The Dread Voyage Poems

by William Wilfred Campbell




WHEN all his days were ended and the time
Had come when he should ease his troubled breath,
And leave this world and all its joy and woe;
Tama the wise lay pondering on his bed,
Thinking of the silences to be;
And weary of the burden of his age
He breathed him hard and fained to be at rest.

Then came there to him Augur the patriarch,
Who held the office of the national priest,
And kept the holy temple lamps alit,

And made himself a power athwart the land,
In good repute with people and with king,
And spake to Tama:—
                                        “Now that thou art passing
Out to the place of peace the gods have given,
To those who did them honour here on earth,
And have lived justly with their fellowmen,
’Tis meet that I who am their herald here,
Should read to thee from out the holy scrolls,
And hear from thee wherein thy heart hath sinned,
And make with thee libation to the Name.
And give thee hope that now thy toil is done,
Thou wilt go hence to dwell with the high gods,
Not with the flaming ones who sink in Hell,
But, recreate, in gardens of the light.”

Then spake old Tama:—
                                        “Shame not the Eternal
With mouth of empty words of what thou knowest
No more than do the hollow winds that blow
From the four corners of the vacuous heaven;
Nor think to bribe the darkness with thy gifts,
Nor fill with fancied flame the senseless void;
For that old law that rules all from the first
Hath given each thing its place: and what is life,
But the quick flame that leaps up from the hearth,
Until the brand it feeds on is consumed?
And what art thou, O Augur, what am I,
That thou shouldst play the god and I the fool,
And dream that thou canst hold the keys of being,
And in some fabled existence yet to be,
Canst lease me joy or sorrow at thy will?

“O Augur, knowest thou not me, Tama of old time,
That I am not the man to act the dupe;
Or dost thou think that lying on my bed
In mine old age, like some slow-crumbling tree,

That I may chance grow credulous like a child
Or woman or weakling, and at fear of death
In my dark hour of dissolution’s throe,
Accept a dream I never knew in life,
And mock the Eternal, man and mine own self,
With some weird vision born of fear and doubt,
But never dreamed of wisdom or of strength?

“O Augur, from the cradle to the tomb,
All things about us teach us we must pass.
The joys we knew as children, the long years,

That slowly closed about us like a prison,
The summer grasses underneath our feet,
The winter snows, the joyous spring-tide hours,
All spake the awful future in my heart,
And whispered, all is passing, thou must go,
Even as these: and I have felt a joy,
Even as a child, in all this mighty world,
And the weird, awful mystery it held;
And taught me softly I were like the trees
And winds and flowers that come a season and die.

“O Augur, dost thou not know I am old,
With wrinkled winter writ about my face,
A trembling at the fingers and the knees,
Like some old, cunning instrument whose force
Is rattled out, fit only to be stored
Within the dusty chambers of the past,
Where wintry key-hole moanings tune in vain
The coffined mem’ries from their dusty sleep,
Where chance a heatless ray may fall at morn,
Nor startle the wainscot-gnawing, nor the dull,
Eternal presence of that lifeless past.

“O Augur, this is death, and I am fain
For the long slumber ’neath the greening grass.
For as a winter-brook beneath its ice,
My channel of life is shrunken low in me,

And life’s great voices dwindle and sink afar;
And time’s musician charms mine ears in vain:
For like some tree amid the forest wide,
I reared my trunk and built my tent of green,
And spread my boughs to gusty storm and sun,
And knew spring’s joy and autumn’s leafy pride;
And now the winter of all my days has come,
When, leafless, budless, I must lie me low;
And be a senseless mound where life will climb,
In springs to come, unconscious of my sleep.

“Nor, Augur, am I sad, nor hold desire
To lengthen out my days beyond their time;
For when the timbers of the house are rotten
The roof-tree sinks, and the old walls refuse
To keep the winters out; then comes the time
When the householder packs his goods to go.
So I will wend me where I know me not,
But down the twilight roads of easeful death,
Perchance an inn where I may find me rest.

“Yea, Augur, I had sadness in my days,

Mine evil hours as other men have had,
When night was night with scarce a morn to come,
And all the alley-ways of hope seemed stayed
With some vague stumblings, where I fained to crawl
And moan and grope and plead and feel my way.
Yea, I have had mine hours of glory too,
When life seemed all a morning stretching on
Out into sunny haze, and earth was filled
With youth and joy, and every path held hope,
Veiling the future in a glamorous mist.

