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Title: Two Fishers, and Other Poems
Author: Palmer, Herbert Edward, 1880-1961
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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TWO FISHERS


  _We are the music-makers
  And we are the dreamers of dreams,
  Wandering by lone sea-breakers
  And sitting by desolate streams._

        ARTHUR W. E. O'SHAUGHNESSY.



  TWO FISHERS
  and Other Poems

  BY

  HERBERT E. PALMER


  LONDON
  ELKIN MATHEWS, CORK STREET
  1918


  Dedicated
  TO THREE FRIENDS

  CAPTAIN L. W. CHARLEY
  H. T. P.
  AND
  PROFESSOR L. O'B.



TWO FISHERS


  When the War is over, Charley,
  We'll go fishing once again.
  You'll be a new man, Charley,
  When you walk with fishermen.
  For we'll seek a leaping river
  I know far among the fells;
  You'll forget the War there, Charley,
  Where the springing water wells.

  It's God's own land for the nimble trout,
  And ferns and waving flowers,
  The bracken and the bilberry,
  And the ash the coral dowers.
  There are rolling leagues of heather,
  Lone hills where the plovers call.
  Oh, we'll climb those hills together
  Ere the last dews fall!

  And we'll talk to the wild creatures
  In the crannies of the moors;
  Oh, our hearts will mount to Heaven
  When the merry lark soars!
  All our days will shine with gladness,
  All our nights with calm repose.
  And we'll throw a fly together
  Where the rushing stream flows.

  Nature has been to me lately
  As a fair and radiant bride,
  She has drawn me with strange gentleness
  To the hollow of her side.
  She has gone forth like a warrior
  With pricking glaive and spear,
  And Grief has quailed in his ambush
  When her flashing arms drew near.

  I never loved sweet England
  Till she kissed me in the West,
  The sun upon her shining brows
  And the purple on her breast,
  Breathing songs of low compassion
  To my spirit as it cried,
  When I mourned that sinning country
  Which had thrust me from her side.

  All the wooded hills of the Eifel,
  All the vine-bergs of the Rhine,
  All the glimmering strands of the Baltic,
  All the Brocken black with pine,
  Hold no tenderness of Beauty,
  (Beauty in the spirit dwells,)
  Such as smiles from one sweet valley
  Darkling 'mid the Western fells.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Do you remember, old fellow,
  When we fished near Altenahr,
  Where the red wine was flowing
  And the bowl flashed a star?
  Do you remember the big schutzmann,
  With his sword by his side,
  Who guessed that you were poaching,
  And scared you off to hide?

  Oh, if he'd only known, Charley,
  When you sought the bridge's cover
  That you'd join the British Army
  And go killing of his brother,
  He'd have searched bank and vineyard
  For a poacher of such worth,
  And put you in a prison cell
  To cool your summer's mirth.

  And do you remember the old inn
  With the blue saint above the door,[1]--
  Simon Peter, who looked longingly
  Upon our speckled store?--
  He who loves all careless fishers
  Of the river and the sea,
  And prays that God shall save them
  With his mates of Galilee.

  And what a wild night we had
  When we rode home again!
  For the students were all dancing
  And singing in the train;
  And a tall man twanged a banjo
  Till he fairly gave us fits;
  And a porter ran up swearing,
  And the banjo flew to bits.

  We were all drunk as blazes,
  Full of wine to burst.
  But, by the sober lads of England,
  Those Germans were the worst.
  They were singing and dancing,
  And shouting with delight;
  And the carriage rocked with laughter
  As we rushed into the night.

  They are all dead now, Charley;
  They were merry fellows then.
  They are dust and scattered ashes
  Washed by the rain.
  They are crying in the darkness
  Where a grayer planet spins.
  But the Lord is kind to fishers
  And has spared us in our sins.

  Oh, the Lord is kind to fishers
  Of the river and the sea
  For the sake of Simon Peter
  And the lads of Galilee!
  For the sake of Simon Peter,
  Who so gladly would us shrive,
  We are walking in the sunlight,
  We are breathing and alive.

