Marie Carmichael Stopes
Night On the Shore
Northumberland, August 6th , 1914
A dusky owl in velvet moth-like flight,
With feathers spread on non-resistant air,
Wheels on its silent wings, brushing my cheek.
The circles of its course are interlaced
By chuckling seagull-flocks, whose wide white wing
Sweep down to settle on the bare-ribbed sand
Left rich with treasure by the distant tide.
The owl gyrates, a part of the soft air,
Then upright, solemn, on my lowly tent
Perches beside me with his eyes intent
As though upon Minerva’s shoulder. He
And I together watch the waves of cloud
Which slowly break and ripple o’er the moon,
Silvering celestial foam from their frayed edge.
The dim ethereal curve of the wide sand
Is flecked with hard black shadows,, heightening
The fairy mountains left there in their play
By little weary waves which slid away
To slumber, cradled by the green-haired rocks.
Through the still water star-reflections deck
The red anemones with diadems.
This cosmic peace the owl and I have shared
For a whole moon of deep experience.
Tonight the moonbeams break on bayonets
Sharpened and gleaming in hot eager hands.
Tonight the swift low rush of battleships
Throbs up and down the bay, waking the waves.
Tonight my sleep in challenged in my tent
By martial voices backed by gleaming steel.
Tonight young men from cities meet the stars
When scanning the horizon for their foes.
Tonight there thrills all round our peaceful shores.
The pulsing chain of men who wait on war.
And War, insensate, drills its brutal way
Through quivering hearts and sets men’s pulses mad
With burning rage to rend the strong and fair,
If only they were born on other shores.
And yet – tonight – our young men from the town
Sleep under the high arches of the stars
And keep their watch in crystal, moonlit air,
Perforce within God’s presence ,too.
Marie Carmichael Stopes was British author, academic, campaigner for women's rights and pioneer in the field of birth control.