16. THE LAST SHIP

Fíriel looked out at three o'clock:

the grey night was going;

far away a golden cock

clear and shrill was crowing.

The trees were dark, and the dawn pale,

waking birds were cheeping,

a wind moved cool and frail

through dim leaves creeping.

 

She watched the gleam at window grow,

till the long light was shimmering

on land and leaf; on grass below

grey dew was glimmering.

Over the floor her white feet crept,

down the stair they twinkled,

through the grass they dancing stepped

all with dew besprinkled.

 

Her gown had jewels upon its hem,

as she ran down to the river,

and leaned upon a willow-stem,

and watched the water quiver.

A kingfisher plunged down like a stone

in a blue flash falling,

bending reeds were softly blown,

lily-leaves were sprawling.

 

A sudden music to her came,

as she stood there gleaming

with free hair in the morning's flame

on her shoulders streaming.

Flutes there were, and harps were wrung,

and there was sound of singing,

like wind-voices keen and young

and far bells ringing.

 

A ship with golden beak and oar

and timbers white came gliding;

swans went sailing on before,

her tall prow guiding.

Fair folk out of Elvenland

in silver-grey were rowing,

and three with crowns she saw there stand

with bright hair flowing.

 

With harp in hand they sang their song

to the slow oars swinging:

'Green is the land, the leaves are long,

and the birds are singing.

Many a day with dawn of gold

this earth will lighten,

many a flower will yet unfold,

ere the cornfields whiten.

 

'Then whither go ye, boatmen fair,

down the river gliding?

To twilight and to secret lair

in the great forest hiding?

To Northern isles and shores of stone

on strong swans flying,

by cold waves to dwell alone

with the white gulls crying?'

 

'Nay!' they answered. 'Far away

on the last road faring,

leaving western havens grey,

the seas of shadow daring,

we go back to Elvenhome,

where the White Tree is growing,

and the Star shines upon the foam

on the last shore flowing.

 

'To mortal fields say farewell,

Middle-earth forsaking!

In Elvenhome a clear bell

in the high tower is shaking.

Here grass fades and leaves fall,

and sun and moon wither,

and we have heard the far call

that bids us journey thither',

 

The oars were stayed. They turned aside:

'Do you hear the call, Earth-maiden?

Fíriel! Fíriel!' they cried.

'Our ship is not full-laden.

One more only we may bear.

Come! For your days are speeding.

Come! Earth-maiden elven-fair,

our last call heeding.'

 

Fíriel looked from the river-bank,

one step daring;

then deep in clay her feet sank,

and she halted staring.

Slowly the elven-ship went by

whispering through the water:

'I cannot come' they heard her cry.

'I was born Earth's daughter!'

 

No jewels bright her gown bore,

as she walked back from the meadow

under roof and dark door,

under the house-shadow.

She donned her smock of russet brown,

her long hair braided,

and to her work came stepping down.

Soon the sunlight faded.

 

Year still after year flows

down the Seven Rivers;

cloud passes, sunlight glows,

reed and willow quivers

at morn and eve, but never more

westward ships have waded

in mortal waters as before,

and their song has faded.