Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Kowhai Gold

[Will Lawson]

The Mails
The tail-rods leap in their bearings
They rise with a rush and ring;
They sink to the sound of laughter,
And hurried and short they sing
We carry the Mails
His Majesty's Mails
Make way for the Mails of the King!

We've swung her head for the open bay,
And, spun by the prisoned steam,
The screws are drumming the miles away
Where the bright star-shadows dream.
She lifts and sways to the ocean's swell;
The light-house glares on high,
And the fisher-lads in their boats will tell
How they saw the Mail go by
Athrill from keel to her quivering spars,
With the screw-foam boiling white,
page 131 And black smoke dimming the watching stars
As it soared through the soundless night.
"Full speed ahead!" shout the racing rods—
"Full speed!" and spray on the rail!
We'll heed no order to stop save God's,
For we are the Ocean Mail.

The big fish shudder to hear the thud
And stamp of our engine-room,
As we thunder on, with our decks a-flood,
Through the blind, bewildering gloom.
A faint, hoarse hail, and a waving light—
The whirr of our steering-gear—
And we are staggering in our flight
With a fishing-boat just clear.
We carry the wealth of the world, I trow,
And the power and fame of men,
The angry word, and the lover's vow,
All held in the turn of a pen.
And stars swing out in the skies a-thrill,
And the weary stars grow pale;
But night and day we are driving still,
For we are the Ocean Mail.

The sailing-craft and the clumsy tramps
Loom up and are lost astern,
And the stars of their bridge and mast-head lamps
Are the only stars that burn.
To the clash and ring of the v/hirling steel,
And the crash and swing of the seas,
We carry the grief that the mothers feel
As they sob and pray on their knees.
page 132 The cares and joys of the throbbing world
Are measured in piston-strokes,
When the bright prow-smother is split and hurled,
And the hot wake steams and smokes.
To the swinging blows of the heavy throws,
And the slide-valve's moaning wail,
We'll swing and soar with our flues a-roar,
For we are the Ocean Mail,

They watch for us at the harbour-mouth,
And wait for us on the quay,
Looking ever to east and south
For our head-light on the sea.
And onward, surging, we're racing fast
Where the shy mermaiden dwells,
And the crested kings of the deep ride past
(Oh! the pomp of the rolling swells).
Lone lighthouse-men, when they see our star
Lift clear of the starry maze,
Will watch us swagger across the bar
And swing to the channelled ways.
Yet never a sign or a sound we give—
No blast of horn or a hail—
For we must race that the world may live,
And we are the Ocean Mail.

The good screws, labouring under,
Laugh loud as they lift and fling
The eddying foam behind them,
And muttering low they sing
      Make way for the Mails
      His Majesty's Mails—
We carry the Mails for the King!

page 133

The Red West Road
Off-shore I hear the great propellers thunder,
And throb and thrash so steadily and slow;
Their booming cadence tells of seas that plunder—
Of Love's moon-seas and brave hearts thrown asunder,
Of hot, red lips and battles, blow for blow;
And as they sing my heart is filled with wonder,
Though why—I scarcely know.

Perhaps it is because they tell a story
And lift a deep storm-measure as they come—
A song of old-time love and battles gory,
When men dared hell and sailed through sunset's glory,
With pealing trumpet tuned to rolling drum,
To hunt and loot and sink the jewelled quarry
In seas too deep to plumb.

I only know I watch the steamers going
Along the Red West Road with heavy heart,
And, when the night comes, look for head-lights showing,
And mark their speed—the ebb-tide or the flowing;
For loath am I to see them slew and start
Adown that path; and every deep call blowing
Stabs like a driven dart.

The blazing west to me is always calling,
For in the west there burns my brightest star.…
Oh, God! to hear the anchor-winches hauling,
And feel her speeding, soaring high and falling,
page 134 With steady swing across the brawling bar—
To hear the stem-struck rollers tumble sprawling,
And watch the lights afar.

To south and east and north the screws are singing
So steadily and tunefully and slow;
But on the Western Track they thunder, flinging
Their wake afoam, and by their roar and ringing,
By laughter sweet, deep in my heart, I know
That down that Red West Road, with big screws swinging,
Some day I'll go.