Ballads of Lost Haven: A Book of the Sea

by Bliss Carman


 

THE MASTER OF THE ISLES


 

THERE is rumor in Dark Harbor,
And the folk are all astir;
For a stranger in the offing
Draws them down to gaze at her,

In the gray of early morning,

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Black against the orange streak,
Making in below the ledges,
With no colors at her peak.

Something makes their hearts uneasy
As they watch the long black hull,

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For she brings the storm behind her
While before her there is lull.

With no pilot and unspoken,
Where the dancing breakers are,
Presently she veers and races

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In across the roaring bar,—

Rounds and luffs and comes to anchor,
While the wharf begins to throng.
Silence falls upon the women,
And misgiving stirs the strong.

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Then with some obscure foreboding,
As a gray-haired watcher smiles,
They perceive the fearless captain
Is the Master of the Isles.

They recall the bleak December

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Many streaming years ago,
When the stranger had been sighted
Driving shoreward with the snow;

When the Master came among them
With his calm and courtly pride,

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And had sailed away at sundown
With pale Dora for his bride;

How again he came one summer
When the herring schools were late,
And had cleared before the morning

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With old Alec’s son for mate.

There was glamour with the Master;
He had tales of far-off seas;
But his habit and demeanor
Were of other lands than these.

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He had never made the Harbor
But there sailed away with him
Wife or child or friend or lover,
Leaving eyes to strain and swim,—

Strain and wait for their returning;

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Yet they never had come back;
For the pale wake of the Master
Is the wandering, fading track.

Just beyond our utmost fathom
Is the anchorage we crave,

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But the Master knows the soundings
By the reach of every wave.

Just beyond the last horizon,
Vague upon the weather-gleam,
Loom the Faroff Isles forever,

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The tradition of a dream.

There a white and brooding summer
Haunts upon the gray sea-plain,
Where the gray sea-winds are quiet
At the sources of the rain.

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There where all world-weary dreamers
Get them forth to their release,
Lie the colonies of the kindred,
In the provinces of peace.

Thither in the stormy sunset

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Will the Master sail to-night;
And the village will be silent
When he drops below the light.

Not a soul on all the hillside
But will watch her when she clears,

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Dreaming of the Port o’ Strangers
In the roadstead of the years.

"Port o’ Strangers, Port o’ Strangers!"
"Where away?" "On the weather bow."
"Drive her down the closing distance!" . . . .

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That’s to-morrow, but not now.

What imperial adventure
Some wide morning it will be,
Sweeping in to Lonely Haven
From the chartless round of sea!

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How imposing a departure,
While this little harbor smiles,
Steering for the outer sea-rim
With the Master of the Isles!