Notes on the Firth
by William Ernest Henley
I. — FROM A FOURTH-PAIR WINDOW.
The sky is dappled blue with clouds that stray.
Like frozen waves the roofs go rolling down
The valley steeps, but weatherworn and brown
Steeple and stack shoot mastlike toward the day.
Pandean pipes whereon the winds would play,
Long rows of chimney-pots the ridges crown;
And black on slates and skylights flicker and frown
Shadows of smoke that streams and wings that sway.
The city's monstrous voices surge to me,
The mist afar its fantasies arranges,
And sudden windows twinkle joyously.
A blue grey streak, a fixed uncertainty,
A fallen slip of sky that shifts and changes,
The Forth beyond them broadens into sea.
II. — AT QUEENSFERRY.
The blackbird sang, the skies were clear and clean.
We bowled along a road that curved its spine
Superbly sinuous and serpentine
Thro' silent symphonies of glowing green.
Sudden the Firth came on us — sad of mien.
No cloud to colour it, no breeze to line,
A sheet of dark, dull glass, without a sign
Of life and death, two shelves of sand between.
Water and sky merged blank in mist together.
The fort loomed spectral, and the guard-ship's spars
Traced vague, black shadows on the shimmery glaze.
We felt the dim strange years, the grey strange weather,
The still strange land unvexed of sun or stars,
Where Lancelot rides clanking thro' the haze.
III. — RAIN.
The sky saggs low with convoluted cloud.
Heavy and imminent, rolled from rim to rim.
And wreaths of mist beveil the further brim
Of the leaden sea, all spiritless and cowed.
The rain is falling sheer and strong and loud.
The strand is desolate, the distance grim
With stormful threats, the wet stones glister dim.
And to the wall the dank umbrellas crowd.
At home! — the soaked shrubs whisper dismal-mooded.
The rails are strung with drops, and steeped the grasses,
Black chimney-shadows streak the shiny slates.
A draggled fishwife screeches at the gates,
The baker hurries dripping on, and hooded
In her stained skirt a pretty housemaid passes.
IV. — TWILIGHT.
The sunset's roses faint and fain decline.
Inshore the still sea shimmers scale on scale,
Like an enormous coat of magic mail —
Sheet silver shot with tremulous opaline.
Rare boats traverse it, glidingly supine.
The Inchkeith light by moments flashes pale.
The distance darkles, and a far grey sail
Melts vague into the solemn evenshine.
The thickening dusk is quick with pattering feet
And swishing dresses, and the airs of June
With broad sea-scents and blown cigars are sweet;
And over yonder, where the ripples beat,
Sweethearts are wandering, while the yellowing moon
Sails the blue lift, and wide stars glance and greet.