Lascelles Abercrombie

Here you will find the Long Poem Sale of Saint Thomas, The of poet Lascelles Abercrombie

Sale of Saint Thomas, The

A quay with vessels moored 

 To India! Yea, here I may take ship; 
 From here the courses go over the seas, 
 Along which the intent prows wonderfully 
 Nose like lean hounds, and tack their journeys out, 
 Making for harbours as some sleuth was laid 
 For them to follow on their shifting road. 
 Again I front my appointed ministry. -- 
 But why the Indian lot to me? Why mine 
 Such fearful gospelling? For the Lord knew 
 What a frail soul He gave me, and a heart 
 Lame and unlikely for the large events. -- 
 And this is worse than Baghdad! though that was 
 A fearful brink of travel. But if the lots, 
 That gave to me the Indian duty, were 
 Shuffled by the unseen skill of Heaven, surely 
 That fear of mine in Baghdad was the same 
 Marvellous Hand working again, to guard 
 The landward gate of India from me. There 
 I stood, waiting in the weak early dawn 
 To start my journey; the great caravan's 
 Strange cattle with their snoring breaths made steam 
 Upon the air, and (as I thought) sadly 
 The beasts at market-booths and awnings gay 
 Of shops, the city's comfortable trade, 
 Lookt, and then into months of plodding lookt. 
 And swiftly on my brain there came a wind 
 Of vision; and I saw the road mapt out 
 Along the desert with a chalk of bones; 
 I saw a famine and the Afghan greed 
 Waiting for us, spears at our throats, all we 
 Made women by our hunger; and I saw 
 Gigantic thirst grieving our mouths with dust, 
 Scattering up against our breathing salt 
 Of blown dried dung, till the taste eat like fires 
 Of a wild vinegar into our sheathèd marrows; 
 And a sudden decay thicken'd all our bloods 
 As rotten leaves in fall will baulk a stream; 
 Then my kill'd life the muncht food of jackals. -- 
 The wind of vision died in my brain; and lo, 
 The jangling of the caravan's long gait 
 Was small as the luting of a breeze in grass 
 Upon my ears. Into the waiting thirst 
 Camels and merchants all were gone, while I 
 Had been in my amazement. Was this not 
 A sign? God with a vision tript me, lest 
 Those tall fiends that ken for my approach 
 In middle Asia, Thirst and his grisly band 
 Of plagues, should with their brigand fingers stop 
 His message in my mouth. Therefore I said, 
 If India is the place where I must preach, 
 I am to go by ship, not overland. 
 And here my ship is berthed. But worse, far worse 
 Than Baghdad, is this roadstead, the brown sails, 
 All the enginery of going on sea, 
 The tackle and the rigging, tholes and sweeps, 
 The prows built to put by the waves, the masts 
 Stayed for a hurricane; and lo, that line 
 Of gilded water there! the sun has drawn 
 In a long narrow band of shining oil 
 His light over the sea; how evilly move 
 Ripples along that golden skin! -- the gleam 
 Works like a muscular thing! like the half-gorged 
 Sleepy swallowing of a serpent's neck. 
 The sea lives, surely! My eyes swear to it; 
 And, like a murderous smile that glimpses through 
 A villain's courtesy, that twitching dazzle 
 Parts the kind mood of weather to bewray 
 The feasted waters of the sea, stretched out 
 In lazy gluttony, expecting prey. 
 How fearful is this trade of sailing! Worse 
 Than all land-evils is the water-way 
 Before me now. -- What, cowardice? Nay, why 
 Trouble myself with ugly words? 'Tis prudence, 
 And prudence is an admirable thing. 
 Yet here's much cost -- these packages piled up, 
 Ivory doubless, emeralds, gums, and silks, 
 All these they trust on shipboard? Ah, but I, 
 I who have seen God, I to put myself 
 Amid the heathen outrage of the sea 
 In a deal-wood box! It were plain folly. 
 There is naught more precious in the world than I: 
 I carry God in me, to give to men. 
 And when has the sea been friendly unto man? 
 Let it but guess my errand, it will call 
 The dangers of the air to wreak upon me, 
 Winds to juggle the puny boat and pinch 
 The water into unbelievable creases. 
 And shall my soul, and God in my soul, drown? 
 Or venture drowning? -- But no, no; I am safe. 
 Smooth as believing souls over their deaths 
 And over agonies shall slide henceforth 
 To God, so shall my way be blest amid 
 The quiet crouching terrors of the sea, 
 Like panthers when a fire weakens their hearts; 
 Ay, this huge sin of nature, the salt sea, 
 Shall be afraid of me, and of the mind 
 Within me, that with gesture, speech and eyes 
 Of the Messiah flames. What element 
 Dare snarl against my going, what incubus dare 
 Remember to be fiendish, when I light 
 My whole being with memory of Him? 
 The malice of the sea will slink from me, 
 And the air be harmless as a muzzled wolf; 
 For I am a torch, and the flame of me is God.