The Net-Menders

Year: 1939

by Brian Vrepont   

I came upon them by a strip of sea,
In a drizzle of rain mending their fishing-net,
Four swift brown hands, and lean with industry,
Shuttling the thin twine skilfully in-out, repairing the fret
Of rock-jag, shark-tooth and thresh;
He, tense as a mackerel, strong and agile,
Sea-eyed and grim as a rock, turned, and his smile
Was as the wonder of sunshine on sea-rock,
His fingers harping the net-mesh;
She on the sea-side, facing the land, took stock
Of me leisurely nearing, through half-shut eyes.
‘Defence,’ I thought; but her mouth relaxed, went sweet
And soft as a sea-flower, her hands' enterprise
On the sea-side of the breaks in the net
Rippling the strings of the two-sided harp o' the sea,
And I thought, ‘Here is where sea-melodies meet,
Mending the breakage of earth-and-sea-fret,’

And the strange great grace of simplicity came on me.

If they had angers in them, these two by the sea,
Not in the two days dwelt with them,
Watching the shuttle flying, the flat corks tied,
And the strong boat pitch-caulked for battle with the sea,
Was flaw apparent in the gem;
Their poverty, too real for pride to hide,
Gave them no envy, not even in the lamp-light
And shadows of our talk,
Not when the net was trailed and netted nought
Save weed, nor when I spoke, that unforgettable night
We fought the tide, and drifted home star-caught,

And I spoke of the hawk
Now in the dark vanished, that all day long
Circled and soared and plunged on innocence; ‘Cruel life!’ I cried;
But my cry crossed over the woman's song,
Over the zither of the boat cutting the brine, and died,
And the man said, ‘It is life,’
And the boat gritted the waiting sane
With sound of a cleansing knife,
And we slept, at life's command.

                                             Brian Vrepont (1939)