  And when the War is over
  We'll fish awhile together,
  We'll climb the Western mountains,
  And walk the Western heather,
  And the curlew and the wild grouse
  Will wake the vales with crying,
  And their soft rushing pinions
  Will tremble by us, sighing.

  All the dead shepherds
  Will hear them in their rest.
  But you mustn't heed dead shepherds
  When you're fishing in the West;
  You mustn't heed the lonely men
  Who neither sing nor dance,
  There'll be always ghosts there, Charley,
  When the wind beats up from France.

  It's the holy peace and quiet
  Breathing from the Western skies
  Which bring the stricken soul its rest
  And still the heart's wild cries.
  If I hadn't turned for healing
  Where the moor to Heaven swells,
  I'd have been a dead man, listening
  To the mourning of the bells.

  If God hadn't sent me healing
  Where the mountain bares her breast,
  I'd have gone wild and crazy
  With the things that I'm oppressed.
  All my mad, merry comrades
  Of drink, and fight, and lust,
  Are trodden into bloody clay
  And blowing with the dust.

  Some marched away with Hindenburg,
  And some with General Kluck,
  One under Austria's banners
  With the devil's cards for luck.
  All my dreams went with them,
  All the dreams my land denied;
  But they're smoke and drifting wreckage now
  On the War's wild tide.

  It was years since I left England,--
  Almost singing to depart,--
  She had cast a net about me,
  And thrust a dagger in my heart.
  But another country smiled to me
  And made me quiet nooks,
  Where men crushed for me the grapes of joy,
  And talked to me of books.

  She was a kind land to me once, Charley,
  I had real joy in her once;
  Her folk loved Shakespeare and Byron,
  Shunned no dreamer for a dunce.
  They sang old folk songs, noble opera;
  Read Anglo-Saxon, old quaint sweets;
  And there were no starved souls in her temples,
  And no begging men in her streets.

  But a hand ever cut my Heaven
  With the sharpness of a sword,
  There was the very riot of gladness,
  Reckless squander of Joy's hoard;
  Lechery and sad Corruption
  Danced in clinging robes of Light;
  Beauty smiled in the arms of Terror
  And diced with the minions of Night.

  And you sprang to England's banner, comrade,
  With glad praises on your lips,
  To the song of her sabres ringing
  And the thunder of her ships.
  But a sword broods in the darkness
  Whose sweep is the wind's sway,
  And the dumb white ships of Heaven
  Bear dimly Earth's glory away.

  The still white ships of Heaven
  Steal out beneath the stars;
  And the grieving, sorrowing sailors
  Are the dead men of the wars.
  They reck not of the chilly seas
  That wildly round them churn.
  And the dusk scatters before the prows,
  And the leaping waters burn.

  The pirate fleets of Heaven
  Sweep forth into the night,
  Laden with spoils of the living,
  Their jewels of delight,
  Their topazes and rubies,
  The bawds that gave them pleasure;
  And the sad thieves reef the swelling sails,
  And steal from Earth her treasure.

  And the night hangs heavy on you, comrade,
  And the bitter War goes on.
  You are parched for Heaven's starlight
  And her soft, refreshing sun.
  Joy runs with a passion of swiftness
  On the gray feet of the wind.
  The doors of darkness tremble;
  Then swing back blind.

  But you'll be a new man, one day,
  Where the west wind thrills.
  You'll walk with your olden vigour
  Where Heaven clasps the great lone hills.
  And the evening sun will squander
  Soft lustre of red wine,
  And we'll drink the ripest vintage
  Where the sun and stars shine.

  For the Lord is kind to fishers
  Of the river and the sea,
  For the sake of Simon Peter
  And the lads of Galilee;
  For the sake of Simon Peter,
  Who so lightly would us shrive,
  We will drink the wine of Heaven
  And give praise we are alive.

  All our days will shine with gladness,
  All our nights with rich repose;
  Laughter will breathe from our spirits
  Like the sweet scent from the rose.
  And Joy in glittering armour
  Will go forth as with a sword,
  When we climb the fells together
  To the glory of the Lord.

