MARBLEHEAD, 1901. The fog slunk down from Labrador, stealthy, sure, and slow,
Southwardly shifting, far inshore, so never a man might know
How the sea it trod with feet soft-shod, watching the distance dim,
Where the fishing-fleet to the eastward beat, white dots on the ocean's rim.
Feeling the sands with its furtive hands, fingering cape and cove,
Where the sweet salt smells of the nearer swells up the sloping hillside rove;
Where the whimpering sea-gulls swoop and soar, and the great king-herons go,
The fog slunk down from Labrador, stealthy, sure, and slow! Then a stillness fell on crag and cliff, on beach and breaker fell,
As the sea-breeze brought on its final whiff the note of a distant bell,
One faint, far sound, and the fog unwound its mantle across the lea,
Joined hand in hand with a wind from land, and the twain went out to sea.
And the wind that rose spoke soft, of those who watch on the cliffs at dawn,
And the fog's white lips, of sinking ships where the tortured tempests spawn,
As, each to each, they told once more such things as fishers know,
When the fog slinks down from Labrador, stealthy, sure, and slow! Oh, the wan, white hours go limping by, when that pall comes in between
The great, blue bell of the cloudless sky and the ocean's romping green!
Nor sane young day, nor swirl of spray, as the cat's-paws lunge and lift; --
On sad, slow waves, like the mounds of graves, the fishermen's dories drift.
For the fishing-craft that leapt and laughed are swallowed in ghostly gray:
Only God's eyes may see where lies the lap of the sheltered bay,
So their dories grope, for lost their lore, witlessly to and fro,
When the fog slinks down from Labrador, stealthy, sure, and slow! Oh, men of the fleet, 't is ye who learn, of the white fog's biting breath,
That life may hang on the way ye turn, or the way ye turn be death!
Though they on the lea look out to sea for the woe or the weal of you,
The ominous East, like a hungry beast, is waiting your tidings, too.
A night and a day, mayhap, ye stray; a day and a night, perchance,
The dory is led toward Marblehead, or pointed away for France;
The shore may save, or the sea may score, in the unknown final throw,
When the fog slinks down from Labrador, stealthy, sure, and slow! Ah, God of the Sea, what joy there lies in that first faint hint of sun!--
When the pallid curtains sulking rise, and the reaches wider run,
When a wind from the west on the sullen breast of the waters shoulders near,
And the blessed blue of the sky looks through, as the fog-wreaths curl and clear.
Ah, God, what joy when the gallant buoy, swung high on a sudden swell,
Puts fear to flight like a dream of night with its calm, courageous bell,
And the dory trips the sea's wide floor with the verve 't was wont to know,
And the fog slinks back to Labrador, stealthy, sure, and slow!