A Winter Holiday

by Bliss Carman


 

BAHAMAN


 

IN the crowd that thronged the pierhead,
    come to see their friends take ship
For new ventures in seafaring,
   when the hawsers were let slip
And we swung out in the current,
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    with good-byes on every lip,

Midst the waving caps and kisses,
    as we dropped down with the tide
And the faces blurred and faded,
    last of all your hand I spied

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Signalling, Farewell; Good fortune!
    then my heart rose up and cried,

"While the world holds one such comrade,
    whose sweet durable regard
Would so speed my safe departure,

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    lest home-leaving should be hard,
What care I who keeps the ferry,
    whether Charon or Cunard!"

Then we cleared the bar, and laid her
    on the course, the thousand miles

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From the Hook to the Bahamas,
    from midwinter to the isles
Where frost never laid a finger,
    and eternal summer smiles.

Three days through the surly storm-beat,

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    while the surf-heads threshed and flew,
And the rolling mountains thundered
    to the trample of the screw,
The black liner heaved and scuffled
    and strained on, as if she knew.
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On the fourth, the round blue morning
    sparkled there, all light and breeze,
Clean and tenuous as a bubble
    blown from two immensities,
Shot and colored with sheer sunlight
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    and the magic of those seas.

In that bright new world of wonder,
    it was life enough to laze
All day underneath the awnings,
    and through half-shut eyes to gaze

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At the marvel of the sea-blue;
    and I faltered for a phrase

Should half give you the impression,
    tell you how the very tint
Justified your finest daring,

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    as if Nature gave the hint,
"Plodders, see Imagination
    set his pallet without stint!"

Cobalt, gobelin, and azure,
     turquoise, sapphire, indigo,

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Changing from the spectral bluish
    of a shadow upon snow
To the deep of Canton china,—
    one unfathomable glow.

And the flying fish,—to see them

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    in a scurry lift and flee,
Silvery as the foam they sprang from,
    fragile people of the sea,
Whom their heart’s great aspiration
    for a moment had set free.
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From the dim and cloudy ocean,
    thunder-centred, rosy-verged,
At the lord sun’s Sursum Corda,
    as implicit impulse urged,
Frail as vapor, fine as music,
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    these bright spirit-things emerged;

Like those flocks of small white snowbirds
    we have seen start up before
Our brisk walk in winter weather
    by the snowy Scituate shore;

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And the tiny shining sea-folk
    brought you back to me once more.

So we ran down Abaco;
    and passing that tall sentinel
Black against the sundown, sighted,

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    as the sudden twilight fell,
Nassau light; and the warm darkness
    breathed on us from breeze and swell.

Stand-by bell and stop of engine;
    clank of anchor going down;

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And we’re riding in the roadstead
    off a twinkling-lighted town,
Low dark shore with boom of breakers
    and white beach the palm-trees crown.

In the soft wash of the sea air,

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    on the long swing of the tide,
Here for once the dream came true,
    the voyage ended close beside
The Hesperides in moonlight
    on mid-ocean where they ride.
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And those Hesperidian joy-lands
    were not strange to you and me.
Just beyond the lost horizon,
    every time we looked to sea
From Testudo, there they floated,

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    looming plain as plain could be.

Who believed us? "Myth and fable
    are a science in our time."
"Never saw the sea that color."
    "Never heard of such a rhyme."

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Well, we’ve proved it, prince of idlers,—
    knowledge wrong and faith sublime.

Right were you to follow fancy,
    give the vaguer instinct room
In a heaven of clear color,

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    Where the spirit might assume
All her elemental beauty,
    past the fact of sky or bloom.

Paint the vision, not the view,—
    the touch that bids the sense good-bye,

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Lifting spirit at a bound
    beyond the frontiers of the eye,
To suburb unguessed dominions
    of the soul’s credulity.

Never yet was painter, poet,

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    born content with things that are,—
Must divine from every beauty
    other beauties greater far,
Till the arc of truth be circled,
    and her lantern blaze, a star.
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This alone is art’s ambition,
    to arrest with form and hue
Dominant ungrasped ideals,
    known to credence, hid from view,
In a mimic of creation,—
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    To the life, yet fairer too,—

Where the soul may take her pleasure,
    contemplate perfection’s plan,
And returning bring the tidings
    of his heritage to man,—

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News of continents uncharted
    she has stood tiptoe to scan.

So she fires his gorgeous fancy
     with a cadence, with a line,
Till the artist wakes within him,

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    and the toiler grows divine,
Shaping the rough world about him
    nearer to some fair design.

Every heart must have its Indies,—
     an inheritance unclaimed

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In the unsubstantial treasure
     of a province never named,
Loved and longed for through a lifetime,
    dull, laborious, and unfamed,

Never wholly disillusioned.

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     Spiritus, read, bæres sit
Patriæ quœ tristia nescit.
    This alone the great king writ
O’er the tomb of her he cherished
    in this fair world she must quit.
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Love in one farewell forever,
    taking counsel to implore
Best of human benedictions
    on its dead, could ask no more.
The heart’s country for a dwelling,
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    this at last is all our lore.

