The Look-out

Better the wind, the sea, the salt
in your eyes,
than this, this, this

You grumble and sweat;
my ears are acute
to catch your complaint,
almost the sea's roar is less
than your constant threat
of “back and back to the shore,
and let us rest.”

You grumble and curse your luck
and I hear:
“O Lynceus,
aloft by the prow,
his head on his arms
his eyes half closed,
almost asleep,
to watch for a rock,
(and hardly ever we need
his ‘to left’ or ‘to right’)
let Lynceus have my part,
let me rest like Lynceus.”

“Rest like Lynceus!”
I'd change my fate for yours,
the very least,
I'd take an oar with the rest.

“Like Lynceus,”
as if my lot were the best

O God, if I could speak,
if I could taunt the lot
of the wretched crew,
with my fate my work

But I may not,
I may not tell
of the forms that pass and pass,
of that constant old, old face
that leaps from each wave
to wait underneath the boat
in the hope that at last she's lost

Could I speak,
I would tell of great mountains
that flow, great weeds
that float and float
to tangle our oars
if I fail “to left, to right;”
where the dolphin leaps
you saw a sign from the god,
I saw why he leapt from the deep.

“To right, to left;”
it is easy enough
to lean on the prow, half asleep,
and you think,
“no work for Lynceus.”
No work?

If only you'd let me take an oar,
if only my back could break with the hurt,
if the sun could blister my feet,
pain, pain that I might forget
the face that just this moment
passed through the prow
when you said, “asleep.”

Many and many a sight
if I could speak,
many and many tales I'd tell,
many and many a struggle,
many a death,
many and many my hurts
and my pain so great,
I'd gladly die
if I did not love the quest.

Grumble and swear and curse,
brother, god and the boat,
and the great waves,
but could you guess
what strange terror lurks in the sea-depth,
you'd thank the gods for the ship,
the timber and giant oars, god-like,
and the god-like quest

If you could see as I,
what lurks in the sea-depth
you'd pray to the ropes
and the solid timbers
like god, like god;

you'd pray to the oars and your work,
you'd pray and thank
the boat for her very self;
timber and oar and plank
and sail and the sail-ropes,
these are beautiful things and great.

But Lynceus at the prow
has nothing to do but wait
till we reach a shoal or some rocks
and then he has only to lift his arms,
right, left;
O brother,
I'd change my place
for the worst seat
in the cramped bench,
for an oar, for an hour's toil,
for sweat and the solid floor.

I'd change my place
as I sit with eyes half closed,
if only I could see just the ring
cut by the boat,
if only I could see just the water,
the crest and the broken crest,
the bit of weed that rises on the crest,
the dolphin only when he leaps.

But Lynceus,
though they cannot guess
the hurt, though they do not thank
the oars for the dead peace
of heart and brain worn out,
you must wait,
alert, alert, alert.
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