Sea Foam: A poem to mark the 450th anniversary of Jean Ribaut's landing

info@islandpacket.comMay 21, 2012 

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As Beaufort celebrates the 450th anniversary of the landing of Jean Ribaut in what is now Beaufort County to establish a French colony, we reprint a poem written for the 400th anniversary in 1962.

It is by the late Edith Bannister Dowling, a native of England who married G.G. Dowling Jr. of Beaufort. She received bachelor's and advanced degrees in literature from Oxford University and was an adjunct professor of English and American literature at the University of South Carolina Beaufort for 12 years.

Edith Dowling was an artist and world traveler who published several books of poetry. She was a member of the Clover Club of Beaufort, the Poetry Society of South Carolina and The Parish Church of St. Helena, where she was buried in 2004.

This poem was published in a special "souvenir edition" of The Beaufort Gazette on March 22, 1962, for the Ribaut Quadricentennial Celebration.

1962 -- Land's Beginning -- 1562

By Edith Bannister Dowling

Land's End -- land's beginning, prime Point of our own Sea Islands.

Before the English reached that Rock up North

Here sailed, strode, slept, hunted, and found fair country,

Jean Ribaut and LaChere, with their French nobles,

Our first white settlers, seeing their first Indians --

Audusta and Touppa, Mayou and Stalame;

Saw here the wolf and wildcat, bear and panther,

Picked luscious fruits, and learned tidewater living,

Fishing sweet streams and seas, breasting deep water

Over to our Land's End ...

Here at the Fort, cresting palm plumes and sea oats,

And the quick blush of runaway flowers in May,

Above the curving beach with shark and stingaree,

Here I envision Land's End as land's beginning.

Today, this Fort; then, back four hundred years,

A forest on an entrance to a harbor.

Mud, marsh, salt, sand and burning noons, the same.

Now island beacons sweep strong through the night;

Then, with no moon, blackness and solitude.

Then the kind Indian spied the strange boat nearing

His own Chicora, gave corn and peas and deer meat

To white men who built Charlesfort. Some departed

To their far country, over the big sea-water.

Others, left here for many moons and seasons,

Yearned for their fabled home. A ship was built,

Red men using rosin and gray moss

For caulking it, the first ship built and launched

In this canoe land. Past point and final point they sailed away.

Food, food of the land, gave out. Oh food of life,

Water, fresh water of extreme desire!

Wild brains, bloated stark bodies, craved food, and life.

LaChere it was, the meat. The more than human need

Turned nobles cannibal on the vast hostile sea ...

Ribaut came back to the deep-fathomed waters.

His doom, cruel burning, at Fort Caroline

Laudonniere-built; the Gascan then avenged him,

And more men found, fought, founded. Peace now made,

The Indian memoried, the stockade shown,

I, a latecomer, hear the waves break still,

High tide, by the sea oats, on this quiet shore,

And hold an arrowhead picked off the sand.

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