There are some poems that are little-remembered, often because something is not quite right in them, but yet a line or a few lines will stick in the mind — though perhaps recalled not quite correctly — like the flash of a gemstone partly hidden in a matrix of lesser rock.

And then, when one tries to find such a poem, it is devilishly difficult!  Here is a prime example, by Gerald Louis Gould (1885-1936):


Beyond the East the sunrise, beyond the West the sea,
And East and West the wander-thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness, dear, to bid me say good-by!
For the seas call and the stars call, and oh, the call of the sky!

The sun of course rises in the East, and if one lives in England, as Gould did, beyond the land to the West lies the sea.  The writer is afflicted with “itchy feet” — he feels an irresistible urge to wander, to see the sea and what is beyond, to see stars over new fields, the skies over distant hills.

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide a star;
And there’s no end of voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the river calls and the road calls, and oh, the call of a bird!

He does not know where the white road he travels will take him.  Gould studied at Oxford University in Oxfordshire, which has chalk beds that made early roads in the area white in the sun.  One still sees such roads in places where limestone, chalk and marble predominate in the geology — at least the smaller rural roads without asphalt.  Nor does he know what the blue hills in the distance might be.  But he is called to find out.

A traveller may go alone, but the sun travels with him, and the stars have been directional guides since ancient times.  Once one gets the “wanderlust,” there is no end to traveling.   Rivers call one onward, as do roads, and even the free-spirited call of a bird seems a summons to adventure.

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away;
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun and the white road and the sky!

The horizon is both physical and metaphorical.  It is the point from which one enters unknown territory, that which is beyond the known and familiar.  Here Gould uses it metaphorically for the beginning and ending point of human life.  The old ships — that is people coming to the end of the journey of life’s adventure, return to home again, and for them the horizon is rest and life’s end.  The young ships are the youthful individuals just setting out on the voyage of life, and for them the horizon is the beginning of life and adventure.

Our writer is determined to make the most of his time, so though he may stop at a place and stay a while, inevitably he must be off again to continue his travels.  We can also say this of life.  We may come into this life and stay a while, but it is also inevitable that we must go out of it again.  Time never pauses.  But our writer here speaks primarily of non-metaphorical adventuring, his boundless urge to travel.  If anyone asks why he cannot stay, his reply is that one may blame the stars and the sun, the white road and the sky — all call him to adventure.

I first encountered this poem years ago, when I was interested in the life and wanderings of the herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy, herself a wanderer in life.  But what struck me was only these lines:

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away;

Why those?  I suppose because they encompass so much in so small a space as metaphor.  In those two lines is all of life — youth and old age, the cycle of setting forth on the voyage of life in youth, and inevitably, at last, coming home in old age to end one’s voyaging days.  It is life and death.

Nothing in the rest, unfortunately, quite matches the strength of those two lines, and that is perhaps why the poem is so little known today, though I must admit I have been surprised by the numbers of people coming here in search of it.


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  1. Gloria E. Hollingsworth says:

    Thank you David. I like this poem. Learned it during my youth as teen in Trinidad. I learned it as a song. The tune is beautifully whimsical. Your commentary is most appropriate. My profound gratitude. I’ll keep this.
    Gloria E. H.

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