From “The Sea-islands”
THERE is deliberateness in all sea-island ways,
Outlandish to our days as stone wheels are.
The islands cannot see the use of life
Which only lives for change;
Their days are flat,
And all things there move slowly.
Even the seasons are conservative—
No sudden flaunting of wild colors in the fall,
Only a gradual fading of the green,
As if the earth turned slowly,
Or looked with one still face upon the sun
As Venus does;
Until the trees, the fields, the marshes,
All turn dun, dull Quaker brown,
And a mild winter settles down,
And mosses are more gray.
All human souls are glasses which reflect
The aspects of the outer world.
See what terrible gods the huge Himalayas bred!—
And the fierce Jewish Jaywah came
From the hot Syrian desert
With his inhibitory decalogue.
The gods of little hills are always tame;
Here God is dull, where all things stay the same.
No change on these sea-islands!
The huge piled clouds range
White in the cobalt sky;
The moss hangs,
And the strong tiring sea-winds blow—
While day on glistering day goes by.
The horses plow with hanging heads—
Slow, followed by a black-faced man,
Indifferent to the sun.
The old cotton bushes hang with whitened heads;
And there among the live-oak trees
Peep the small whitewashed cabins,
Painted blue perhaps, with scarlet-turbaned women,
Ample-hipped, with voices soft and warm;
And the lean hounds and chocolate children swarm.
Day after day the ocean pumps
The awful valve-gates of his heart,
Diastole and systole through these estuaries;
The tides flow in long gray weed-streaked lines;
The salt water, like the planet’s lifeblood, goes
As if the earth were breathing with long-taken breaths
And we were very near her heart.
No wonder that these faces show a tired dismay,
Looking on burning suns, and scarcely blithe in May.
Spring’s coming is too fierce with life,
And summer is too long;
The stunted pine trees struggle with the sand
Till the eyes sicken with their dwarfing strife.
There are old women here among these island homes,
With dull brown eyes that look at something gray,
And tight silver hair, drawn back in lines,
Like the beach grass that’s always blown one way;
With such a melancholy in their faces
I know that they have lived long in these places.
The tides, the hooting owls, the daylight moons,
The leprous lights and shadows of the mosses,
The funereal woodlands of these coasts,
Draped like a hearse,
And memories of an old war’s ancient losses,
Dwell in their faces’ shadows like gray ghosts.
The terror of the black man always near,
The drab level of the rice-fields and the marsh
Lend them a mask of fear.
© Hervey Allen