Theodore Tilton



A Fisher's Child

by Theodore Tilton


I weave a tale of old and new;
The half a fact, the rest a dream;
Yet many dreams are wondrous true,
However strange they seem.


So silent was the summer day,
That one could hear the far-off bees,
Till winds from over fields of hay
Came down to rough the seas.


A fisher brought his nets to land,
And just above the water's reach
Drew out his boat upon the sand,
And hurried from the beach.


Along a reedy water-edge,
His little son ran up and down,
And, breaking off the spears of sedge,
Entwined them for a crown.


Now, when the urchin spied the craft,
He clambered up the side in glee,
And tossed his laurelled head, and laughed,
And wished himself at sea.


The boat, amid the watery roar,
Was like a warning finger, laid
Across the lips of sea and shore,
To hush the noise they made.


A breaker, with a headlong swell,
Ran up around it where it lay,
And rolled so high that when it fell
It launched the boat away.


The poplar trees grew tall and green
Between the fisher and the tide,
And sadder sight was never seen
Than there they stood to hide.


By rushing winds, the drifting hull
Was blown beyond the harbor-light,
Till, seaward, like a flying gull,
It dwindled out of sight.


The father never called his child
Until the west was all aflame,
And then, except an echo wild,
No voice in answer came.


Whereat, as with a giant's hand,
The frantic fisher seized a boat,
And dragged it down the griping sand,
And through the surf afloat.


He pulled his oars for thrice a league,
And down his brawny beard ran sweat,
But not a sinew felt fatigue,
For hope inspired him yet.


The mantle of the night was dark,
Wherein his eyes were folded blind,
And so he chased the truant bark,
To seek, but not to find.


At last his strength was overspent,
And down against his panting breast
His hot, bewildered head he bent,
And swooned, and lay at rest.


He dreamed that through a yawning wave
A child, with sea-grass on his head,
Went down within a boundless grave,
To wander with the dead:


Thence rising to a wondrous land,
The human creature grew divine:
And when the fisher waved his hand,
The child gave back a sign.


The dreamer woke with sudden start,
And, shuddering in the chilly dew,
Knew well, by token in his heart,
The vision must be true.


In sorrow homeward he returned,
And sank aweary in his chair,
And, gazing where the embers burned,
Beheld an angel there!


And in the old familiar place
Which on the earth it loved the best,
A figure with a shining face
Is still the fisher's guest.


O, pleasantest of mortal things! --
That angels dwell in homes on earth,
Where silently, with folded wings,
They tarry by the hearth!


The Sexton's Tale, And Other Poems.
Copyright 1867
Sheldon And Company, New York.