Sagas of Vaster Britain: Poems of the Race, the Empire and the Divinity of Man

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

SEBASTIAN CABOT


 

I

 

VENICE and England cradled,
    Could this seaman be
Other than Ocean’s child,
With heart less restless than that vast and wild
    Great heart of the thrilling sea?
5
Wakened to her long thunders,
    Cradled in her soft voice,
Could other voice of all earth’s voices sweet
    Make his stern heart rejoice?
Yea, this was better than all, greater than all to him,
10
Truer than youth’s mad whim,
The only love of his youth, the only lore of his age,
    To gaze on her vast tumultuous scroll,
To pore on her wrinkled page;—
    For he was very soul of her soul,
15
And she meet mother for him.

 

II

 

Over the hazy distance,
    Beyond the sunset’s rim,
For ever and for ever
    Those voices called to him.
20
Westward, westward, westward,
    The sea sang in his head;
At morn in the busy harbour,
    At nightfall on his bed;
Westward! westward! westward!
25
Over the line of breakers,
    Out of the distance dim,
For ever the foam-white fingers
    Beckoning, beckoning him.

 

III

 

This was no common spirit,
30
    This sailor of old Bristowe,
Not one of the mart-made helots
    Such as the world doth know;
But a bronzed and rugged veteran
    Adrift in the vanguard’s flow,
35
A son of the world’s great highway
    Where the mighty storm-winds blow.
 

 

IV

 

 
All honour to this grand old pilot
    Whose flag is struck, whose sails are furled,
Whose ship is beached, whose voyage ended;
40
Who sleeps somewhere in sod unknown,
Without a slab, without a stone,
    In that great island sea-impearled;
Yea, reverence with honour blended
For this old seaman of the past,
45
    Who braved the leagues of ocean hurled,
Who out of danger knowledge rended,
And built the bastions sure and fast
Of that great bridgeway grand and vast
    Of golden commerce round the world.
50

All honour! Yea, a day shall come,
    If glory lives in human rhyme,
When our poor faltering lips are dumb,
    A greater and more splendid time,
When larger men of mightier aim
55
Shall do meet honour to his name.

Yea, honour! only greatness keeps
Its sanctuary where this seaman sleeps;
This old Venetian, Briton-born,
Who held of fear a hero’s scorn,

60
    Who nailed his colours to the mast,
Who sought in reverence for the true,
And found it in the rifting blue
    Of those broad furrows of the vast:
Who knew no honours, held no state,
65
But in his ruggedness was great;
Who, like some sea-shell, in him felt
The universe of ocean dwelt,
Whose whole true being Nature cast,
Like his own ocean spaces, vast.
70

 

VI

 

 
Yea, he is dead, this mighty seaman!
    Four long centuries ago,
Beating westward, ever westward,
    Beating out from old Bristowe,
Saw he far, in visions lifted,
75
    Down the golden sunset’s glow,
Through the bars of twilight rifted,
    All the glories that we know.
Beating westward, ever westward,
    Over heaving leagues of brine;
80
Buffeted by Arctic scurries,
    Languid trade-winds from the line,
With a courage heaven-gifted
    And a fortitude divine.

Yea, he is dead, but who shall say

85
    That all the splendid deeds he wrought,
That all the lofty truths he taught
    (If truth be knowledge nobly sought),
Are dead and vanished quite away.
Nay, nay, he lives, and such as he,
90
    In every lofty human dream,
In every true sublimity
    That splendours earth and makes it teem
With inward might and majesty,
This grand old pilot of Bristowe,
95
    Incarnate, comes to earth again,
As when, four hundred years ago,
He swept, in storm and shine and snow,
Athwart the thunders of the main.
 

 

VI

 

 
Greater far than shaft or storied fane,
100
    Than bronze and marble blent,
Greater than all the honours he could gain
    From a nation’s high intent;
He sleeps alone in his great isle, unknown,
With the chalk-cliffs all around him for his mighty graveyard stone,
105
And the league-long sounding roar
Of old Ocean for evermore
Beating, beating, about his rest,
    For fane and monument.