your bride!'
Thus was it fix'd, and fix'd the day for both
To take the vow, and set aside the oath.
It gave some pain, but all agreed to say,
'You're now absolved, and have no other way:
'Tis not expected you should love resign
For man's commands, for love's are all divine.'
When all is quiet and the mind at rest,
All in the calm of innocence are blest;
But when some scruple mixes with our joy,
We love to give the anxious mind employ.
In autumn late, when evening suns were bright,
The day was fix'd the lovers to unite;
But one before the eager Captain chose
To break, with jocund act, his girl's repose,
And, sailor-like, said, 'Hear how I intend
One day, before the day of days, to spend!
All round the quay, and by the river's side,
Shall be a scene of glory for the bride.
We'll have a RACE, and colours will devise
For every boat, for every man a prize:
But that which first returns shall bear away
The proudest pendant -- Let us name the day.'
They named the day, and never morn more bright
Rose on the river, nor so proud a sight:
Or if too calm appear'd the cloudless skies,
Experienced seamen said the wind would rise.
To that full quay from this then vacant place
Thronged a vast crowd to see the promised Race.
Mid boats new painted, all with streamers fair,
That flagg'd or flutter'd in that quiet air --
The Captain's boat that was so gay and trim,
That made his pride, and seem'd as proud of him --
Her, in her beauty, we might all discern,
Her rigging new, and painted on the stern,
As one who could not in the contest fail,
'Learn of the little Nautilus to sail.'
So forth they started at the signal gun,
And down the river had three leagues to run;
This sail'd, they then their watery way retrace,
And the first landed conquers in the race.
The crowd await till they no more discern,
Then parting say, 'At evening we return.'
I could proceed, but you will guess the fate,
And but too well my tale anticipate.
P. True! yet proceed --
F. The lovers had some grief
In this day's parting, but the time was brief;
And the poor girl, between his smiles and sighs,
Ask'd, 'Do you wish to gain so poor a prize?'
'But that your father wishes,' he replied,
'I would the honour had been still denied:
It makes me gloomy, though I would be gay,
And oh! it seems an everlasting day.'
So thought the lass, and as she said, farewell!
Soft sighs arose, and tears unbidden fell.
The morn was calm, and ev'n till noon the strong
Unruffled flood moved quietly along;
In the dead calm the billows softly fell,
And mock'd the whistling sea-boy's favourite spell:
So rests at noon the reaper, but to rise
With mightier force and twofold energies.
The deep, broad stream moved softly, all was hush'd,
When o'er the flood the breeze awakening brush'd;
A sullen sound was heard along the deep,
The stormy spirit rousing from his sleep;
The porpoise rolling on the troubled wave,
Unwieldy tokens of his pleasure gave;
Dark, chilling clouds the troubled deep deform,
And led by terror downward rush'd the storm.
As evening came, along the river's side,
Or on the quay, impatient crowds divide,
And then collect; some whispering, as afraid
Of what they saw, and more of what they said,
And yet must speak: how sudden and how great
The danger seem'd, and what might be the fate
Of men so toss'd about in craft so small,
Lost in the dark, and subject to the squall.
Then sounds are so appalling in the night,
And, could we see, how terrible the sight;
None knew the evils that they all suspect,
And Hope at once they covet and reject.
But where the wife, her friend, her daughter, where?
Alas! in grief, in terror, in despair --
At home, abroad, upon the quay. No rest
In any place, but where they are not, best.
Fearful they ask, but dread the sad reply,
And many a sailor tells the friendly lie --
'There is no danger -- that is, we believe,
And think -- and hope' -- but this does not deceive,
Although it soothes them; while they look around,
Trembling at every sight and every sound.
Let me not dwell on terrors -- -- It is dark,
And lights are carried to and fro, and hark!
There is a cry -- 'a boat, a boat at hand!'
What a still terror is there now on land!
'Whose, whose?' they all enquire, and none can understand.
At length they come -- and oh! how then rejoice
A wife and children at that welcome voice:
It is not theirs -- but what have these to tell?
'Where did you leave the Captain -- were they well?'
Alas! they know not, they had felt an awe
In dread of death, and knew not what they saw.
Thus they depart. -- The evening darker grows,
The lights shake wildly, and as wildly blows
The stormy night-wind: fear possesses all,
The hardest hearts, in this sad interval.
But hark again to voices loud and high!
Once more that hope, that dread, that agony,
That panting expectation! 'Oh! reveal
What must be known, and think what pangs we feel!'
In vain they ask! The men now landed speak
Confused and quick, and to escape them seek.
Our female party on a sailor press,
But nothing learn that makes their terror less;
Nothing the man can show, or nothing will confess.
To some, indeed, they whisper, bringing news
For them alone, but others they refuse;
And steal away, as if they could not bear
The griefs they cause, and if they cause must share.
They too are gone! and our unhappy Three,
Half wild with fear, are trembling on the quay.
They can no ease, no peace, no quiet find,
The storm is gathering in the troubled mind;
Thoughts after thoughts in wild succession rise,
And all within is changing like the skies.
Their friends persuade them, 'do depart, we pray!'
They will not, must not, cannot go away,
But chill'd with icy fear, for certain tidings stay.
And now again there must a boat be seen --
Men run together! It must something mean!
Some figure moves upon the ousy bound
Where flows the tide -- Oh! what can he have found --
What lost? And who is he? -- The only one
Of the loved three -- the Captain's younger son.
Their boat was fill'd and sank -- He knows no more,
But that he only hardly reach'd the shore.
He saw them swimming -- for he once was near --
But he was sinking, and he could not hear;
And then the waves curl'd round him, but at length,
He struck upon the boat with dying strength,
And that preserved him: when he turn'd around,
Nought but the dark, wild, billowy flood was found --
That flood was all he saw, that flood's the only sound --
Save that the angry wind, with ceaseless roar,
Dash'd the wild waves upon the rocky shore.
The Widows dwell together -- so we call
The younger woman; widow'd are they all:
But she, the poor Elizabeth, it seems
Not life in her -- she lives not, but she dreams;
She looks on Philip, and in him can find
Not much to mark in body or in mind --
He who was saved; and then her very soul
Is in that scene! -- Her thoughts beyond control,
Fix'd on that night, and bearing her along,
Amid the waters terrible and strong;
Till there she sees within the troubled waves
The bodies sinking in their wat'ry graves,
When from her lover, yielding up his breath,
There comes a voice, -- 'Farewell, Elizabeth!'
Yet Resignation in the house is seen,
Subdued Affliction, Piety serene,
And Hope for ever striving to instil
The balm for grief -- 'It is the Heavenly will:'
And in that will our duty bids us rest,
For all that Heaven ordains is good, is best;
We sin and suffer -- this alone we know,
Grief is our portion, is our part below;
But we shall rise, that world of bliss to see,
Where sin and suffering never more shall be.

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