Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Oceanica
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI.  1876–79.
 
Miscellaneous: The Ocean
The Shipwreck
Alfred Domett (1811–1887)
 
(From Ranolf and Amohia)

  IN deep blue sky the sun is bright;
  The port some few miles off in sight;
  The pleasant sea’s subsiding swell
  Of gales for days gone by may tell,
  But on the bar no breaker white,        5
  Only as yet a heavier roll
  Denotes where lurks that dangerous shoal.
  Alert with lead and chart and glass,
  The pilot seeks the well-known pass;
  All his familiar marks in view        10
  Together brought, distinct and true.
  Erelong the tide’s decreasing stream
  Chafes at the nearer bank beneath;
  The sea’s dark face begins to gleam
  (Like tiger roused that shows his teeth)        15
  With many a white foam-streak and seam:
  Still should the passage, though more rough,
  Have depth of water, width enough.
  But why, though fair the wind and filled
  The sails, though masts and cordage strain,        20
  Why hangs, as by enchantment stilled,
  The ship unmoving? All in vain
  The helm is forced hard down; ’t is plain
  The shoal has shifted, and the ship
  Has touched, but o’er its tail, may slip:        25
  She strains,—she moves,—a moment’s bound,
  She makes ahead,—then strikes again
  With greater force the harder ground.
  She broaches to, her broadside black
  Full in the breakers’ headlong track;        30
  They leap like tigers on their prey;
  She rolls as on they come amain,
  Rolls heavily as in writhing pain.
  The precious time flies fast away,—
  The launch is swiftly manned and sent        35
  Over the lee, with wild intent
  To anchor grapplings where the tide
  Runs smoother, and the ship might ride
  Secure beyond the raging bar,
  Could they but haul her off so far.        40
  The boat against her bows is smashed;
  Beneath the savage surges dashed,
  Sucked under by the refluent wave,
  They vanish, all those seamen brave.
  On, on,—the breakers press,—no check,        45
  No pause,—fly hissing o’er the wreck,
  And scour along the dangerous deck.
  The bulwarks on the seaward side,
  Boats, rudder, stern-post iron-tied
  With deep-driven bolts,—how vain a stay!        50
  The weight of waters tears away.
  Alas! and nothing can be done,—
  No downward-hoisted flag, no gun
  Be got at to give greater stress
  To that unheard demand for aid        55
  By the lost ship’s whole aspect made,—
  Herself, in piteous helplessness,
  One huge sad signal of distress.
  Still on and on, the tide’s return
  Redoubling now their rage and bulk,        60
  In one fierce sweep from stem to stern
  The thundering sheets of breakers roar,
  High as the tops in spray-clouds soar,
  And down in crashing cataracts pour
  Over the rolling tortured hulk.        65
  Death glares in every horrid shape,—
  No help, no mercy, no escape!
  For falling spars dash out the brains
  Of some, and flying guns adrift,
  Or splinters crush them,—slaughter swift        70
  Whereof no slightest trace remains,
  The furious foam no bloodshed stains:
  Up to the yards and tops they go,—
  No hope, no chance of life below!
  Then as each ponderous groaning mast        75
  Rocks loosened from its hold at last,
  The shrouds and stays, now hanging slack,
  Now jerking, bounding tensely back,
  Fling off the helpless victims fast,
  Like refuse on the yeast of death        80
  That bellows, raves, and boils beneath.
  One hapless wretch around his waist
  A knotted rope has loosely braced;
  When from the stay to which he clings
  The jerking mast the doomed one flings,        85
  It slips, and by the neck he swings:
  Death grins and glares in hideous shape,—
  No hope, no pity, no escape!
  Still on and on, all day the same,
  Through all that brilliant summer day        90
  Beneath a sky so blithe and blue
  The wild white whirl of waters flew,
  In stunning volleys overswept
  And beat the black ship’s yielding frame,
  And all around roared, tossed, and leapt        95
  Mad-wreathing swathes of snow! affray
  More dire than most disastrous rout
  Of some conceivable array
  Of thronged white elephants,—as they
  Their phalanx broke in warfare waged        100
  In Siam or the Punjaub,—raged
  And writhed their great white trunks about,
  With screams that shrill as trumpets rung,
  And drove destruction everywhere
  In maddened terror at the shout        105
  Of turbaned hosts and torches’ flare
  Full in their monstrous faces flung;—
  Wide horror! but to this, no less,
  This furious lashing wilderness,
  Innocuous-seeming, transient, tame!        110
  Still on, still on, like fiends of Hell
  Whiter than angels, frantic, fell,
  Through all that summer day the same
  The merciless murderous breakers came,
  And to the mizzen-top that swayed        115
  With every breach those breakers made,
  Unaided, impotent to aid,
  The mates and master clung all day.
  There, while the sun onlooking gay
  Triumphant trod his bright highway,—        120
  There, till his cloudless rich decline,
  Faint in the blinding deafening drench
  Of salt waves roaring down the whine
  And creaking groans each grinding wrench
  Took from the tortured timbers,—there        125
  All day, all day, in their despair,
  The gently brave, the roughly good,
  Collected, calm and silent stood.
  That hideous doom they firmly face;
  To no unmanly moans give way,        130
  No frantic gestures; none disgrace
  With wild bravado, vain display,
  Their end, but like true men await
  The dread extremity of fate.
  Alas! and yet no tongue can tell        135
  What thoughts of life and loved ones swell
  With anguish irrepressible,
  The hearts these horrors fail to quell.
  The master urges them to prayer,
  “No hope on earth, be heaven your care!”        140
  And is it mockery—Oh, but mark
  Those masts and crowding figures, dark
  Against the flush of love and rest
  Suffusing all the gorgeous west
  In tearful golden glory drest,—        145
  Such soft majestic tenderness,
  As of a power that longs to bless
  With ardors of divinest breath
  All but one raging spot of death;
  For all the wide expanse beside        150
  Is blushing, beauteous as a bride,
  And a fierce wedding-day indeed
It seems, of Life and Death, with none to heed.
 
  And now the foam spurts up between
  The starting deck-planks; downward bowed        155
  The mighty masts terrific lean;
  Then each with its despairing crowd
  Of life, with one tremendous roar
  Falls like a tower,—and all is o’er.
 
 
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