At dusk in Akaroa town
When embered sunset smoulders down
And softly wreathes the evening mist
In whorls of tender amethyst,
The air is charmed with old-world spell
Of chanting bird and chiming bell;
And garden plots are redolent
Of poignant, unforgotten scent,
Where gillyflower and fleur de lys
Bloom underneath the cabbage tree,
And crimson rata strives to choke
With amorous arms the hoary oak,
And jonquil mocks the kowhai's gold—
Ah, sweet it is … so young, so old!
page 65 So young, so old! So old, so new!
I wonder, at the fall of dew,
When from the evening's grey cocoon
Comes glimmering forth the moth-like moon,
And winds, upon the brooding trees
Strum soft, nocturnal symphonies,
If kindly ghosts move up and down
In tranquil Akaroa town;
If voyageurs from storied France
Walk still the streets of old romance,
If laughing lads and girls come yet
To dance a happy minuet,
If grandpere muses still upon
The fortunes of Napoleon,
And grandmere, by the walnut tree,
Sits dreaming with her rosary?
And when, across the arch of night
The moon wings forth in radiant flight,
Do ghostly whalers sail the bay
And ghostly crews make holiday,
With ribald mirth, to drink or sup,
Or set a phantom try-pot up?
Do shades of natives ever come
To barter pigs for nails and rum,
And dusky nymphs disport them still
About the bows of Gauge or Nil?
If so, 'tis sure they fade away
When rose and silver comes the day,
For never a phantom steals there down
To sunlit Akaroa town;
Yet chanting bird and chiming bell
Weave yet the charm, the old-world spell,
page 66 And still in gardens there are set
The gillyflower, the mignonette,
The rata, on the oak-tree hung—
Ah, sweet it is … so old, so young!
The jonquil, mocking kowhai's gold—
So blithe, so new! So triste, so old!
Flow in, O tide, O tide of wistful eve!
(The thin blue dusk across the sungold steals)
O little wind, and softly sigh
Along the line of sea and sky
To where the blackened coal-hulks lie
With rotting beams and rusted keels.
Along the line of sea and sky,
In silhouette, inanimate,
The melancholy coal-hulks lie,
Most dolorous and desolate.
Adventurers of a valiant age,
Whose shining sails swept eager seas,
They have a last sad anchorage
Beyond the clamorous harbour quays.
Throughout the days their winches groan,
The derricks work with creak and scream;
But in the kindly dusk, alone,
They ride a rosy flood of dream.
Their prows of vision halcyon,
Their timbers thrilled to memory
Of proudly setting out upon
Old voyages of dignity.
Old journeys whose remembered quest
Wakes yet again the old-time fire
To glimpse known beacons, east and west,
And sail the seas of their desire.
And each, a quickened argosy
For whom some Eldorado gleams,
Would sight again some radiant sea,
The ultimate ocean of its dreams.
And in the dusk they feel again,
In mournful majesty of pride,
About their shrouds the deep-sea rain,
Beneath their keels the ocean tide.
Old ships, old dreams. The sea winds sigh,
The young ships come, the young ships go;
The sombre hulks at anchor lie
Through ceaseless tides that ebb and flow.
Flow out, O tide, O darkling tide of night!
Lap them about with kisses as you go
O pitying stars, rain tears of tender light.
And peaceful moon, in benediction glow,
And gently flow, O tide compassionate,
Along the line of sea and sky,
Where, dolorous and desolate,
The melancholy coal-hulks lie.