  Sweet sounds will rise from the moorland,
  And bird and bee awake.
  Beauty will break and blossom
  For each stricken soldier's sake.
  Oh, your heart will leap with joy, Charley,
  And your spirit know rest,
  When we fish a little river
  I've heard singing in the West!

[1] The Saint Peter's Inn at Walporzheim, Ahrdale.



ALTENAHR, 1915


  Above the crooked roofs the clouds go sailing;
  And near the stream, where once I fished for grayling,
  The crusty oberkelner stands and scolds.

  My rod still hangs upon three nails a-row,
  Just where I placed it, if they've left it so,
  I'd like to take one little peep and know.

  And every time the landlord looks that way
  He thinks of me; and will for many a day.
  I helped to break up Germany, he'll say.

  The little fishes flick their tails, and rise;
  They fear no English feathers in their flies.
  And I am back in Yorkshire, growing wise.



THE SOLDIERS


  As the soldiers march along
  All the air is filled with song.
  As the soldiers charge with cheers
  All the air is drenched with tears.
  And when they take their ease at night
  The cypress-trees are clothed in white.



GREIFSWALD, 1909


  I was sick with pain, once,
  Sick with pain.
  And an old witch drew to my side
  And healed me again.

  She was withered, and wretched, and gray,
  Deep stabbed with years.
  And the skin of her face was scarred
  With hate and tears.

  She had lived fierce days in that town
  The sea-winds flog.
  Hourly the neighbours jibed,
  Cast stones at a dog.

  They had slandered her, tricked her; robbed her
  Of honour and purse.
  But her wrongs slept deep in her heart
  For the fiends to nurse.

  One went blind; another stark mad,--
  He's dead.
  Fruit of the curse she flung.
  "Old witch," they said.

  Life ran high there; men nourished their hates
  And slashed with swords.
  Harsh skies swerved to the rim of the bay,--
  Sweden seawards.

  And I lay in her bare, clean room
  At the stairway's end.
  And the fierce pain clutched me and held me;
  And nought would fend.

  "O mother," I cried--and she leaned to me--
  "Give me your hand's touch.
  They have broken me too, and flung me
  This same blind crutch."

  And she placed her hand in my hand;
  And her touch thrilled me.
  And the blood ran warm in my veins;
  And her dead life healed me.

  She was wasted, arid as one
  Whom no sun cheers.
  But her dead life flowered that day
  Down sixty years.



THE PUPIL: RHINELAND


  "Mister, I do not like the task.
  'Tis dull to-day, you're tired, too.
  But, Mister, I've a thing to ask;--
  _Am I not beautiful?_ Speak true."

  Now, God save all poor tutor-men
  From Innocence so rapt and sly,
  And send the plainest student-girls
  To one so passion-starved as I.

  She sat within my student's room
  In the twilight hour when the shadows stir;
  Red lights of sunset swirled the gloom
  And rested, glimmering, on her hair.

  Coil upon coil it wreathed her crown
  In a crushing aureole of flame.
  And her brows of alabaster shone
  As pure as Mary's of Bethlehem.

  Her eyes,--I never knew their hue--
  Drowsed, smouldering, in the burning dusk.
  And somewhere out of the earth's view
  A planet sang, and the air breathed musk.



THE BUSHRANGERS


  As I was walking down Oxford Street
  Ten fierce soldiers I chanced to meet,
  They wore big slouch hats with khaki sashes,
  And talked like the angry guns, in flashes.

  And my friend said to me, "They come from Australia;
  Villainous fellows for War's regalia.
  John Briton keeps a tobacconist's shed
  And twice they have held a gun at his head."

  Well, I would have given all I had
  To have gone with the bunch of them, good or bad,
  To have heard the wickedest say, "Old fellow!"
  And staunched his wounds where the black guns bellow.
  I'd have thought it a merry thing to die
  With such stalwart comrades standing by.

  One of them had round eyes like coals--
  True parson's quarry when he hunts souls.
  The brawniest made my heart turn queer;
  The devil in hell would have shunned his leer.
  And the tallest and thinnest bore visible traces
  Of his banished grandsire's vanished graces.

