The Fisher's Son

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I know the world where land and water meet,
By yonder hill abutting on the main;
One while I hear the waves incessant beat,
Then, turning round, survey the land again.

Within a humble cot that looks to sea,
Daily I breathe this curious warm life;
Beneath a friendly haven's sheltering lee
My noiseless day with myst'ry still is rife.

'Tis here, they say, my simple life began;
And easy credit to the tale I lend,
For well I know 't is here I am a man.
But who will simply tell me of the end?

These eyes, fresh opened, spied the far-off Sea,
Which like a silent godfather did stand,
Nor uttered one explaining word to me,
But introduced straight Godmother Land.

And yonder still stretches that silent main,
With many glancing ships besprinkled o'er;
And earnest still I gaze and gaze again
Upon the selfsame waves and friendly shore,

Till like a watery humor on the eye
It still appears whichever way I turn,
Its silent waste and mute o'erarching sky
With close-shut eyes I clearly still discern.

And yet with lingering doubt I haste each morn
To see if ocean still my gaze will greet,
And with each day once more to life am born,
And tread once more the earth with infant feet.

My years are like a stroll upon the beach,
As near the ocean's edge as I can go;
My tardy steps its waves do oft o'erreach,
Sometimes I stay to let them overflow.

Infinite work my hands find there to do,
Gathering the relics which the waves upcast;
Each storm doth scour the deep for something new,
And every time the strangest is the last.

My sole employment 't is, and scrupulous care,
To place my gains beyond the reach of tides,
Each smoother pebble, and each shell more rare,
Which ocean kindly to my hand confides.

I have no fellow-laborer on the shore;
They scorn the strand who sail upon the sea;
Sometimes I think the ocean they've sailed o'er
Is deeper known upon the strand to me.

The middle sea can show no crimson dulse,
Its deeper waves cast up no pearls to view,
Along the shore my hand is on its pulse,
Whose feeble beat is elsewhere felt by few.

My neighbors come sometimes with lumb'ring carts,
As it would seem my pleasant toil to share,
But straightway take their loads to distant marts,
For only weeds and ballast are their care.

'T is by some strange coincidence, if I
Make common cause with ocean when he storms,
Who can so well support a separate sky,
And people it with multitude of forms.

Oft in the stillness of the night I hear
Some restless bird presage the coming din,
And distant murmurs faintly strike my ear
From some bold bluff projecting far within.

My stillest depths straightway do inly heave
More genially than rests the summer's calm;
The howling winds through my soul's cordage grieve,
Till every shelf and ledge gives the alarm.

Far from the shore the swelling billows rise,
And gathering strength come rolling to the land,
And, as each wave retires, and murmur dies,
I straight pursue upon the streaming sand,

Till the returning surge with gathered strength
Compels once more the backward way to take,
And, creeping up the beach a cable's length,
In many a thirsty hollow leaves a lake.

Oft as some ruling star my tide has swelled
The sea can scarcely brag more wrecks than I;
Ere other influence my waves has quelled,
The stanchest bark that floats is high and dry.

  1. [Stanzas 8, 10, 11, 12, with revision, Week, p. 255; Riv. 317. Stanzas 2-5, 9, 13, Familiar Letters, Introduction.]