The Bell on Abemama
A bell of bronze on Abemama rings at dawn each day.
Each lovely chime spreads o'er flat sands and slowly fades away.
The sound awakes my sleeping ear and sets my mind awhirl.
How came this bell to ring out here, the far side of the world?
A foundry cast it in the north where granite walls stand thick,
But now it's on a coral isle with huts of thatch and stick.
Should not it echo from a hill, from parish belfry send
Its calls to pallid wintry folk, not brown–skinned tropic men?
Perhaps it was aboard a ship which struck the unmarked reef,
Was salvaged by the locals while the sailors came to grief.
Perhaps it soothed a homesick priest perspiring in the sun
Who didn't want a gas can's clang or boom of wooden drum,
Who wanted something more than noise – true beauty in a sound –
And in this bell of mellow tone his happiness was found.
No matter how or why it came, it serves with simple grace –
A distant culture's golden voice in tropic atoll space.
Just twenty miles above the line, in northern hemisphere
But far from winter frosts it bakes in torrid heat all year.
So close to the Equator that it spins with planet Earth
Along a track which circles round the fullness of its girth.
The mission which it now has found is racing all the while
Upon a daily pilgrimage twenty–five thousand miles.
Few bells have ever moved so fast, and few have gone so far.
If speed and distance records count, it is a ringing star.
It's also near the dateline where begins each measured day.
Just six degrees past one–eight–oh, its hours lead the way.
The rising sun shines early here on Abemama's shore.
When other bells ring in the dawn, this bell has rung before.
I listen and I conjure up the story of this bell
Which chimes for every rising sun and casts o'er me a spell.
Incongruous and wonderful it ushers in the dawns –
This fast and early Abemama bell of foreign bronze.
|Published in “Commodores’ Bulletin” of the Seven Seas Cruising Association, December 2008|