“And I must say, O Augur, even now,
When I lie here upon this edge of life,
That slopes far downward to the soundless dark,
That I here feel me even as when a child
I wandered on the sunny slopes of morn,
And heard the elfin horns of faery blown
About the confines of my vision’s scope.
For I hold happiness for the crumbling trunk,
Skirting the evening when the Autumn wind
Moans, querulous, along the gathering dark;
As well as for the shooting sprout that feels,
Within, the upward golden wells of Spring,
When young Pan’s piping down the rosy ways
Wakens the tremulous daughters of the year.

If down some golden majesty of stairs

From some high, heart-dreamed heaven there should come
Flame-messengers, archangel-trumpeted,
And bid me fare by folds of rosy dawns,
Up to those lights eterne the angels ken;
Though down the ladders of celestial light,
Immortal invitation sought mine ears,
And beat tumultuous music in my brain,
From far-off choirs of angel harmonies;
Yet my poor heart would lean on human thoughts,
And sweetest mem’ries breed on human love,
And all my visions be of fields and flowers,
And summer brooks and winds and voices sweet,
Welling up from dreams of far-off days,
Of olden homes and faces, sweet ones loved,
Haunting from out the golden shores of youth.
Thus ever it is with age when men must die,
The phantom rivers of life must childward run,
The roads be peopled whence our hearts have come,
Who fare the ways of lonely, withered age,
The ways that lead down to the dusks of death.

“The morning roads, the golden roads of youth,
When all the future cast a majesty,
A presence as of God on field and tree,
A splendour spirit-felt, that brooded there—
The days that were, the days that are no more.

“For hearken, Augur, though a glory lies
In visions great, the human heart may build,
From out the restless longings of this life;
Not all the harpings of celestial throngs,
Tuning with spirit-songs the halls of joy,
Fabled of saints, where immortality
Hungers no more, nor dwelleth pain nor death,
Hath power to blot from out the heart of age,
Those memories divine of love and youth.
For, Augur, we are human, fleshly knit,
Aflame with all the instincts of old earth,
And she is ours and we were made for her.
We sported as babes upon her swards at morn,
Conquered her glories in our manhood’s prime,
And now the even comes we backward creep
Unto her breast, like babes, to sleep at last,
Or children who assoilèd in their play;
The battles and the fears and the mad joys,
The pageants of life all hushed and overthrown,
The clamour stilled of trumpet and of drum,
The doors all sealed, the tapers flickered out,
By some black gust athwart the moors of death.

“In this dim, twilight hour of mine old age,
Your heavenly harpings reach mine ears in vain—
I, who am but a wreck of what life was—

For stronger call the voices of my youth,
And backward surge in shoals the olden loves,
The noonday struggles and the glorious hopes;
The olden spirits haunt about my bed
From out the rosy sunrise lands of eld.

“There comes the wife, belovèd, of my youth,
Making me heaven with her sainted eyes,
Within whose depths earth’s love will ever shine.
Hath heaven a joy to match those memories,
Of long-gone summer nights astir with bloom,
When earth seemed new create, and life divine;
Those nights I held her first and knew her mine?
There come the babes of my maturer youth,
Their voices clamour all about my bed,
Making a music sweeter than April brooks.
Hath heaven a choir to match those earthly sounds,
That long have wandered like a morning dream,
Back to our mother-earth, where I go too?
I, who am left like some old withered tree,
The last of some dead woodland swept of time!

“I know not of the ways that lie before,
The doors of dark are sealed upon my sight,
Save that a splendour floods great heaven’s floor,
Across the shapeless shadows of the night;
And all the past grows luminous and bright:
I know not of the ways that lie before,
The Eternal guides me down to nature’s night.

“And, Augur, human, human to the last,
Clothed on with memories glad of love and youth,
Old Tama wanders to the dreamless dead;

Knowing no glory greater than this earth,
To sleep amid the ruins of old kings
And mighty peoples who have gone before.

“Deep in the brown earth, under the flowers and grass,
Beneath the boughs of some old spreading oak,

Beside the washings of some mighty stream,
To sleep for ever where the great hills dream;
And let the maddened march of time go by,
While over all broods the eternal sky,
Majestic, restful, as the ages pass.”