Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1920
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. (1878–1962).  Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1920.  1920.
 
The Black Rock
 
John Gould Fletcher (1886–1950)
 
 
To Thomas Hardy
 
 
I
OFF the long headland, threshed about by round-backed breakers,
There is a black rock, standing high at the full tide;
Off the headland there is emptiness,
And the moaning of the ocean,
And the black rock standing alone.        5
 
In the orange wake of sunset,
When the gulls have fallen silent,
And the winds slip out and meet together from the edges of the sea,
Settled down in the dark water,
Fragment of the earth abandoned,        10
Ragged and huge the black rock stands.
 
It is as if it listened,
Stood and listened very intently
To the everlasting swish and boom and hiss of spray,
Listened to the creeping-on of night;        15
While afar off, to the westward,
Dark clouds silently are packed together,
With a dull red glow between.
 
It is listening, it is lonely;
For the sunlight        20
Showed it houses near the headland,
Trees and flowers;
For the sunlight caused to grow upon it scanty blades of grass,
For the crannies of the rock,
Here and there;        25
For the sunlight brought it back remembrance of a world.
Long rejected
And long lost;
Showed it white sails near the coast,
Children paddling in the bay,        30
Signs of life and kinship with mankind
Long forgot.
Now the sunset leaves it there,
Bare, rejected, a black scrap of rock,
Battered by the tides,        35
Wallowing in the sea.
 
Bleak, adrift,
Shattered like a monstrous ship of stone,
Left aground
By the waters, on its voyage;        40
With no foot to touch its deck,
With no hand to lift its sails,
There it stands.
 
II
Gulls wheel near it in the sunlight,
White backs flash;        45
Gray wings eddy, curl, are lifted, swept away,
On a wave;
Gulls pass rapidly in the sunlight
Round about it.
 
Gulls pass, screaming harshly to the wave-thrusts,        50
Laughing in uncanny voices;
Lonely flocks of great white birds,
Like to ghosts;
 
But the black rock does not welcome them,
Knows by heart already all their cries;        55
Hears, repeated, for the millionth millionth time
All the bitterness of ocean
Howling through their voices.
 
It still dreams of other things,
Of the cities and the fields,        60
And the lands near to the coast
Where the lonely grassy valleys
Full of dun herds deeply browsing,
Sweep in wide curves to the sea;
 
It still holds the memory        65
Of the wild bees booming, murmuring,
In the fields of thyme and clover,
And the shadows of broad trees
Towards noon:
 
It still lifts its huge scarred sides        70
Vainly to the burning glare of sun,
With the memory of doom
Thick upon them;
And the hope that by some fate
It may come once more to be        75
Part of all the earth it had;
 
Freed from clamor of the waves,
From the broken planks and wreckage
Drifting aimless here and there,
With the tides;        80
Freed to share its life with earth,
And to be a dwelling-place
For the outcast tribes of men,
Once again.
 
III
In the morning,
        85
When the dark clouds whirl swift over,
From the southeast, dragging with them
Heavy curtains of gray rain,
 
The black rock rejoices.
All its little gullies drip with cool refreshing showers.        90
All the crannies, all the steeps,
All the meagre sheltered places
Fill with drip and tinkle of the rain.
 
But when the afternoon between the clouds
Leaves adrift cool patches of the sea,        95
Between floes of polar snow;
 
Then the rock is all aflame;
Diamond, emeralds, topazes,
Burn and shatter, and it seems
Like a garden filled with flowers.        100
 
Like a garden where the rapid wheeling lights
And black shadows lift and sway and fall;
Spring and summer and red autumn chase each other
Moment after moment, on its face,
 
So, till sunset        105
Lifts once more its lonely crimson torch,
Menacing and mournful, far away;
Then an altar left abandoned, it stands facing all the horizon
Where the light departs.
 
Massive black and crimson towers,        110
Cities carven by the wind from out the clouds of sunset look at it;
It has dreamed them, it has made this sacrifice,
Now it sees their rapid passing,
Soon it will be bleak and all alone.
 
IV
Abrupt and broken rock,
        115
Black rock, awash in the midst of the waters,
Lonely, aloof, deserted,
Impotent to change;
 
Storm-clouds lift off,
The dawn strikes the hills far inland.        120
But you are forever tragic and apart,
Forever battling with the sea;
 
Till the waves have ground you to dust—
Till the ages are all accomplished,
Till you have relinquished the last reluctant fragment        125
To the gnawing teeth of the wave;
 
I know the force of your patience,
I have shared your grim silent struggle,
The mad dream you have, and will not abandon,
To cover your strength with gay flowers;        130
 
Keel of the world, apart,
I have lived like you.
 
Some men are soil of the earth;
Their lives are broad harvest fields
Green in the spring, and gold in their season,        135
Then barren and mown;
 
But those whom my soul has loved
Are bare rocks standing off headlands;
Cherishing, perhaps, a few bitter wild flowers,
That bloom in the granite, year after year.

  The Yale Review
        140
 

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