Burning Drift-Wood

Original Text: 
The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge edition, ed. H. E. S. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894): 471-72. PS 3250 E94 1894 Robarts Library.
1Before my drift-wood fire I sit,
3Old dreams and fancies coloring it,
4  And folly's unlaid ghosts return.
5O ships of mine, whose swift keels cleft
6  The enchanted sea on which they sailed,
7Are these poor fragments only left
8  Of vain desires and hopes that failed?
9Did I not watch from them the light
10  Of sunset on my towers in Spain,
11And see, far off, uploom in sight
13Did sudden lift of fog reveal
15And did I pass, with grazing keel,
16  The rocks whereon the sirens sing?
17Have I not drifted hard upon
18  The unmapped regions lost to man,
21Did land winds blow from jasmine flowers,
22  Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills?
23Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers,
25Alas! the gallant ships, that sailed
26  On blind Adventure's errand sent,
27Howe'er they laid their courses, failed
28  To reach the haven of Content.
29And of my ventures, those alone
30  Which Love had freighted, safely sped,
31Seeking a good beyond my own,
32  By clear-eyed Duty piloted.
33O mariners, hoping still to meet
34  The luck Arabian voyagers met,
35And find in Bagdad's moonlit street,
37Take with you, on your Sea of Dreams,
38  The fair, fond fancies dear to youth.
39I turn from all that only seems,
40  And seek the sober grounds of truth.
41What matter that it is not May,
42  That birds have flown, and trees are bare,
43That darker grows the shortening day,
44  And colder blows the wintry air!
45The wrecks of passion and desire,
46  The castles I no more rebuild,
47May fitly feed my drift-wood fire,
48  And warm the hands that age has chilled.
49Whatever perished with my ships,
50  I only know the best remains;
51A song of praise is on my lips
52  For losses which are now my gains.
53Heap high my hearth! No worth is lost;
54  No wisdom with the folly dies.
55Burn on, poor shreds, your holocaust
56  Shall be my evening sacrifice!
57Far more than all I dared to dream,
58  Unsought before my door I see;
59On wings of fire and steeds of steam
60  The world's great wonders come to me,
61And holier signs, unmarked before,
62  Of Love to seek and Power to save, --
63The righting of the wronged and poor,
64  The man evolving from the slave;
65And life, no longer chance or fate,
66  Safe in the gracious Fatherhood.
67I fold o'er-wearied hands and wait,
68  In full assurance of the good.
69And well the waiting time must be,
70  Though brief or long its granted days,
71If Faith and Hope and Charity
72  Sit by my evening hearth-fire's blaze.
73And with them, friends whom Heaven has spared,
74  Whose love my heart has comforted,
75And, sharing all my joys, has shared
76  My tender memories of the dead, --
77Dear souls who left us lonely here,
78  Bound on their last, long voyage, to whom
79We, day by day, are drawing near,
80  Where every bark has sailing room.
81I know the solemn monotone
82  Of waters calling unto me;
83I know from whence the airs have blown
84  That whisper of the Eternal Sea.
85As low my fires of drift-wood burn,
86  I hear that sea's deep sounds increase,
87And, fair in sunset light, discern
88  Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.


2] waif: wood washed up by the sea. Back to Line
12] Fortunate Isles: the home of the blessed after their death, supposed by the Greeks and Romans to be in the Atlantic, about the Canary Islands. Back to Line
14] Arcadia: region of classical Greece associated with pastoral poetry and rural delight. Back to Line
19] Prester John: "priest" John, a legendary far eastern Christian king. Back to Line
20] Kubla Khan: the potentate whom Samuel T. Coleridge, in the poem of the same name, describes as having built a "stately pleasure dome" in Xanadu. Back to Line
24] Eldorado: a country of great wealth, supposed by Renaissance explorers to be found in the southern Americas. Back to Line
36] Haroun al Raschid: caliph of Bagdad (763-809), whose empire stretched from Africa to India and who appears frequently in the Arabian Nights, tales written in Arabic and first translated into English by Edward William Lane as The Thousand and One Nights, 3 vols. (London: Charles Knight, 1839-41; McLean 0 15 Massey College Library). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.