Argument: Showing how a man of England, hearing from certain
Easterlings of the glories of their land, sets sail to rule it.
And so unto the burgh of Graves came he
Where, nigh the staging, ready for the sea,
Oarless and sailless lay the galley's bulk,
Albeit smoke did issue from the hulk
And fell away, across the marshes dun,
Into the visage of the wan-white sun.
And seaward ran the river, cold and gray,
Bearing the brown-sailed Eastland boats away
'Twixt the low shore and shallow sandy spit;
Yet he, being sad, took little heed of it;
But straightly fled toward the misty beach,
And hailed in choked and swiftly spoken speech
A shallop, that for men's conveyance lay
Hard by the margin of that watery way.
Then many that were in like evil plight—
Sad folk, with drawn dumb lips and faces white,
That writhed themselves into a hopeless smile,
Crowded the shallop, making feint the while
Of merriment and pleasure at that tide,
Though oft upon the laughers' lips there died
The jest, and in its place there came a sigh,
So that men gat but little good thereby,
And shivering clad themselves about with furs.
Strange faces of the swarthy outlanders
Looked down upon the shallop as she threw
The sullen waters backward from her screw
And, running forward for some little space,
Stayed featly at the galley's mounting-place,
Where slowly these sad facéd landsmen went
Crab-wise and evil-mouthed with discontent,
Holding to sodden rope and rusty chain
And bulwark that was wetted with the rain:
For 'neath their feet the black bows rose and fell,
Nor might a man walk steadfastly or well
Who had not hand upon a rail or rope;
And Estunt turned him landward, and wanhope
Grew on his spirit as an evil mist,
Thinking of loving lips his lips had kiss'd
An hour since, and how those lips were sweet
An hour since, far off in Fenchurch Street.
Then, with a deep-drawn breath most like a sigh,
He watched the empty shallop shoreward hie;
Then turned him round the driving rain to face,
And saw men heave the anchor from its place
Whereat, when by the river mouth, the ship
Began, amid the waters' strife, to dip.
His soul was heaved between his jaws that day,
As to the East the good ship took her way.