[from Collected Works, T.E.Brown]
I WONDER if in that far isle,
Some child is growing now, like me
When I was child : care-pricked, yet healed the while
With balm of rock and sea.
I wonder if the purple ring
That rises on a belt of blue
Provokes the little bashful thing
To guess what may ensue,
When he has pierced the screen, and holds the further clue.
I wonder if beyond the verge
He dim conjectures Englands coast:
The land of Edwards and of Henries, scourge
Of insolent foemen, at the most
Faint caught where Cumbria looms a geographic ghost.
I wonder if to him the sycamore
Is full of green and tender light;
If the gnarled ash stands stunted at the door,
By salt sea-blast defrauded of its right;
If budding larches feed the hunger of his sight.
I wonder if to him the dewy globes
Like mercury nestle in the caper leaf;
If, when the white narcissus dons its robes,
It soothes his childish grief;
If silver plates the birch, gold rustles in the sheaf.
I wonder if to him the heath-clad mountain
With crimson pigment fills the sensuous cells;
If like full bubbles from an emerald fountain
Gorse-bloom luxuriant wells
If God with trenchant forms the insolent lushness quells.
I wonder if the hills are long and lonely
That North from South divide;
I wonder if he thinks that it is only
The hither slope where men abide,
Unto all mortal homes refused the other side.
I wonder if some day he, chance-conducted,
Attains the vantage of the utmost height,
And, by his own discovery instructed,
Sees grassy plain and cottage white,
Each human sign and pledge that feeds him with delight.
At eventide, when lads with lasses dally,
And milking Pei sits singing at the pail,
I wonder if he hears along the valley
The winds sad sough, half credulous of the tale
How from Slieu-whallian moans the murdered witches wail.
I wonder if to him " the Boat," descending
From the proud East, his spirit fills
With a strange joy, adventurous ardour lending
To the mute soul that thrills
As booms the herald gun, and westward wakes the hills.
I wonder if he loves that Captain bold
Who has the horny hand,
Who swears the mighty oath, who well can hold,
Half-drunk, serene command,
And guide his straining bark to refuge of the land.
I wonder if he thinks the world has aught
Of strong, or nobly wise,
Like him by whom the invisible land is caught
With instinct true, nor storms, nor midnight skies
Avert the settled aim, or daunt the keen emprise.
I wonder if he deems the English men
A higher type beyond his reach,
Imperial blood, by Heaven ordained with pen
And sword the populous world to teach;
If awed he hears the tones as of an alien speech
Or, older grown, suspects a braggart race,
Ignores phlegmatic claim
Of privileged assumption, holding base
Their technic skill and aim,
And all the prosperous fraud that binds their social frame.
Young rebel ! how he pants, who knows not what
He hates, yet hates : all one to him
If Guelph, or Buonaparte, or sans-culotte,
If Strafford or if Pym
Usurp the clumsy helmif England sink or swim!
Ah ! crude, undisciplined, when thou shalt know
What good is in this England, still of joys
The chiefest count it thou wast nurtured so
That thou mayst keep the larger equipoise,
And stand outside these nations and their noise.
Manuscript in Black Quarto Notebook [MM], not dated, between Ecclesiastes and Clifton (1869). First published 17 Nov 1877 in Isle of Man Times under title "I Wonder".
His father, Robert Brown, took over as Curate at Kirk Braddan in November 1832 (appointed Vicar in 1836), when T.E.B. was 2; the family remained here until Robert Brown's sudden death in 1846 when he and his mother moved to Castletown - his older brother Hugh describes the excitement of the move and the great pleasure felt in the vicarage as opposed to the cramped Schoolmaster's house in Douglas.
This old, and by then in poor condition, vicarage was shortly after Robert Brown's death replaced by a new vicarage on a new site more convenient to the Church.
'The boat' refers to the recently introduced IoM Steam Packet Co vessels, plying between Douglas and Liverpool, whose entry into Douglas harbour was announced by the firing of a small cannon from Fort Anne Hotel. Even today the Manx refer to this link with England as 'the boat'.