Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
III. The Voyage with the Nautilus
By Mary Howitt (1799–1888)
I MADE myself a little boat,
  As trim as trim could be;
I made it of a great pearl shell
  Found in the Indian Sea.
I made my masts of wild sea-rush        5
  That grew on a secret shore,
And the scarlet plume of the halcyon
  Was the pleasant flag I bore.
For my sails I took the butterfly’s wings;
  For my ropes the spider’s line;        10
And that mariner old, the Nautilus,
  To steer me over the brine.
For he had sailed six thousand years,
  And knew each isle and bay;
And I thought that we, in my little boat,        15
  Could merrily steer away.
The stores I took were plentiful:
  The dew as it sweetly fell;
And the honey that was hoarded up
  In the wild bee’s summer cell.        20
“Now steer away, thou helmsman good,
  Over the waters free;
To the charmèd Isle of the Seven Kings,
  That lies in the midmost sea.”
He spread the sail, he took the helm;        25
  And, long ere ever I wist,
We had sailed a league, we had reached the isle
  That lay in the golden mist.
The charmèd Isle of the Seven Kings,
  ’Tis a place of wondrous spell;        30
And all that happed unto me there
  In a printed book I’ll tell.
Said I, one day, to the Nautilus,
  As we stood on the strand,
“Unmoor my ship, thou helmsman good        35
  And steer me back to land;
“For my mother, I know, is sick at heart,
  And longs my face to see.
What ails thee now, thou Nautilus?
  Art slow to sail with me?        40
Up! do my will; the wind is fresh,
  So set the vessel free.”
He turned the helm; away we sailed
  Towards the setting sun:
The flying-fish were swift of wing,        45
  But we outsped each one.
And on we went for seven days,
  Seven days without a night;
We followed the sun still on and on,
  In the glow of his setting light.        50
Down and down went the setting sun,
  And down and down went we;
’Twas a splendid sail for seven days
  On a smooth, descending sea.
On a smooth, descending sea we sailed,        55
  Nor breeze the water curled:
My brain grew sick, for I saw we sailed
  On the down-hill of the world.
“Good friend,” said I to the Nautilus,
  “Can this the right course be?        60
And shall we come again to land?”
  But answer none made he;
And I saw a laugh in his fishy eye
  As he turned it up to me.
So on we went; but soon I heard        65
  A sound as when winds blow,
And waters wild are tumbled down
  Into a gulf below.
And on and on flew the little bark,
  As a fiend her course did urge;        70
And I saw, in a moment, we must hang
  Upon the ocean’s verge.
I snatched down the sails, I snapped the ropes,
  I broke the masts in twain;
But on flew the bark and ’gainst the rocks,        75
  Like a living thing did strain.
“Thou’st steered us wrong, thou helmsman vile!”
  Said I to the Nautilus bold;
“We shall down the gulf; we’re dead men both!
  Dost know the course we hold?”        80
I seized the helm with a sudden jerk,
  And we wheeled round like a bird;
But I saw the Gulf of Eternity,
  And the tideless waves I heard.
“Good master,” said the Nautilus,        85
  “I thought you might desire
To have some wondrous thing to tell
  Beside your mother’s fire.
“What’s sailing on a summer sea?
  As well sail on a pool;        90
Oh, but I know a thousand things
  That are wild and beautiful!
“And if you wish to see them now,
  You’ve but to say the word.”
“Have done!” said I to the Nautilus,        95
  “Or I’ll throw thee overboard.
“Have done!” said I, “thou mariner old,
  And steer me back to land.”
No other word spake the Nautilus,
  But took the helm in hand.        100
I looked up to the lady moon,
  She was like a glow-worm’s spark;
And never a star shone down to us
  Through the sky so high and dark.
We had no mast, we had no ropes,        105
  And every sail was rent;
And the stores I brought from the charmèd isle
  In the seven days’ sail were spent.
But the Nautilus was a patient thing,
  And steered with all his might        110
On the up-hill sea; and he never slept,
  But kept the course aright.
And for thrice seven nights we sailed and sailed;
  At length I saw the bay
Where I built my ship, and my mother’s house        115
  ’Mid the green hills where it lay.
“Farewell!” said I to the Nautilus,
  And leaped upon the shore;
“Thou art a skilful mariner,
  But I’ll sail with thee no more!”        120

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