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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Cape Arundel, Me.

The Old Lobsterman

By John Townsend Trowbridge (1827–1916)


JUST back from a beach of sand and shells,

And shingle the tides leave oozy and dank,

Summer and winter the old man dwells

In his low brown house on the river bank.

Tempest and sea-fog sweep the hoar

And wrinkled sand-drifts round his door,

Where often I see him sit, as gray

And weather-beaten and lonely as they.

Coarse grasses wave on the arid swells

In the wind; and two dwarf poplar-trees

Seem hung all over with silver bells

That tinkle and twinkle in sun and breeze.

All else is desolate sand and stone:

And here the old lobsterman lives alone:

Nor other companionship has he

But to sit in his house and gaze at the sea.

A furlong or more away to the south,

On the bar beyond the huge sea-walls

That keep the channel and guard its mouth,

The high, curved billow whitens and falls;

And the racing tides through the granite gate,

On their wild errands that will not wait,

Forever, unresting, to and fro,

Course with impetuous ebb and flow.

They bury the barnacled ledge, and make

Into every inlet and crooked creek,

And flood the flats with a shining lake,

Which the proud ship ploughs with foam at her beak;

The ships go up to yonder town,

Or over the sea their hulls sink down,

And many a pleasure pinnace rides

On the restless backs of the rushing tides.

I try to fathom the gazer’s dreams,

But little I gain from his gruff replies;

Far off, far off the spirit seems,

As he looks at me with those strange, gray eyes;

Never a hail from the shipwrecked heart!

Mysterious oceans seem to part

The desolate man from all his kind—

The Selkirk of his lonely mind.


Solace he finds in the sea, no doubt:

To catch the ebb he is up and away:

I see him silently pushing out

On the broad, bright gleam, at break of day;

And watch his lessening dory toss

On the purple crests as he pulls across,

Round reefs where silvery surges leap,

And meets the dawn on the rosy deep.

His soul, is it open to sea and sky?

His spirit, alive to sound and sight?

What wondrous tints on the water lie,—

Wild, wavering, liquid realm of light!

Between two glories looms the shape

Of yon wood-crested, cool green cape,

Sloping all round to foam-laced ledge,

And cavern and cove, at the bright sea’s edge.

He makes for the floats that mark the spots,

And rises and falls on the sweeping swells,

Ships oars, and pulls his lobster-pots,

And tumbles the tangled claws and shells

In the leaky bottom; and bails his skiff;

While the slow waves thunder along the cliff,

And foam far away where sun and mist

Edge all the region with amethyst;

I watch him, and fancy how, a boy,

Round these same reefs, in the rising sun,

He rowed and rocked, and shouted for joy,

As over the boat-side, one by one,

He lifted and launched his lobster-traps,

And reckoned his gains, and dreamed, perhaps,

Of a future as glorious, vast, and bright

As the ocean, unrolled in the morning light.