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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX.  1876–79.
 
British America: Baffin’s Bay
The Fate of Sir John Franklin
Bessie Raynor Parkes (1829–1925)
 
IN summer, eighteen fifty-eight,
  A ship sailed out from Aberdeen;
A gilded pet for summer state
  The little Fox had been.
 
But ringing hammers night and day        5
  Her coat of iron mail did fix,
Before they sent the Fox away
  With sailors twenty-six.
 
I call them sailors every one,
  Since all were true in time of need;        10
A very little band to run
  Great risk for doubtful meed.
 
True English hearts sent food and drink,
  And everything the crew could store,
And every blessing heart could think        15
  Pursued them from the shore.
 
And so, across the great salt deep,
  From Aberdeen they steamed away;
And, doubling Greenland’s ice-clogged steep,
  Pushed up to Baffin’s Bay.        20
 
But there the cruel ice grew thick,
  And hemmed them in, and hemmed them round;
The little Fox she could not pick
  Her way into the Sound,
 
Which opens westwards towards the Bay,        25
  And leads to endless mysteries,
And kept for many a weary day
  The secret of the seas.
 
So, being finally beset,
  Her prow was wedged as in a vice;        30
And month by month was never wet
  Amidst those leagues of ice.
 
For eight long months seemed motionless,
  While game and tale the gloom beguiles;
Yet she, in darkness and distress,        35
  Drifted a thousand miles!
 
All down the length of Baffin’s Bay,
  A southern drift the Fox did keep,
Till darkness melted quite away,
  And she into the deep.        40
 
A solemn and an awful track
  That silent passage seems to me,
From midnight and the Frozen Pack,
  To sunshine and the sea!
 
And then the gallant little ship        45
  Put joyfully into the shore,
And soon her slender paddles dip
  In Northern seas once more.
 
This time the summer days were long,
  The little Fox is very wise,        50
And soon she paddles, safe and strong,
  Beneath the western skies.
 
Now Heaven direct her in her track,
  And send some sure and guiding breeze,
Or she will never bring us back        55
  The secret of the seas.
 
She struggles up the Northern route,
  The Northern ice is hard and broad;
The little Fox must put about
  And seek some other road.        60
 
But, though she struggles day and night,
  She cannot reach the wished-for land;
The captain and his men alight
  Upon a frozen strand.
 
An awful thing it was to be        65
  Alone upon the icy plain,
Which broadens imperceptibly
  Into an icy main!
 
And then they sledged both east and north,
  And then they sledged both south and west,        70
Till the dread doubt which drove them forth
  At last was set at rest.
 
What did they find? A paper, scored
  With English writing, English names,
(How long by English hearts deplored!)        75
  Signed Crosier and Fitzjames!
 
Scant record of their hungry grief
  That blotted page supplied;
But one faint gleam of sad relief—
  The day when Franklin died.        80
 
At least he died within his cot,
  While kindly eyes were watching there;
We know no tribute was forgot,
  They buried him with prayer.
 
And thus the secret of the seas        85
  Was yielded to their quest,
The mystery of mysteries
  Was solved and set at rest.
 
 
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