|We have no heart for the fishing―we
have no hand for the oar―
|All that our fathers taught us of old
pleases us now no more.
|All that our own hearts bid us believe
we doubt where we do not deny―
|There is no proof in the bread we eat
nor rest in the toil we ply.
|Look you, our foreshore stretches far
through sea-gate, dyke, and groin―
|Made land all, that our fathers made,
where the flats and the fairway join.
|They forced the sea a sea-league back.
They died, and their work stood fast.
|We were born to peace in the lee of the
dykes, but the time of our peace is past.
|Far off, the full tide clambers and
slips, mouthing and testing all,
|Nipping the flanks of the water-gates,
baying along the wall;
|Turning the shingle, returning the
shingle, changing the set of the sand . . .
|We are too far from the beach, men say,
to know how the outworks stand.
|So we come down, uneasy, to look;
uneasily pacing the beach.
|These are the dykes our fathers made:
we have never known a breach.
|Time and again has the gale blown by
and we were not afraid;
|Now we come only to look at the
dykes―at the dykes our fathers made.
|O’er the marsh where the homesteads
cower apart the harried sunlight flies,
|Shifts and considers, wanes and
recovers, scatters and sickens and dies―
|An evil ember bedded in ash―a spark
blown west by the wind . . .
|We are surrendered to night and the
sea―the gale and the tide behind!
|At the bridge of the lower saltings the
cattle gather and blare,
|Roused by the feet of running men,
dazed by the lantern-glare.
|Unbar and let them away for their
lives―the levels drown as they stand,
|Where the flood-flash forces the
sluices aback and the ditches deliver inland.
|Ninefold deep to the top of the dykes
the galloping breakers stride,
|And their overcarried spray is a sea―a
sea on the landward side.
|Coming, like stallions they paw with
their hooves, going they snatch with their teeth,
|Till the bents and the furze and the
sand are dragged out, and the old-time hurdles beneath.
|Bid men gather fuel for fire, the tar,
the oil, and the tow―
|Flame we shall need, not smoke, in the
dark if the riddled sea-banks go.
|Bid the ringers watch in the tower (who
knows how the dawn shall prove?)
|Each with his rope between his feet and
the trembling bells above.
|Now we can only wait till the day, wait
and apportion our shame.
|These are the dykes our fathers left,
but we would not look to the same.
|Time and again were we warned of the
dykes, time and again we delayed:
|Now, it may fall, we have slain our
sons, as our fathers we have betrayed.
|Walking along the wrecks of the dykes,
watching the work of the seas!
|These were the dykes our fathers made
to our great profit and ease.
|But the peace is gone and the profit is
gone, with the old sure days withdrawn . . .
|That our own houses show as strange
when we come back in the dawn!
[ If ] [ The Way Through the Woods ] [ Danny Deever ] [ Recessional ] [ Tommy ] [ The White Man's Burden ] [ Chant-Pagan ] [ The Deep Sea Cables ] [ The Dykes ] [ Gunga Din ] [ The Gods of the Copybook Headings ] [ Fuzzy-Wuzzy ] [ The Land ] [ The Old Men ] [ My Rival ]