  But all the lot of that swaggering ten
  Were terrible, fine, strong soldier-men;
  And I fairly sobbed at the four cross ways
  As my triumphing soul sang England's praise.

  O! all the Germans in Berlin town
  Couldn't put those ten Australians down.



THE NEW BEGINNING


  They had fought the last desperate battle.
  They had deluged the earth with their rage
  And the crimson flood mounted to Heaven,
  And drew up each soul from its grave.

  And sent them foeman with foeman
  To shatter the quiet of the skies.
  And lo! they commingled together
  With the hope of God in their eyes.

  And in faith they went peacefully singing,
  And waking dead stars to new birth,
  Till Earth knew Heaven as her lover,
  And Heaven leaned down gracious to Earth,

  And tendered her blossoms of healing,
  And rained on her kindness of tears,
  And gave back in trust to her lover
  The bloom of the sacrificed years.



A GAME OF CHESS


  We ranged the chessmen on the chequered deal.
  And then I said, "To make the game more real
  We'll play the Great War. I'll be Germany;
  For you, I guess, the Goth would never be."

  And thus it came that I chose black--he, white.
  He on Truth's side; I clothed myself with night.
  And, crying for a sign unto the Lord,
  We cramped all Europe in a foot-square board.

  We were two Causes--I, who did detest
  That Wrong should triumph, though it were in jest,
  Played with soul-sinews cracking, played with zest;
  And, every heart-cell beating battle's drum,
  I struck with Queen and pawns for Belgium.

  I've never played as on that fateful night,
  I fairly lost my temper in the fight,
  Queens left their thrones; pawns, castles strewed the table,
  There never were two causes so unstable.

  And then when he'd six pieces, and I eight,
  Half of them pawns, he pulled the noose of fate;
  And with a knight, a castle--unawares,--
  A bishop in a corner breathing prayers,
  He caught me tripping. "Checkmate! Smashed!" he said,
  And like a beaten Hun I stole to bed.



SNOW


  My heart delights in poet's minstrelsie,
  In pictures ranged down some long gallerie,
  In mandolins and all sweet melodie.

  And yet, when I go walking through the woods
  On frosty days, and watch the falling snow,
  I would renounce all Culture's radiant moods
  To live in ice-lands with the Eskimo.

  How purely gleams the mantle of the snow!
  How softly sing the myriad silver tongues
  Of whirling flakes that wrought Earth's overthrow!

  With the keen air I fill my tired lungs,
  And shout for joy and dance for very mirth
  Because all Heaven has fallen down to Earth.
  And in this mood I'd save my soul, and so
  Through pure clean ways right into Heaven go.



AIR RAID


  I wonder if they'll come to-night!
  The round moon rolls in silvery light,
  No sound throbs on the windless air.

  For, though I tremble to confess,
  I never feel more cheerfulness
  Than when the German raiders fly
  Like bees across the cloudless sky.
  And neither pity, pain, nor terror
  Will ever wean me from my error.

  For oh, to hear the mad guns go,
  And watch the starry night aglow
  With radiance of crackling fires
  And the white searchlight's quivering spires!
  For sure, such splendour doth assuage
  The very cannon of its rage!

  My neighbour plays a violin,
  Shredding sweet silver down the din
  And songs for fears to dwindle in.

  But the houses shake; and the dogs wake.
  They growl, they bark for warrior joy,
  And seek the airmen to annoy.

  Up go their tails into the air,
  They gnash their teeth, and their eyes glare.
  But on those cruel raiders sail,
  Regardless of each quivering tail.

  And one gun has a booming note,
  Another has a cold in throat;
  And some are mellow, and some hoarse,
  And some sound sobbing with remorse;
  Quite four or five ring musical,
  And others very keen to kill.

  You'd say that twenty champagne corks
  Were popping in the London walks.
  You'd say that drunken men in scores
  Were smashing glass and slamming doors.
  You'd say a twanging banjo string
  Had snapped in twain with hammering.
  You'd say that wild orchestral fellows
  Were banging God's Throne with their cellos.
  A wail, a crash, like steel trays falling,
  And a wind upon the Common--calling.

