Tuesday Poem: Homing, by Helen Lowe


He hears it, in every slap
of wave against wood,
as the ship cleaves water
like a seabird, hears the word
that he has hungered for
through the lost years,
whispered to him now
by the sea as it bears him up,
speeds him on like a lover
to the consummation
of his long-held dream
of home: home, lilts the sea,
soft as a lullaby, and home,
sings the wind, slipping
through rigging, soothing
him to rest, not to wake
even as a clear dawn
pares away night, reveals
rocky shores and a green crag
rising, not even to stir
when they lift him
over the bulwark and down,
splashing through shallows
to leave him on shadowed sand,
tender as a child smiling
in his sleep, and dreaming,
dreaming still
of the long returning.

Published in JAAM 26 2008 (Aug/Sept). Reproduced by permission of the author.

Tim says:

Helen Lowe, who has recently joined the Tuesday Poets, wrote “Homing” as part of her “Ithaca Conversations” series, and I chose it – along with another poem and a story by Helen – for inclusion in JAAM 26, which I guest-edited. I was very impressed by the poems and the short fiction she submitted for that issue, and even more impressed when I found out about her most accomplished novels.

A couple of weeks ago, I published Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” as my Tuesday Poem for the week. “Homing” is a fitting modern companion to that great Victorian poem.

Helen has now posted a companion post to “Homing” on her blog – well worth reading!

Tuesday Poem: Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1833)

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought
with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tim says:

I like dramatic monologues, a form much beloved of Victorian poets, and this is my favourite. What I like about it, apart from the fantastic lines and memorable images – the section beginning “Come, my friends” most of all – is the intriguing contrast between the jut-jawed Victorian heroism of the poem’s surface and the doubt and weariness beneath.

The final line of “Ulysses” stands as Robert Falcon Scott’s epitaph, inscribed on a wooden cross on Observation Hill in Antarctica, but in fact the entire poem, in its mixture of doubt and determination, stands as a fitting epitaph for Scott, the “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration, and the classical notion of heroism.

Check out all the other Tuesday Poems here.