HOMEWARD BOUND POEM by Adelaide Anne Procter
Poetry from Legends and Lyrics First Series.
ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER VERSE: HOMEWARD BOUND POEM
I have seen a fiercer tempest,
Known a louder whirlwind blow;
I was wrecked off red Algiers,
Six-and-thirty years ago.
Young I was, and yet old seamen
Were not strong or calm as I;
While life held such treasures for me,
I felt sure I could not die.
Life I struggled for—and saved it;
Life alone—and nothing more;
Bruised, half dead, alone and helpless,
I was cast upon the shore.
I feared the pitiless rocks of Ocean;
So the great sea rose—and then
Cast me from her friendly bosom,
On the pitiless hearts of men.
Gaunt and dreary ran the mountains,
With black gorges, up the land;
Up to where the lonely Desert
Spreads her burning, dreary sand:
In the gorges of the mountains,
On the plain beside the sea,
Dwelt my stern and cruel masters,
The black Moors of Barbary.
Ten long years I toiled among them,
Hopeless—as I used to say;
Now I know Hope burnt within me
Fiercer, stronger, day by day:
Those dim years of toil and sorrow
Like one long dark dream appear;
One long day of weary waiting—
Then each day was like a year.
How I cursed the land—my prison;
How I cursed the serpent sea—
And the Demon Fate that showered
All her curses upon me;
I was mad, I think—God pardon
Words so terrible and wild—
This voyage would have been my last one,
For I left a wife and child.
Never did one tender vision
Fade away before my sight,
Never once through all my slavery,
Burning day or dreary night;
In my soul it lived, and kept me,
Now I feel, from black despair,
And my heart was not quite broken,
While they lived and blest me there.
When at night my task was over,
I would hasten to the shore;
(All was strange and foreign inland,
Nothing I had known before;)
Strange looked the bleak mountain passes,
Strange the red glare and black shade,
And the Oleanders, waving
To the sound the fountains made.
Then I gazed at the great Ocean,
Till she grew a friend again;
And because she knew old England,
I forgave her all my pain:
So the blue still sky above me,
With its white clouds’ fleecy fold,
And the glimmering stars, (though brighter,)
Looked like home and days of old.
And a calm would fall upon me,
Worn perhaps with work and pain,
The wild hungry longing left me,
And I was myself again:
Looking at the silver waters,
Looking up at the far sky,
Dreams of home and all I left there
Floated sorrowfully by.
A fair face, but pale with sorrow,
With blue eyes, brimful of tears,
And the little red mouth, quivering
With a smile, to hide its fears;
Holding out her baby towards me,
From the sky she looked on me;
So it was that last I saw her,
As the ship put out to sea.
Sometimes, (and a pang would seize me
That the years were floating on,)
I would strive to paint her, altered,
And the little baby gone:
She no longer young and girlish,
The child, standing by her knee,
And her face, more pale and saddened
With the weariness for me.
Then I saw, as night grew darker.
How she taught my child to pray,
Holding its small hands together,
For its father, far away;
And I felt her sorrow, weighing
Heavier on me than my own;
Pitying her blighted spring-time,
And her joy so early flown.
Till upon my hands (now hardened
With the rough, harsh toil of years)
Bitter drops of anguish falling,
Woke me from my dream, to tears;
Woke me as a slave, an outcast.
Leagues from home, across the deep;
So—though you may call it childish—
So I sobbed myself to sleep.
Well, the years sped on—my Sorrow,
Calmer, and yet stronger grown,
Was my shield against all suffering,
Poorer, meaner, than her own.
Thus my cruel master’s harshness
Fell upon me all in vain,
Yet the tale of what we suffered
Echoed back from main to main.
You have heard in a far country
Of a self-devoted band,
Vowed to rescue Christian captives
Pining in a foreign land.
And these gentle-hearted strangers
Year by year go forth from Rome,
In their hands the hard-earned ransom,
To restore some exiles home.
I was freed: they broke the tidings
Gently to me: but indeed
Hour by hour sped on, I knew not
What the words meant—I was freed!
Better so, perhaps; while sorrow
(More akin to earthly things)
Only strains the sad heart’s fibres—
Joy, bright stranger, breaks the strings.
Yet at last it rushed upon me,
And my heart beat full and fast;
What were now my years of waiting,
What was all the dreary past?
Nothing—to the impatient throbbing
I must bear across the sea:
Nothing—to the eternal hours
Still between my home and me!
How the voyage passed, I know not;
Strange it was once more to stand
With my countrymen around me,
And to clasp an English hand.
But, through all, my heart was dreaming
Of the first words I should hear,
In the gentle voice that echoed,
Fresh as ever, on my ear.
Should I see her start of wonder,
And the sudden truth arise,
Flushing all her face and lightening
The dimmed splendour of her eyes?
Oh! to watch the fear and doubting
Stir the silent depths of pain,
And the rush of joy—then melting
Into perfect peace again.
And the child!—but why remember
Foolish fancies that I thought?
Every tree and every hedge-row
From the well-known past I brought:
I would picture my dear cottage,
See the crackling wood-fire burn,
And the two beside it seated,
Watching, waiting, my return.
So, at last we reached the harbour.
I remember nothing more
Till I stood, my sick heart throbbing,
With my hand upon the door.
There I paused—I heard her speaking;
Low, soft, murmuring words she said;
Then I first knew the dumb terror
I had had, lest she were dead.
It was evening in late autumn,
And the gusty wind blew chill;
Autumn leaves were falling round me,
And the red sun lit the hill.
Six-and-twenty years are vanished
Since then—I am old and grey,
But I never told to mortal
What I saw, until this day.
She was seated by the fire,
In her arms she held a child,
Whispering baby-words caressing,
And then, looking up, she smiled:
Smiled on him who stood beside her—
Oh! the bitter truth was told,
In her look of trusting fondness—
I had seen the look of old!
But she rose and turned towards me
(Cold and dumb I waited there)
With a shriek of fear and terror,
And a white face of despair.
He had been an ancient comrade—
Not a single word we said,
While we gazed upon each other,
He the living: I the dead!
I drew nearer, nearer to her,
And I took her trembling hand,
Looking on her white face, looking
That her heart might understand
All the love and all the pity
That my lips refused to say—
I thank God no thought save sorrow
Rose in our crushed hearts that day.
Bitter tears that desolate moment,
Bitter, bitter tears we wept,
We three broken hearts together,
While the baby smiled and slept.
Tears alone—no words were spoken,
Till he—till her husband said
That my boy, (I had forgotten
The poor child,) that he was dead.
Then at last I rose, and, turning,
Wrung his hand, but made no sign;
And I stooped and kissed her forehead
Once more, as if she were mine.
Nothing of farewell I uttered,
Save in broken words to pray
That God would ever guard and bless her—
Then in silence passed away.
Over the great restless ocean
Six-and-twenty years I roam;
All my comrades, old and weary,
Have gone back to die at home.—
Home! yes, I shall reach a haven,
I, too, shall reach home and rest;
I shall find her waiting for me
With our baby on her breast.