Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Extract from The Shipwreck, Canto III
By William Falconer (1732–1769)
 
  IN vain the cords and axes were prepared,
For every wave now smites the quivering yard;
High o’er the ship they throw a dreadful shade,
Then on her burst in terrible cascade;
Across the foundered deck o’erwhelming roar,        5
And foaming, swelling, bound upon the shore.
Swift up the mountain billow now she flies,
Her shattered top half buried in the skies;
Borne o’er a latent reef the hull impends,
Then thundering on the marble crag descends:        10
Her ponderous bulk the dire concussion feels,
And o’er upheaving surges wounded reels—
Again she plunges! hark! a second shock
Bilges the splitting vessel on the rock—
Down on the vale of death, with dismal cries,        15
The fated victims shuddering cast their eyes
In wild despair; while yet another stroke
With strong convulsion rends the solid oak:
Ah Heaven!—behold her crashing ribs divide
She loosens, parts, and spreads in ruin o’er the tide.        20
  Oh, were it mine with sacred Maro’s art
To wake to sympathy the feeling heart,
Like him, the smooth and mournful verse to dress
In all the pomp of exquisite distress;
Then, too severely taught by cruel fate,        25
To share in all the perils I relate,
Then might I with unrivalled strains deplore
The impervious horrors of a leeward shore.
  As o’er the surf the bending main-mast hung,
Still on the rigging thirty seamen clung:        30
Some on a broken crag were struggling cast,
And there by oozy tangles grappled fast;
Awhile they bore the o’erwhelming billows’ rage,
Unequal combat with their fate to wage;
Till all benumbed, and feeble, they forego        35
Their slippery hold, and sink to shades below:
Some, from the main yard-arm impetuous thrown
On marble ridges, die without a groan:
Three with Palemon on their skill depend,
And from the wreck on oars and rafts descend;        40
Now on the mountain-wave on high they ride,
Then downward plunge beneath the involving tide;
Till one, who seems in agony to strive,
The whirling breakers heave on shore alive:
The rest a speedier end of anguish knew,        45
And pressed the stony beach—a lifeless crew!
  Next, O unhappy chief! the eternal doom
Of Heaven decreed thee to the briny tomb:
What scenes of misery torment thy view!
What painful struggles of thy dying crew!        50
Thy perished hopes all buried in the flood
O’erspread with corses! red with human blood!
So pierced with anguish hoary Priam gazed,
When Troy’s imperial domes in ruin blazed;
While he, severest sorrow doomed to feel,        55
Expired beneath the victor’s murdering steel—
Thus with his helpless partners to the last,
Sad refuge! Albert grasps the floating mast.
His soul could yet sustain this mortal blow,
But droops, alas! beneath superior woe;        60
For now strong nature’s sympathetic chain
Tugs at his yearning heart with powerful strain;
His faithful wife, for ever doomed to mourn
For him, alas! who never shall return;
To black adversity’s approach exposed,        65
With want, and hardships unforeseen, enclosed;
His lovely daughter, left without a friend
Her innocence to succour and defend,
By youth and indigence set forth a prey
To lawless guilt, that flatters to betray—        70
While these reflections rack his feeling mind,
Rodmond, who hung beside, his grasp resigned;
And, as the tumbling waters o’er him rolled,
His outstretched arms the master’s legs enfold:
Sad Albert feels their dissolution near,        75
And strives in vain his fettered limbs to clear,
For death bids every clenching joint adhere:
All faint, to Heaven he throws his dying eyes,
And, ‘Oh protect my wife and child!’ he cries—
The gushing streams roll back the unfinished sound,        80
He gasps! and sinks amid the vast profound.
  Five only left of all the shipwrecked throng
Yet ride the mast which shoreward drives along;
With these Arion still his hold secures,
And all assaults of hostile waves endures:        85
O’er the dire prospect as for life he strives,
He looks if poor Palemon yet survives—
‘Ah wherefore, trusting to unequal art,
Didst thou, incautious! from the wreck depart?
Alas! these rocks all human skill defy;        90
Who strikes them once, beyond relief must die:
And now sore wounded, thou perhaps art tost
On these, or in some oozy cavern lost:’
Thus thought Arion, anxious gazing round
In vain, his eyes no more Palemon found—        95
The demons of destruction hover nigh,
And thick their mortal shafts commissioned fly:
When now a breaking surge, with forceful sway,
Two, next Arion, furious tears away;
Hurled on the crags, behold they gasp, they bleed!        100
And groaning, cling upon the elusive weed;
Another billow bursts in boundless roar!
Arion sinks! and memory views no more.
  Ha! total night and horror here preside,
My stunned ear tingles to the whizzing tide;        105
It is their funeral knell! and gliding near
Methinks the phantoms of the dead appear!
  But lo! emerging from the watery grave
Again they float incumbent on the wave,
Again the dismal prospect opens round,—        110
The wreck, the shore, the dying and the drowned!
And see! enfeebled by repeated shocks,
Those two, who scramble on the adjacent rocks,
Their faithless hold no longer can retain,
They sink o’erwhelmed! and never rise again.        115
  Two with Arion yet the mast upbore,
That now above the ridges reached the shore;
Still trembling to descend, they downward gaze
With horror pale, and torpid with amaze:
The floods recoil! the ground appears below!        120
And life’s faint embers now rekindling glow:
Awhile they wait the exhausted waves’ retreat,
Then climb slow up the beach with hands and feet—
O Heaven! delivered by whose sovereign hand
Still on destruction’s brink they shuddering stand,        125
Receive the languid incense they bestow,
That, damp with death, appears not yet to glow;
To Thee each soul the warm oblation pays
With trembling ardour of unequal praise;
In every heart dismay with wonder strives,        130
And hope the sickened spark of life revives,
Her magic powers their exiled health restore,
Till horror and despair are felt no more.
 
 
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