UPON her plodding palfrey
With a heavy child at her breast
And Joseph holding the bridle
They mount to the last hill-crest.
Dissatisfied and weary
She sees the blade of the sea
Dividing earth and heaven
In a glitter of ecstasy.
Sudden a dark-faced stranger
With his back to the sun, holds out
His arms; so she lights from her palfrey
And turns her round about.
She has given the child to Joseph,
Gone down to the flashing shore;
And Joseph, shading his eyes with his hand,
Stands watching evermore.
THE sea in the stones is singing,
A woman binds her hair
With yellow, frail sea-poppies,
That shine as her fingers stir.
While a naked man comes swiftly
Like a spurt of white foam rent
From the crest of a falling breaker,
Over the poppies sent.
He puts his surf-wet fingers
Over her startled eyes,
And asks if she sees the land, the land,
The land of her glad surmise.
AGAIN in her blue, blue mantle
Riding at Joseph’s side,
She says, “I went to Cythera,
And woe betide!”
Her heart is a swinging cradle
That holds the perfect child,
But the shade on her forehead ill becomes
A mother mild.
So on with the slow, mean journey
In the pride of humility;
Till they halt at a cliff on the edge of the land
Over a sullen sea.
While Joseph pitches the sleep-tent
She goes far down to the shore
To where a man in a heaving boat
Waits with a lifted oar.
THEY dwelt in a huge, hoarse sea-cave
And looked far down the dark
Where an archway torn and glittering
Shone like a huge sea-spark.
He said: “Do you see the spirits
Crowding the bright doorway?”
He said: “Do you hear them whispering?”
He said: “Do you catch what they say?”
THEN Joseph, grey with waiting,
His dark eyes full of pain,
Heard: “I have been to Patmos;
Give me the child again.”
Now on with the hopeless journey
Looking bleak ahead she rode,
And the man and the child of no more account
Than the earth the palfrey trode.
Till a beggar spoke to Joseph,
But looked into her eyes;
So she turned, and said to her husband:
“I give, whoever denies.”
SHE gave on the open heather
Beneath bare judgment stars,
And she dreamed of her children and Joseph,
And the isles, and her men, and her scars.
And she woke to distil the berries
The beggar had gathered at night,
Whence he drew the curious liquors
He held in delight.
He gave her no crown of flowers,
No child and no palfrey slow,
Only led her through harsh, hard places
Where strange winds blow.
She follows his restless wanderings
Till night when, by the fire’s red stain,
Her face is bent in the bitter steam
That comes from the flowers of pain.
Then merciless and ruthless
He takes the flame-wild drops
To the town, and tries to sell them
With the market-crops.
So she follows the cruel journey
That ends not anywhere,
And dreams, as she stirs the mixing-pot,
She is brewing hope from despair.