Tristan da Cunha has no covid-19 case: Here’s a poem for that country

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Tristan da Cunha


Roy Campbell


Snore in the foam; the night is vast and blind;

The blanket of the mist about your shoulders,

Sleep your old sleep of rock, snore in the wind,

Snore in the spray! the storm your slumber lulls,

His wings are folded on your nest of boulders,

As on their eggs the gray wings of gulls.


No more as when, so dark an age ago,

You hissed a giant cinder from the ocean,

Around your rocks you furl the shawling snow

Half sunk in your own darkness, vast and grim,

And round you on the deep with surly motion

Pivot your league-long shadow as you swim.


Why should you haunt me thus but that I know

My surly heart is in your own displayed,

Round whom such leagues in endless circuit flow,

Whose hours in such a gloomy compass run—

A dial with its league-long arm of shade

Slowly revolving to the moon and sun.


My pride has sunk, like your grey fissured crags,

By its own strength o’ertoppled and betrayed:

I, too, have burned the wind with fiery flags

Who now am but a roost for empty words,

An island of the sea whose only trade

Is in the voyages of its wandering birds.


Did you not, when your strength became your pyre,

Deposed and tumbled from your flaming tower,

Awake in gloom from whence you sank in fire,

To find, Antaeus-like, more vastly grown,

A throne in your own darkness, and a power

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Sheathed in the very coldness of your stone?


Your strength is that you have no hope or fear,

You march before the world without a crown,

The nations call you back, you do not hear,

The cities of the earth grow grey behind you,

You will be there when your great flames go down

And still the morning in the van will find you.


You march before the continents, you scout

In front of all the earth; alone you scale

The mast-head of the world, a lorn look-out,

Waving the snowy flutter of your spray

And gazing back in infinite farewell

To suns that sink and shores that fade away.


From your grey tower what long regrets you fling

To where, along the low horizon burning,

The great swan-breasted seraphs soar and sing,

And suns go down, and trailing splendours dwindle,

And sails on lonely errands unreturning

Glow with a gold no sunrise can rekindle.


Turn to the night: these flames are not for you

Whose steeple for the thunder swings its bells;

Grey Memnon, to the tempest only true,

Turn to the night, turn to the shadowy foam,

And let your voice, the saddest of farewells,

With sullen curfew toll the grey wings home.


The wind, your mournful siren, haunts the gloom;

The rocks, spray-clouded, are your signal guns

Whose stony nitre, puffed with flying spume,

Rolls forth in grim salute your broadside hollow

Over the gorgeous burial of suns

To sound the tocsin of the storms that follow.

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Plunge forward like a ship to battle hurled,

Slip the long cables of the failing light,

The level rays that moor you to the world:

Sheathed in your armour of eternal frost,

Plunge forward, in the thunder of the fight

To lose yourself as I would fain be lost.


Exiled like you and severed from my race

By the cold ocean of my own disdain,

Do I not freeze in such a wintry space,

Do I not travel through a storm as vast

And rise at times, victorious from the main,

To fly the sunrise at my shattered mast?


Your path is but a desert where you reap

Only the bitter knowledge of your soul:

You fish with nets of seaweed in the deep

As fruitlessly as I with nets of rhyme—

Yet forth you stride, yourself the way, the goal,

The surges are your strides, your path is time.


Hurled by what aim to what tremendous range!

A missile from that great sling of the past,

Your passage leaves its track of death and change

And ruin on the world: you fly beyond

Leaping the current of the ages vast

As lightly as a pebble skims a pond.


The years are undulations in your flight

Whose awful motion we can only guess—

Too swift for sense, too terrible for sight,

We only know how fast behind you darken

Our days like lonely beacons of distress:

We know that you stride on and will not hearken.


Now in the eastern sky the fairest planet

Pierces the dying wave with dangled spear,

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And in the whirring hollows of your granite

That vaster sea to which you are a shell

Sighs with a ghostly rumour, like the drear

Moan of the nightwind in a fallen cell.


We shall not meet again; over the wave

Our ways divide, and yours is straight and endless,

But mine is short and crooked to the grave:

But what of these dark crowds amid whose flow

I battle like a rock, aloof and friendless,

And not their generations vague and endless

The waves, the strides, the feet on which I go?



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