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Seacoast Poems of John Albee

More poems by John Albee


If you should turn your feet from yonder town
Intent to bathe your eyes with'healing sight
Of open sea, and islands rising through,
Mere heaps of shattered ledge that have outstood
Eternal storm, though gray, defiant still,
The river shows the path that you must go;
Its stream engrails the shores of twenty isles,
And pleasant is the way as is its end ;
For you will idle on the bridges three,
And loiter through the ancient village street,
That crowns the harbor mouth; then you will come

To beaches hard, and smoothed by each new tide
Rolling between the low, port-cullised rocks,
Rocks bare a-top, but kirtled at the feet
With sea-weed draperies that float or fall,
As swells or sinks the lonely, restless wave.
There, just above the shore, is Walbach Tower,
Its crumbling parapet with grass and weeds
O'ergrown, and peaceful in its slow decay.
Old people always tell strange tales to us,
A later race—always old tales are strange.
And seems the story of this ancient Tower
A marvel, though believing while I hear,
Because who tell it do believe it true.
Three English ships lay under Appledore,
And men in groups stood on the rocks, intent
If they the fort could mean to cannonade,
Or land along the coast and inland march
To sack and burn the wealthy Portsmouth Town.
The morning dawned and twice again it dawned,
And still the hostile ships at anchor swung ;
But now a rumor ran they meant to land ;
At once brave Walbach was resolved to build

A tower which all the beaches should command,
And mount thereon his sole tremendous gun.
He summoned all the villagers at dusk
Of one September Sunday when the days
Are shortening, and the nights are bright and cool.
Men came and boys, and with them women came,
Whose dauntless mothers helped our fathers win,
In that rebellious time against the king,
The freedom which, forgetful of its cost,
We toss to any hand raised o'er the crowd,
And pushing hardest, or with loudest voice.
They wrought as never men and women wrought,
And in one night the Tower completed rose.
But lo, the miracle! for unseen hands
Alternate with the mason's dextrous craft,
As voice repeats and catches up the voice
In song, laid on the workmen's every course
Another course, and they no presence saw,
But thought they heard the chiming trowels ring.

The morning glimmer showed that labor done
For which two nights were counted scarce enough;
Then well their awed but joyful hearts confessed
Some present deity their Champion friend,
To whom they knelt upon the dewy grass,
As in the east, the sun returning, built
A tower of gold along the ocean floor,
And offered up subdued and grateful praise.
The hateful ships approached the river mouth,
Stood off and on and tacked about; at last,
Firing a gun to stern, they sailed away.
Still stands the Tower, long may it stand disused!
Without a blow, one foe it put to flight,
And when another comes it will arise
And in its ruins keep its legend good.
For while I told this tale one summer night,
Leaning a weary head on fondest breast,
We heard the sea-maids on the outer rocks
Splash in the falling tide, and dimly saw

What seemed their tresses, undulating there ;
And felt, around, below, above, the power,
Not human, but the help of human hands,
When set to labor in some noble cause.


'T was in New Hampshire's one good port
The Isabella lay;
Hark! Sailors' oaths are fierce and short—
No breezes stirred that day.
Swear and whistle, whistle and swear!
Never a breath on the cheek,
Never a breath for wrath or prayer;
There they lay for a week,
With hold close-stowed and clear, clean deck,
And crew just twenty-four—
Save one, who dreamed a dream of wreck
And hid himself on shore.
At last the land-breeze, soft and calm;
Slowly they left the strand;
But ere a mile again the balm
Fell over sea and land.
The good bark idly rocked and swung;
The men they chafed and swore;
And still the Captain's cursing tongue
Was heard all men's before.
He called the awful hurricane,
" Come, make her old masts reel! "
And wished, his fav'rite phrase profane,
" His head below the keel."
But there they lay, and up and down,
And stem and stern they go;
And ever there the sleepy town,
The glassy sea below. 


Mountains and wave-washed shore,
Where men with fate contend,
Whose conflicts heroes bore
When nature scarce would bend
To their desire, are ours.
The level, endless plain,
Earth's most prolific powers,
The middle regions gain.
Rich in corn, men in might,
Their's the wealth, their's the rule;
For us the ancient fight,
Of dauntless breasts the school.
How empty and how waste,
Land of mere grain and men!
I to my sea-side haste;
Thou to thy mountain glen.
There each, by secret grace,
Lonely, but calm in earnest will,
Keep for the gods a place
By untamed sea and unploughed hill.

(to his wife)

If I should write with genius' fire,
With that same fire you read—and sigh;
But the proud world, in scoff or ire,
Would curl its lip—and let me die.
So I must write what will be read,
The chaff well winnowed of the wheat;
Who writes for bread, can give no bread—
If men want husks, husks they shall eat.


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