To an Old Missionary Rising

‘So on the deep and open sea I set forth with a single ship
And that small band of comrades that had never left me yet.’
Dante, L’ Inferno
“Voyage of Ulysses”

Who will sail with me again?
Who will dare the old dangers, thirsts, and heats,
Their terrors and monotonies,
Those little pains that punctuate your glory?

Who is still fit and hale
To show their face,
To raise their sail to autumn’s waning winds of grace,
And risk again Euroclydon’s furies?

I think
I do not stand alone,
But in company.
The early winter winds have roused
Many ancient warriors from sleep.

They have been to sea before.
They know,
Out there,
Beyond the shore in unknown skies,
Hidden,
Still hangs hail’s steel pelleted rage,
And drenching, wetted early snows.

Yet they fear not to tread the waves again.

O, beware the south,
Whatever time of year,
Where lurk warm, but wayward hurricanes,
And the lesser unnamed squalls
That stir the sea before
And during winter’s reign on earth.

Yet I remember those gentle breezes calling, too.
And they awake in me memory’s longings:
Of comradeship,
Of star filled skies,
And the deep double light of moonlit seas,
And moon in summer.

O, the peace,
The peace of the leeward anchorage
And the foretaste of heaven!

I know the winds will not keep their place,
Nor respect my rest,
But ratchet up to roar and threaten
All further terrestrial and maritime advance—
And rip at life’s remaining riggings.

How strange.
How fitting.
What was meant to cower, draws.

It is not the danger,
Nor the sweetness we crave,
But You,
And your ways in war or anchored rest.

For in like and unlike ways
You wake nobler things in me
Than can be gathered in the fairy petals
Of a dream’s mid-summer night,
Or in the bleak and white jaws of winter’s bite.

You are Divinely sly.

In comfort and duress
You summon me back into battle.

Come,
Let us ride the storm out together.
If we can,
We will go against the tide towards home.
If we cannot,
We will go with it until we die.
And dying,
Learn where our new home lies,
Together.

Elliott Tepper
for A.S. Worley, who dared and dares, still, ‘The Old Dangers’. 2003

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