The Driftwood Gatherers


Along the deep shelve of the abandoned shore
Bowed, with slow pace and careful eyes that keep
The track they travel, move an aged pair.
The full voice of the Atlantic holds the air
In turbulent uproar:
The sad South over desolation blows,
The clouds in wild race never sleep.
But they the shaken snows
Of trampling breakers heed not, nor the hiss
Of quarrelling foam–curves hurried up the strand,
To fade upon the darkened, glistening sand:
Skirting that fretful line, they from amid
The matted shells and seaweed heedfully
Glean their poor treasure hid,
The scattered driftwood, fragments bleached and dry.

Implacable ocean, in whose ear
Even at this instant, cries come uselessly
From mouths that the salt wave and gripping fear
Together choke, far in the lonely storm,
Where mighty ships, conquered and battling, drown;
He to this powerless pair their simple store
Permits, refraining: fearing not his frown
They his expended rages hold in fee;
And them his violent armies wound no more
Than the pale poppy on the neglected shore.

But now as evening closes, they begin
Their homeward path, bordered with heath and pine,
And see afar their cottage roof and wall
White under red leaves of the October vine;
Till glad and tired they win
The door, and let their cherished burden fall,
Then on the swept stones make their happy fire.
Soon a flame leaps, and in the wavering gloom
The dim wall smiles, and every nook of home
Invites them warm in welcoming attire.
The ripe gourd basks his jovial yellow girth;
Rosily burnished gleam the onion strings
Above; the pottage simmers in low mirth,
And in an earthen brazier chestnuts crack,
But each is busy now, that nothing lack.
And she in snatches sings
Old songs, and he with chiding feigned the while
Chides her, and meets her answer with a smile.
At last, when all is done to their desire,
They sup: the low lamp kindles their old cheeks
And features moulded in the cast of Earth,
Their infinite companion: she but speaks
Simply to them, in few words; death and birth,
Winter and summer, rain and frost and sun;
Nor they a care beyond the task invent.
Enough, if day provide their need; day done,
They by each other’s side sleep, well content.

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