Ballads of Lost Haven: A Book of the Sea

by Bliss Carman


 

THE MARRING OF MALYN


 

I

THE MERRYMAKERS

AMONG the wintry mountains beside the Northern sea
There is a merrymaking, as old as old can be.

Over the river reaches, over the wastes of snow,
Halting at every doorway, the white drifts come and go.

They scour upon the open, and mass along the wood,

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The burliest invaders that ever man withstood.

With swoop and whirl and scurry, these riders of the drift
Will mount and wheel and column, and pass into the lift.

All night upon the marshes you hear their tread go by,
And all night long the streamers are dancing on the sky.

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Their light in Malyn’s chamber is pale upon the floor,
And Malyn of the mountain is theirs for evermore.

She fancies them a people in saffron and in green,
Dancing for her. For Malyn is only seventeen.

Out there beyond her window, from frosty deep to deep,

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Her heart is dancing with them until she falls asleep.

Then all night long through heaven, with stately to and fro,
To music of no measure, the gorgeous dancers go.

The stars are great and splendid, beryl and gold and blue,
And there are dreams for Malyn that never will come true.

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Yet for one golden Yule-tide their royal guest is she,
Among the wintry mountains beside the Northern sea.

II

A SAILOR'S WEDDING

THERE is a Norland laddie who sails the round sea-rim,
And Malyn of the mountains is all the world to him.
The Master of the Snowflake, bound upward from the line,

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He smothers her with canvas along the crumbling brine.
He crowds her till she buries and shudders from his hand,
For in the angry sunset the watch has sighted land;
And he will brook no gainsay who goes to meet his bride.
But their will is the wind’s will who traffic on the tide.
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Make home, my bonny schooner! The sun goes down to light
The gusty crimson wind-halls against the wedding night.

She gathers up the distance, and grows and veers and swings,
Like any homing swallow with nightfall in her wings.
The wind’s white sources glimmer with shining gusts of rain;

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And in the Ardise country the spring comes back again.
It is the brooding April, haunted and sad and dear,
When vanished things return not with the returning year.
Only, when evening purples the light in Malyn’s dale,
With sound of brooks and robins, by many a hidden trail,
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The dream-folk of the gloaming come back to Malyn’s door.
The dusk is long and gracious, and far up in the sky
You hear the chimney-swallows twitter and scurry by.
The hyacinths are lonesome and white in Malyn’s room;
And out at sea the Snowflake is driving through the gloom.
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The whitecaps froth and freshen; in squadrons of white surge
They thunder on to ruin, and smoke along the verge.
The lift is black above them, the sea is mirk below,
And down the world’s wide border they perish as they go.
They comb and seethe and founder, they mount and glimmer and
  flee,
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Amid the awful sobbing and quailing of the sea.
They sheet the flying schooner in foam from stem to stern,
Till every yard of canvas is drenched from clew to ear’n’.
And where they move uneasy, chill is the light and pale;
They are the Skipper’s daughters, who dance before the gale.
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They revel with the Snowflake, and down the close of day
Among the boisterous dancers she holds her dancing way;
And then the dark has kindled the harbor light alee,
With stars and wind and sea-room upon the gurly sea.
The storm gets up to windward to heave and clang and brawl;
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The dancers of the open begin to moan and call.
A lure is in their dancing, a weird is in their song;
The snow-white Skipper’s daughters are stronger than the strong.
They love the Norland sailor who dares the rough sea play;
Their arms are white and splendid to beckon him away.
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They promise him, for kisses a moment at their lips,
To make before the morning the port of missing ships,
Where men put in for shelter, and dreams put forth again,
And the great sea-winds follow the journey of the rain.
A bridal with no morrow, no welling of old tears,
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For him, and no more tidings of the departed years!
For there of old were fashioned the chambers cool and dim,
In the eternal silence below the twilight’s rim.
The borders of that country are slumberous and wide;
And they are well who marry the fondlers of the tide.
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Within their arms immortal, no mortal fear can be;
But Malyn of the mountains is fairer than the sea.
And so the scudding Snowflake flies with the wind astern,
And through the boding twilight are blown the shrilling tern.
The light is on the headland, the harbor gate is wide;
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But rolling in with ruin the fog is on the tide.
Fate like a muffled steersman sails with that Norland gloom;
The Snowflake in the offing is neck and neck with doom.
Ha, ha, my saucy cruiser, crowd up your helm and run!
There’ll be a merrymaking to-morrow in the sun.
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A cloud of straining canvas, a roar of breaking foam,
The Snowflake and the sea-drift are racing in for home.
Her heart is dancing shoreward, but silently and pale
The swift relentless phantom is hungering on her trail.
They scour and fly together, until across the roar
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He signals for a pilot—and Death puts out from shore.
A moment Malyn’s window is gleaming in the lee,
And then—the ghost of wreckage upon the iron sea.

