Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE PORTSMOUTH SAILOR, by EDNA DEAN PROCTOR



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THE PORTSMOUTH SAILOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Come back, o magical evenings
Last Line: To stories of over sea!
Alternate Author Name(s): Dean
Subject(s): Family Life; New Hampshire; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Sailing & Sailors; Story-telling; Relatives


COME back, O magical evenings
Of Decembers long ago,
When the north wind moaned at the windows,
Herald of drifting snow;
But, within, the great logs glowing
And the chimney's ruddy blaze
Made all the room like the rosy fall
Of summer's fairest days!

There, in a joyous circle —
Five girls and boys were we —
About our grandame's chair we sat
And listened to tales of the sea.
For she had come from Portsmouth town,
And her brothers were sailors tall;
She knew the lore of the fisher-folk,
And every beach-bird's call;

And could tell us of storm, and wraith, and wreck,
And ships becalmed on the line,
And sunny lands whence the captains brought
Olives and figs and wine —
Till our eyes were wide with wonder,
And Robert would softly say,
'Now the story of our great-uncle
The pirates carried away.'

'Yes,' she would sigh, 'it was William,
The last of my brothers three;
Slender and straight as a light-house tower,
And strong and brave was he.
Our mother wept when he sang of the waves,
And to hold him close was fain;
But he was a sailor born, and bent
To rove the boundless main.

'So he shipped on a gallant vessel,
The Cadiz, fleet and stout,
And the gray March day she bore away
The wildest winds were out.
But he laughed at the gale and the gloomy sky
As he saw her sails unfurl,
And said he would bring me corals bright
And our mother a brooch of pearl.

'Dear noble lad! I can see him yet
As he stood at the mainmast's side,
When the Cadiz down the river went
With the wind and the ebbing tide.
He waved his cap as she passed the forts
And turned to her distant shore; —
Alas! nor lad nor gallant prow
Came up the river more!

'Yet still;— with loving, lonely hearts
We followed his foaming track,
Looking aye for the golden morn
That should bring our darling back;—
When with winter we heard the awful news,
From a bark in Boston bay,
That the Algerines had the Cadiz seized,
And her crew were slaves of the Dey!

'"But he lives," said his stricken mother;
"He lives, and may come in peace!"
And as one who would not be denied
She prayed for his release;
While slow the seasons went their round
Till thrice 'twas March and May,
And thrice the ships from the Indian isles
In the harbor anchored lay.

'Oh, happy for her she could not see
Her boy on the burning plain,
Scorn of the caravan southward bound
For a Moorish master's gain; —
Through torrid noons and chilly nights
Till that day of horror fell
When a cloud came rolling up from the waste
With a billow's surge and swell,
And the dread simoom swept over their path
A league from Tishlah's well!

'In flaming gusts, all fitfully,
The blast of the desert blew;
And the air grew heavy and hot and still
As the darkness closer drew.
They fled before its scorching breath;
They crouched in trembling bands;
But it shut them in like a pall of fire,
Outspread by demon hands; —
And, when it passed, that kneeling host
Lay lifeless on the sands!

'And hark! That eve his mother heard,
By the door, the whip-poor-will's cry;
And, at midnight, the death-watch beating
In the wall, her pillow by;
And the howl of the dog her sailor lad
Left to her faithful care,
As the wan moon sank before the dawn,
Ring through the startled air;
And dreamed the cherry-tree's withered bough
Was white with its early bloom; —
Then she knew in that drear and cruel land
Her boy had found his tomb!

'Next moon a horde on plunder bent,
Roaming the desert's heart,
Saw the lone dead, and their treasures bore
To far Timbuctoo's mart;
And told, in many an Arab tent,
Of the fair-haired Christian slave
Who nearest of all to the well had pressed,
When the hot wind heaped his grave.

'Nay, children! Do not grieve so!
The angels could look down
On still Sahara's burning plain,
As on our Portsmouth town;
And he and his gentle mother,
Denied one burial sod,
This many a year have together dwelt
"In the Paradise of God!'"

Come back, O magical evenings
Of Decembers long ago —
When the north wind moaned at the windows,
Herald of drifting snow;
But, warm in the rosy firelight,
We sat at our grandame's knee,
And listened with love and wonder
To stories of over sea!





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