  And over us a sound of humming
  --Of hornets or bad bees a-bumming!
  A devilish, strident, hoarse, discordant
  Whirring of dark fliers mordant.
  My soul stands still and sweats with fear.

  But the Heavenly stars, all shimmering,
  Dance in a giddy whirl and sing.
  And other stars, of the Earth, shake sheer
  From the mouths of the black guns thundering.

  'Tis like some ruining harmony
  I heard in Berlin on the Spree
  The day they played the Valkyrie.

  Kind Heaven will comfort my wracked wits
  Before I'm blown to little bits.



SICKNESS IN WINTER


  Once as I on sick-bed lay
  I woke crying for my mother.
  But she was eight hundred miles away,
  Leagues and leagues of sea between,
  And the land all frozen hard and gray.

  She was so very old, I ween
  She could not have moved a mile that day;
  For the land was frozen stiff and gray,
  And the menacing seas rolled all between.



NATURE IN WAR-TIME


  If flowers could speak
  And leaves and plants knew words,
  In what strange phrase of chiding would they seek
  To tell their anger at this clash of swords!

  The blossom that was made for joy and praise,
  High bending grasses, and the trees so tall
  Tremble for terror in the forest ways.
  I see them shake and shake, as live men fall.

  Shrapnel crushes them in its fierce caress;
  The black guns chant a pæan of their skill.
  But little recks the world in its distress
  The sorrow that is silent on the hill.



COURAGE


  I

  I'd once a friend--what joy to say!--
  Who when he took a holiday
  Would climb the towering Dolomites
  And strive with Fear upon the heights;
  Tied to a rope, down dangling sheer,
  He'd talk to God through clouds of Fear.

  O give me friends like that, I say,
  And such a gallant holiday.


  II

  I'd another friend, in another pale,
  Who spent a holiday in jail.
  He fought for what his heart deemed right,
  And they shut him up in walls of night.
  Yet merrily his heart did sing
  Like a mating bird that hails the Spring.



AUNT ZILLAH SPEAKS


  I never look upon the sea
  And hear its waves sighing,
  But I must hie me home again
  To still my heart's wild crying.
  All my years like drowned sailors,
  All my days that used to be,
  Seem drifting in the silver spray
  And mourning by the sea.

  But when I take a holiday
  I go where flowers are growing,
  Where thrushes sing and skylarks wing
  And happy streams are flowing;
  And the great hills clothed with bracken,
  As far as I would flee,
  Fling their towering crests to the stars on high
  To hide me from the sea.



TALKING TO GOD


  A fighting man lay down for ease
  In the shade of two tall forest trees
  Deep dinted with bullet and shell.

  And one tree said to the other,
  "Is not this worn soldier our brother!
  And has he not vowed to defend
  This strip of green glade till the End!
  Let us thank the kind Father in Heaven
  For this kinship of man He has given."

  The trees talked to God all the night,
  And they thrilled with a soaring delight.



SACRIFICE


  When Jesus was crucified
  The German roamed in his forests,
  And the blood of the Frenchman surged in the veins
  Of the Roman who pierced His side.
  And we, the British, we were not,--
  Though a dream that He cherished.
  And for each and all Christ died.



PROPHECY


  When the cruel War is over
  The Earth will sing like a lover;
  And grasses, flowers, and trees
  Will shake with joy in the breeze.
  Very old weary men
  Will know their youth again.
  And be blithe as England's soldiers when
  They first sailed o'er the seas.

  And Wisdom lately spent
  Will steal forth from banishment,
  All betimes in the morning,
  Like a bride to her adorning,
  Gay and very wistful,
  Singing with her heart full,
  She will hide her forehead's scars
  With the fairest of Heaven's stars.

  And the tongue will leap with the brain,
  And not clank in a forger's chain,
  As it has been heretofore
  With Truth's jailer at the door;
  As it was on this globe prison
  Ere the soul of man had risen.

  And the dead in the morning dim
  Will reign as the seraphim.
  They will fan to flame man's spirit
  To a whiter purer merit.
  There will be a new beginning,
  And some shall cease from sinning,--
  When the bitter strife is over,
  And the Earth is Heaven's lover.



