The Day of the Poll, by Lord Dunsany
In the town by the sea it was the day of the poll, and the poet regarded
it sadly when he woke and saw the light of it coming in at his window
between two small curtains of gauze. And the day of the poll was
beautifully bright; stray bird-songs came to the poet at the window; the
air was crisp and wintry, but it was the blaze of sunlight that had
deceived the birds. He heard the sound of the sea that the moon led up the
shore, dragging the months away over the pebbles and shingles and piling
them up with the years where the worn-out centuries lay; he saw the
majestic downs stand facing mightily south-wards; saw the smoke of the
town float up to their heavenly faces—column after column rose calmly
into the morning as house by house was waked by peering shafts of the
sunlight and lit its fires for the day; column by column went up toward
the serene downs' faces, and failed before they came there and hung all
white over houses; and every one in the town was raving mad.
It was a strange thing that the poet did, for he hired the largest motor
in the town and covered it with all the flags he could find, and set out
to save an intelligence. And he presently found a man whose face was hot,
who shouted that the time was not far distant when a candidate, whom he
named, would be returned at the head of the poll by a thumping majority.
And by him the poet stopped and offered him a seat in the motor that was
covered with flags. When the man saw the flags that were on the motor, and
that it was the largest in the town, he got in. He said that his vote
should be given for that fiscal system that had made us what we are, in
order that the poor man's food should not be taxed to make the rich man
richer. Or else it was that he would give his vote for that system of
tariff reform which should unite us closer to our colonies with ties that
should long endure, and give employment to all. But it was not to the
polling-booth that the motor went, it passed it and left the town and came
by a small white winding road to the very top of the downs. There the poet
dismissed the car and let that wondering voter on to the grass and seated
himself on a rug. And for long the voter talked of those imperial
traditions that our forefathers had made for us and which he should uphold
with his vote, or else it was of a people oppressed by a feudal system
that was out of date and effete, and that should be ended or mended. But
the poet pointed out to him small, distant, wandering ships on the sunlit
strip of sea, and the birds far down below them, and the houses below the
birds, with the little columns of smoke that could not find the downs.
And at first the voter cried for his polling-booth like a child; but after
a while he grew calmer, save when faint bursts of cheering came twittering
up to the downs, when the voter would cry out bitterly against the
misgovernment of the Radical party, or else it was—I forget what the poet
told me—he extolled its splendid record.
"See," said the poet, "these ancient beautiful things, the downs and the
old-time houses and the morning, and the grey sea in the sunlight going
mumbling round the world. And this is the place they have chosen to go man
And standing there with all broad England behind him, rolling northward,
down after down, and before him the glittering sea too far for the sound
of the roar of it, there seemed to the voter to grow less important the
questions that troubled the town. Yet he was still angry.
"Why did you bring me here?" he said again.
"Because I grew lonely," said the poet, "when all the town went mad."
Then he pointed out to the voter some old bent thorns, and showed him the
way that a wind had blown for a million years, coming up at dawn from the
sea; and he told him of the storms that visit the ships, and their names
and whence they come, and the currents they drive afield, and the way that
the swallows go. And he spoke of the down where they sat, when the summer
came, and the flowers that were not yet, and the different butterflies,
and about the bats and the swifts, and the thoughts in the heart of man.
He spoke of the aged windmill that stood on the down, and of how to
children it seemed a strange old man who was only dead by day. And as he
spoke, and as the sea-wind blew on that high and lonely place, there began
to slip away from the voter's mind meaningless phrases that had crowded it
long—thumping majority—victory in the fight—terminological
inexactitudes—and the smell of paraffin lamps dangling in heated
schoolrooms, and quotations taken from ancient speeches because the words
were long. They fell away, though slowly, and slowly the voter saw a wider
world and the wonder of the sea. And the afternoon wore on, and the winter
evening came, and the night fell, and all black grew the sea, and about
the time that the stars come blinking out to look upon our littleness, the
polling-booth closed in the town.
When they got back the turmoil was on the wane in the streets; night hid
the glare of the posters; and the tide, finding the noise abated and being
at the flow, told an old tale that he had learned in his youth about the
deeps of the sea, the same which he had told to coastwise ships that
brought it to Babylon by the way of Euphrates before the doom of Troy.
I blame my friend the poet, however lonely he was, for preventing this man
from registering his vote (the duty of every citizen); but perhaps it
matters less, as it was a foregone conclusion, because the losing
candidate, either through poverty or sheer madness, had neglected to
subscribe to a single football club.