The poem below is a narrative development of the old Anglo-Irish 'broken token' folk song, The Dark-Eyed Sailor. I recommend listening first to Al O'Donnell singing the song in all its classic folksong formality and then read the poem as a more naturalistic treatment of the events described. (Shared with Imaginary Garden...)
THE DARK-EYED SAILOR
Four doves rising
from the water tower,
silver on the face of night.
Wings applauding, down drifting.
Butter yellow, the new moon
with the old moon in her hair.
In the valley,
through thin light like mist,
the maiden returning through the water meadow,
All tears are dried to dust;
her gaze is fixed on the dim hedge line;
her heart is shut tight as a beech nut.
But she fingers the chain around her neck;
always her fingers stray to the chain and its burden,
the half-ring, the broken silver band,
plain but for William’s name engraved within.
Tonight the moon will touch it too.
And William, near the lane’s end,
slips the kitbag down.
An owl quavers in the churchyard yew.
This far inland no seagulls wheeling,
no salt to season the breeze,
no slow breathing tides to lift
or still the heart.
William’s head is cocked,
reading the currents.
His dark eyes catch the moon’s gold splinters,
and his fingers read the silver chain
like a rosary, walking the links
to the beat of her name
within the half-ring hanging.
Her feet on cinders and pebbles.
The cough of the five-bar gate
as she steps into the lane.
Grey eyes unfocussed now:
sixty downhill paces yet,
the scent of honeysuckle,
four bean rows and then the cottage door.
Her hand to her throat:
a piece of the night becomes smoke, twists
and becomes a man.
Even in the moon’s thin honey-light,
his eyes are dark and his jacket’s blue.
And his voice is as quiet as leaf on leaf:
“Why do you roam so late, my maid? Day’s done,
And he smiles, a white sickle blade
trimming back time.
Her hand to her throat, Seven years blooming
like a poisoned flower, hot, bright and blood-red.
Glancing, then looking down, she murmurs
her catechism: “So young and stout and bold,
my sailor, his dark eyes, the ring he took from his hand,
this half I wear between my breasts
while the other rolls at the bottom of the sea”.
The reaphook moon that harvests the stars;
the sickle smile that cuts to the heart.
He seems to say in a voice out a dream:
“Oh, drive him from your heart.
Young men abound and love freezes hard with time”.
She whispers, “I’ll never forsake my dear”
and half-turns to go.
The reaphook moon that cradles the stars;
the sickle smile that speaks to the heart;
the half-ring he pinches towards her between
finger and thumb, that carries its own light;
the circle seven years broken,
sealed in the joining now.
The honeysuckle all but blocks the gateway,
but for memory’s sake he won’t have it trimmed.
And he lifts the hanging beans
and lets them fall, and says into the thin rain:
“Seven years, but still a cloudy morning
brings in a sunny day”.