TALKING WATER


  Last night I walked in the fern lands
  And heard the words of the brooks.
  What need has a weary man's spirit
  With phrases from books!

  The timid fish splashed in the shallows,
  The sad wind sobbed in the reeds;
  And I soothed with the whispering water
  A wound that bleeds.



THE END


  A poet lay dead where two red frontiers meet;
  And many birds fluttered about his feet.
  He had unfurled his last wild madrigal,
  And winds had borne it where the dead leaves fall.

  The thrush, May's mottled elf, the minstrel, sang
  More harsh than was his wont. The blackbird rang
  Strange sobbing woodland bells. The finch so sweet
  Lay with glazed eye, and raised each shattered wing,
  And cried in sudden pain, but could not sing.
  The sparrow twittered, "'Tis dark under the eaves,
  And sad-eyed Margot sits at home and grieves."
  The lark said, "God is angry in bright Heaven.
  I saw Him once,--a great white fluttering bird
  With beautiful broad wings that oft are heard
  When the wind beats the blue nave of the skies.
  I saw Him perching high upon the moon
  With the most dreadful anguish in His eyes.
  He flaps His wings, and tries, and wildly tries;
  But _He_ can sing no longer.
  It is still in Heaven.
  It is still in forest and on hill.
  The green leaves wither, and the world grows chill."



A SINN FEINER


  I once had the trustiest comrade--
  God grant he thinks kindly of me--
  And we always stood shoulder to shoulder
  When a tossing wind troubled Life's sea.
  He was like the marsh fire in fair weather;
  Though in foul, we made merry together.

  But his soul was knit to the whirlwind--
  The fen mists but shrouded the flame--
  And I knew not our friendship's attachment
  Till the day that the whirlwind came,
  For I saw our lives broken asunder
  And watched him away with the thunder.

  Men said he consorted with traitors
  And marshalled the beasts of the sty.
  But I know that mere mischief makers
  Don't joyfully go forth to die.
  And I've lost a friend like a brother,
  And never I'll know such another.



THE FOREIGN LEGIONARY, 1911


  He had just come out of prison, and he stood and scowled apart,
  The old lust 'neath his ragged coat, and the cold hate in his heart;
  And he peered to right and left through the cruel sleet and rain,
  Then dived into the nearest street to rob and steal again.

  He lay wounded in the desert where the thirsty sand gleamed red,
  Arab spearmen thrusting at the dying and the dead;
  He had left the shrunken ranks to save a comrade in the rear;
  And he raised himself and cursed them; and went down beneath a spear.

  He lies and stares at Heaven through a cloud of crows and kites;
  While round him prowl the jackals in the lurid tropic nights.
  And he'll slowly bleach to powder 'neath the sunlight's livid scroll,
  --The man they chased from Europe whom the world denied a soul.



THE MISSIONARY

(_Freely adapted from a Foreign Tongue_)


  You speak of worlds with rainbow prospects vaulted.
  But not for these the service that I hoard.
  You know the sweet; but I--the pure, exalted:
  My soul spreads wings to her exalted Lord.

  My sphere of lowly service is more spacious
  Than earthly masters and their tasks afford;
  For gentle is my Lord, and very gracious:
  I serve with willing hands my gracious Lord.

  I know dark realms where no glad light is burning,
  Where Life meets Death, and bows beneath his sword;
  But yet I fear not; for He is discerning:
  I lean upon my wise, discerning Lord.

  And when I'm stripped of all, requited latest,
  His kind "Well Done" my guerdon, my reward:
  Though yours be richer, yet my Lord's the greatest.
  I follow Him--the mightiest, greatest Lord.



     [_Some of these poems have already appeared in_ The English
     Review, Country Life, T. P.'s Magazine _and the_ Wesleyan
     Methodist Magazine. _I thank the Editors for permission to
     reproduce them._]



THE RIVERSIDE PRESS LIMITED, EDINBURGH



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:


  Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

  Inconsistencies in spelling and hyphenation have been retained from
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  It is not always possible to determine if a new stanza begins at
  the top of a printed page, but every effort has been made by the
  transcriber to retain stanza breaks where appropriate.





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