A mile behind is Gloucester town Where the fishing fleets put in, A mile ahead the land dips down And the woods and farms begin. Here, where the moors stretch free In the high blue afternoon, Are the marching sun and talking sea, And the racing winds that wheel and flee On the flying heels of June.
Jill-o'er-the-ground is purple blue, Blue is the quaker-maid, The wild geranium holds its dew Long in the boulder's shade. Wax-red hangs the cup From the huckleberry boughs, In barberry bells the grey moths sup Or where the choke-cherry lifts high up Sweet bowls for their carouse.
Over the shelf of the sandy cove Beach-peas blossom late. By copse and cliff the swallows rove Each calling to his mate. Seaward the sea-gulls go, And the land-birds all are here; That green-gold flash was a vireo, And yonder flame where the marsh-flags grow Was a scarlet tanager.
This earth is not the steadfast place We landsmen build upon; From deep to deep she varies pace, And while she comes is gone. Beneath my feet I feel Her smooth bulk heave and dip; With velvet plunge and soft upreel She swings and steadies to her keel Like a gallant, gallant ship.
These summer clouds she sets for sail, The sun is her masthead light, She tows the moon like a pinnace frail Where her phosphor wake churns bright. Now hid, now looming clear, On the face of the dangerous blue The star fleets tack and wheel and veer, But on, but on does the old earth steer As if her port she knew.
God, dear God! Does she know her port, Though she goes so far about? Or blind astray, does she make her sport To brazen and chance it out? I watched when her captains passed: She were better captainless. Men in the cabin, before the mast, But some were reckless and some aghast, And some sat gorged at mess.
By her battened hatch I leaned and caught Sounds from the noisome hold, — Cursing and sighing of souls distraught And cries too sad to be told. Then I strove to go down and see; But they said, "Thou art not of us!" I turned to those on the deck with me And cried, "Give help!" But they said, "Let be: Our ship sails faster thus."
Jill-o'er-the-ground is purple blue, Blue is the quaker-maid, The alder-clump where the brook comes through Breeds cresses in its shade. To be out of the moiling street With its swelter and its sin! Who has given to me this sweet, And given my brother dust to eat? And when will his wage come in?
Scattering wide or blown in ranks, Yellow and white and brown, Boats and boats from the fishing banks Come home to Gloucester town. There is cash to purse and spend, There are wives to be embraced, Hearts to borrow and hearts to lend, And hearts to take and keep to the end, — O little sails, make haste!
But thou, vast outbound ship of souls, What harbor town for thee? What shapes, when thy arriving tolls, Shall crowd the banks to see? Shall all the happy shipmates then Stand singing brotherly? Or shall a haggard ruthless few Warp her over and bring her to, While the many broken souls of men Fester down in the slaver's pen, And nothing to say or do?