Ah, Malyn, lay your forehead upon your folded arm,
And hear the grim marauder shake out the reefs of storm!

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Loud laughs the surly Skipper to feel the fog drive in,
Because a blue-eyed sailor shall wed his kith and kin,
And the red dawn discover a rover spent for breath
Among the merrymakers who fondle him to death.
And all the snowy sisters are dancing wild and grand,
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For him whose broken beauty shall slacken to their hand.
They wanton in their triumph, and skirl at Malyn’s plight;
Lift up their hands in chorus, and thunder to the night.
The gulls are driven inland; but on the dancing tide
The master of the Snowflake is taken to his bride.
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And there when daybreak yellows along the far sea-plain,
The fresh and buoyant morning comes down the wind again.
The world is glad of April, the gulls are wild with glee,
And Malyn on the headland alone looks out to sea.
Once more that gray Shipmaster smiles, for the night is done,
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And all his snow-white daughters are dancing in the sun.

III

THE LIGHT ON THE MARSH

THE year grows on to harvest, the tawny lilies burn
Along the marsh, and hillward the roads are sweet with fern.
All day the windless heaven pavilions the sea-blue,
Then twilight comes and drenches the sultry dells with dew.

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The lone white star of evening comes out among the hills,
And in the darkling forest begin the whip-poor-wills.
The fireflies that wander, the hawks that flit and scream,
And all the wilding vagrants of summer dusk and dream,
Have all their will, and reck not of any after thing,
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Inheriting no sorrow and no foreshadowing.
The wind forgets to whisper, the pines forget to moan,
And Malyn of the mountains is there among her own.
Malyn, whom grief nor wonder can trouble nevermore,
Since that spring night the Snowflake was wrecked beside her
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  door,  
And strange her cry went seaward once, and her soul thereon
With the vast lonely sea-winds, a wanderer, was gone.
But she, that patient beauty which is her body fair,
Endures on earth still lovely, untenanted of care.
The folk down at the harbor pity from day to day;
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With a "God save you, Malyn!" they bid her on her way.
She smiles, poor feckless Malyn, the knowing smile of those
Whom the too sudden vision God sometimes may disclose
Of this wild, lurid world-wreck, has blinded with its sheen.
Then, with a fond insistence, pathetic and serene,
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They pass among their fellows for lost minds none can save,
Bent on their single business, and marvel why men rave.
Now far away a sighing comes from the buried reef,
As though the sea were mourning above an ancient grief.
For once the restless Mother of all the weary lands
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Went down to him in beauty, with trouble in her hands,
And gave to him forever all memory to keep,
But to her wayward children oblivion and sleep,
That no immortal burden might plague one living thing,
But death should sweetly visit us vagabonds of spring.
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And so his heart forever goes inland with the tide,
Searching with many voices among the marshes wide.
Under the quiet starlight, up through the stirring reeds,
With whispering and lamenting it rises and recedes.
All night the lapsing rivers croon to their shingly bars
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The wizardries that mingle the sea-wind and the stars.
And all night long wherever the moving waters gleam,
The little hills hearken, hearken, the great hills hear and dream.
And Malyn keeps the marshes all the sweet summer night,
Alone, foot-free, to follow a wandering wisp-light.
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For every day at sundown, at the first beacon’s gleam,
She calls the gulls her brothers and keeps a tryst with them.
"O gulls, white gulls, what see you beyond the sloping blue?
And where away’s the Snowflake, she’s so long over-due?"
Then, as the gloaming settles, the hilltop stars emerge
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And watch that plaintive figure patrol the dark sea verge.
She follows the marsh fire; her hears laughs and is glad;
She knows that light to seaward is her own sailor lad!
What are those tales they tell her of wreckage on the shore?
Delay but makes his coming the nearer than before!
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Surely her eyes have sighted his schooner in the lift!
But the great tide he homes on sets with an outward drift.
So will-o’-the-wisp deludes her till dawn, and she turns home
In unperturbed assurance, "To-morrow he will come."
This is the tale of Malyn, whom sudden grief so marred.
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And sill each lovely summer resumes that sweet regard,—
The old unvexed eternal indifference to pain;
The sea sings in the marshes, and June comes back again.
All night the lapsing rivers lisp in the long dike grass,
And many memories whisper the sea-winds as they pass;
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The tides disturb the silence; but not a hindrance bars
The wash of time, where founder even the galleon stars.
And all night long wherever the moving waters gleam,
The little hills hearken, hearken, the great hills hear and dream.