Landon in The Literary Gazette 1823/Sailor

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For works with similar titles, see Poetic Sketches (L. E. L.).
For other versions of this work, see The Sailor (Letitia Elizabeth Landon).

Literary Gazette 20th December 1823, Page 811


ORIGINAL POETRY.
POETIC SKETCHES.
Fourth Series.


SKETCH VI.—THE SAILOR[1]

Oh gloriously upon the deep
    The gallant vessel rides,
And she is mistress of the winds,
    And mistress of the tides.

And never but for her tall ships
    Had England been so proud;
Or before the might of the Island Queen
    The Kings of the earth had bowed.

But, alas! for the widow and orphan's tear,
    When the death flag sweeps the wave;
Alas, that the laurel of Victory
    Must grow but upon the grave!

An aged Widow with one only child,
And even he was far away at sea:
Narrow and mean the street wherein she dwelt,
And low and small the room; but still it had
A look of comfort; on the white-washed walls
Were ranged her many ocean treasures—shells,
Some like the snow, and some pink, with a blush
Caught from the sunset on the waters; plumes
From the bright pinions of the Indian birds;
Long dark sea-weeds, and black and crimson berries,
Were treasured with the treasuring of the heart.
Her Sailor brought them, when from his first voyage
He came so sunburnt and so tall, she scarce
Knew her fair stripling in that manly youth.
Like a memorial of far better days,
The large old Bible, with its silver clasps,
Lay on the table; and a fragrant air
Came from the window: there stood a rose tree—
Lonely, but of luxuriant growth, and rich
With thousand buds and beautifully blown flowers:

It was a slip from that which grew beside
The cottage, once her own, which ever drew
Praise from each passer down the shadowy lane
Where her home stood—the home where yet she thought
To end her days in peace: that was the hope
That made life pleasant, and it had been fed
By the so ardent spirits of her Boy,
Who said that God would bless the efforts made
For his old mother.—Like a holiday
Each Sunday came, for then her patient way
She took to the white church of her own village,
A long five miles; and many marvelled one
So aged, so feeble, still should seek that church.
They knew not how delicious the fresh air,
How fair the green leaves and the fields, how glad
The sunshine of the country, to the eyes
That looked so seldom on them. She would sit
Long after Service on a grave, and watch
The cattle as they grazed, the yellow corn,
The lane where yet her home might be; and then
Return with lightened heart to her dull street,
Refreshed with hope and pleasant memories,—
Listen with anxious ear to the conch shell,
Wherein they say the rolling of the sea
Is heard distinct, pray for her absent child,
Bless him, then dream of him.---
    A shout awoke the sleeping Town, the night

Rang with the Fleet's return and victory!
Men that were slumbering quietly, rose up
And joined the shout; the windows gleamed with lights,
The bells rang forth rejoicingly, the paths
Were filled with people; even the lone street
Where the poor widow dwelt, was roused, and sleep
Was thought upon no more that night. Next day—
A bright and sunny day it was—high flags
Waved from each steeple, and green boughs were hung
In the gay market-place; music was heard,
Bands that struck up in triumph; and the sea
Was covered with proud vessels; and the boats
Went to and fro the shore, and waving hands
Beckoned from crowded decks to the glad strand
Where the wife waited for her husband,—maids
Threw the bright curls back from their glistening eyes
And looked their best,—and as the splashing oar
Brought dear ones to the land, how every voice
Grew musical with happiness!
                                                 And there
Stood that old Widow woman with the rest,
Watching the ship wherein had sailed her Son.
A boat came from that vessel,—heavily
It toiled upon the waters, and the oars
Were dipp'd in slowly. As it neared the beach,
A moaning sound came from it, and a groan
Burst from the lips of all the anxious there,
When they looked on each ghastly countenance,
For that lone boat was filled with wounded men,
Bearing them to the hospital,—and then
That aged Woman saw her Son. She prayed,
And gained her prayer, that she might be his nurse,
And take him home. He lived for many days.
It soothed him so to hear his mother's voice,
To breathe the fragrant air sent from the roses,
The roses that were gathered one by one
For him by his fond parent nurse; the last
Was placed upon his pillow, and that night,
That very night, he died! And he was laid
In the same church-yard where his father lay,—

Through which his mother as a bride had pass'd.
The grave was closed: but still the Widow sat
Upon a sod beside, and silently,
(Hers was not grief that words had comfort for.)
The funeral train pass'd on, and she was left
Alone amid the tombs; but once she looked
Towards the shadowy lane, then turned again,
As desolate and sick at heart, to where
Her help, her hope, her Child, lay dead together!
She went home to her lonely room. Next morn
Some entered it, and there she sat,
Her white hair hanging o'er the withered hands
On which her pale face leant; the Bible lay
Open beside, but blistered were the leaves
With two or three large tears, which had dried in.
Oh, happy she had not survived her child!
And many pitied her, for she had spent
Her little savings, and she had no friends;
But strangers made her grave in that churchyard,
And where her Sailor slept, there slept his Mother!

L. E. L.

  1. This poem appears in The Improvisatrice and Other Poems (1824)