But the fairies at your cradle
    gave you craft to build a home
In the wide bright world of color,
    with the cunning of a gnome;

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Blessed you so above your fellows
    of the tribe that still must roam.

Still across the world they go,
    tormented by a strange unrest,
And the unabiding spirit
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    knocks forever at their breast,
Bidding them away to fortune
    in some undiscovered West;

While at home you sit and call
    the Orient up at your command,

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Master of the iris seas
    and Prospero of the purple land.
Listen, here was one world-corner
    matched the cunning of your hand.

Not, my friend, since we were children,

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    and all wonder-tales were true,—
Jason, Hengest, Hiawatha,
    fairy prince or pirate crew,—
Was there ever such a landing
    in a country strange and new
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Up the harbor where there gathered,
    fought and revelled many a year,
Swarthy Spaniard, lost Lucayan,
    Loyalist, and Buccaneer,
"Once upon a time" was now,
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    and "far across the sea" was here.

Tropic moonlight, in great floods
    and fathoms pouring through the trees
On a ground as white as sea-froth
    its fantastic traceries,
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While the poincianas, rustling
    like the rain, moved in the breeze,

Showed a city, coral-streeted,
    melting in the mellow shine,
Built of creamstone and enchantment,

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    fairy work in every line,
In a velvet atmosphere
    that bids the heart her haste resign.

Thanks to Julian Hospitator,
    saint of travellers by sea,

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Roving minstrels and all boatmen,—
    just such vagabonds as we,—
On the shaded wharf we landed,
    rich in leisure, hale and free.

What more would you for God’s creatures,

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    but the little tide of sleep?
In a clean white room I wakened,
    saw the careless sunlight peep
Through the roses at the window,
    lay and listened to the creep

Of the soft wind in the shutters,

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    heard the palm-tops stirring high,
And that strange mysterious shuffle
    of the slipshod foot go by.
In a world all glad with color,
    gladdest of all things was I;
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In a quiet convent garden,
    tranquil as the day is long,
Here to sit without intrusion
    of the world or strife or wrong,—
Watch the lizards chase each other,
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    and the green bird make his song;

Warmed and freshened, lulled yet quickened
    in that Paradisal air,
Motherly and uncapricious,
    healing every hurt or care,

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Wooing body, mind, and spirit
    firmly back to strong and fair;

By the Angelus reminded,
    silence waits the touch of sound,
As the soul waits her awaking

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    to some Gloria profound;
Till the mighty Southern Cross
    is lighted at the day’s last bound.

And if ever your fair fortune
    make you good Saint Vincent’s guest;

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At his door take leave of trouble,
    welcomed to his decent rest,
Of his ordered peace partaker,
    by his solace healed and blessed;

Where this flowered cloister garden,

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    hidden from the passing view,
Lies behind its yellow walls
    in prayer the holy hours through;
And beyond, that fairy harbor,
    floored in malachite and blue.
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In that old white-streeted city
    gladness has her way at last;
Under burdens finely poised,
    and with a freedom unsurpassed,
Move the naked-footed bearers
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    in the blue day deep and vast.

This is Bay Street broad and low-built,
    basking in its quiet trade;
Here the sponging fleet is anchored;
    here shell trinkets are displayed;

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Here the cable news is posted daily;
    here the market’s made,

With its oranges from Andros,
    heaps of yam and tamarind,
Red-juiced shadducks from the Current,

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    ripened in the long trade-wind,
Gaudy fish from their sea-gardens,
    yellow-tailed and azure-finned.

Here a group of diving boys
    in bronze and ivory, bright and slim,

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Sparkling copper in the high noon,
    dripping loin-cloth, polished limb,
Poised a moment and then plunged
    in that deep daylight green and dim.

Here the great rich Spanish laurels

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    spread across the public square
Their dense solemn shade; and near by,
    half within the open glare,
Mannerly in their clean cottons,
    knots of blacks are waiting there
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By the court-house, where a magistrate
    is hearing cases through,
Dealing justice prompt and level,
    as the sturdy English do,—
One more tent-peg of the Empire,
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    holding that great shelter true.

Last the picture from the town’s end,
    palmed and foam-fringed through the cane,
Where the gorgeous sunset yellows
    pour aloft and spill and stain

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The pure amethystine sea
    and far faint islands of the main.

Loveliest of the Lucayas,
     peace be yours till time be done!
In the gray North I shall see you,

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    with your white streets in the sun,
Old pink walls and purple gateways,
    where the lizards bask and run,

Where the great hibiscus blossoms
    in their scarlet loll and glow,

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And the idling gay bandannas
    through the hot noons come and go,
While the ever stirring sea-wind
    sways the palm-tops to and fro.

Far from stress and storm forever,

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    dream behind your jalousies,
While the long white lines of breakers
    crumble on your reefs and keys,
And the crimson oleanders
    burn against the peacock seas.
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