Commentary Magazine


Channel Crossing

And just by crossing the short sea
To find the answer sitting there
Combing out its snakey hair
And with a smile regarding me
Because it knows only too well
That I shall never recognize
The verities that I should prize
And the lies that I should tell.

I saw the question in the sky
Ride like a gull to fool me, as
The squat boat butted at the seas
As grossly as through mysteries I
Churn up a frothy wake of verbs
Or stir a muddy residue
Looking for the answer who
Sanctifies as she disturbs.

The horror of the question-mark
Looking back I saw stand over
The white and open page of Dover
Huge as the horn of the scapegoat. Dark
It stood up in the English day
Interrogating Destiny
With the sad lip of the sea:
“What can a dead nation say?”

As these words wailed in the air
I looked at Europe and I saw
The glittering instruments of war
Grow paler but not go from where
Like a livid sunset on
The marble of the horizon
They lay foretelling for tomorrow
Another day of human sorrow.

But when I turned and looked into
The silent chambers of the sea
I saw the displaced fishes flee
From nowhere into nowhere through
Their continent of liberty.
O skipping porpoise of the tide
No longer shall the sailors ride
You cheering out to sea.

I thought of Britain in its cloud
Chained to the economic rocks
Dying behind me; saw the flocks
Of great and grieving omens crowd
About the lion on the stone;
I heard Milton’s eagle mewing
Her dereliction in the ruin
Of a great nation alone.

That granite and gigantic sigh
Of the proud man beaten by
Those victories from which we die;
The gentle and defeated grief
Of the gale that moans among
Trees that are a day too strong
And, victorious by a leaf,
Show the winner he was wrong.

The continent of discontent
Rose up before me as I stood
Above the happy fish. Endued
With hotter and unhappier blood,
Contented in my discontent,
I saw that every man’s a soul
Caught in a glass wishing bowl:
To live at peace in discontent.

O somewhere in the seven leagues
That separate us from the stricken
Amphitheatre of the spirit,
O somewhere in that baleful sea
The answer to sad Europe lodges,
The clue that causes us to sicken
Because we cannot find and share it,
Or, finding, cannot see.

So in the sky, the monstrous sun
Mocked like a punishment to be,
Extending now to you and me
The vision of what we have done:
And as the boat drew to the quay
I thought, by crossing this short water
I shall not find, in its place,
The answer with the silent face.

_____________

 

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