Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > America
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX.  1876–79.
New England: Isles of Shoals, N. H.
The Wreck of the Pocahontas
Celia Thaxter (1835–1894)
I LIT the lamps in the lighthouse tower,
  For the sun dropped down and the day was dead;
They shone like a glorious clustered flower,—
  Ten golden and five red.
Looking across, where the line of coast        5
  Stretched darkly, shrinking away from the sea,
The lights sprang out at its edge,—almost
  They seemed to answer me!
O warning lights! burn bright and clear,
  Hither the storm comes! Leagues away        10
It moans and thunders low and drear,—
  Burn till the break of day!
Good-night! I called to the gulls that sailed
  Slow past me through the evening sky;
And my comrades, answering shrilly, hailed        15
  Me back with boding cry.
A mournful breeze began to blow,
  Weird music it drew through the iron bars,
The sullen billows boiled below,
  And dimly peered the stars;        20
The sails that flecked the ocean floor
  From east to west leaned low and fled;
They knew what came in the distant roar
  That filled the air with dread!
Flung by a fitful gust, there beat        25
  Against the window a dash of rain;—
Steady as tramp of marching feet
  Strode on the hurricane.
It smote the waves for a moment still,
  Level and deadly white for fear;        30
The bare rock shuddered,—an awful thrill
  Shook even my tower of cheer.
Like all the demons loosed at last,
  Whistling and shrieking, wild and wide,
The mad wind raged, while strong and fast        35
  Rolled in the rising tide.
And soon in ponderous showers the spray,
  Struck from the granite, reared and sprung
And clutched at tower and cottage gray,
  Where overwhelmed they clung        40
Half drowning to the naked rock;
  But still burned on the faithful light,
Nor faltered at the tempest’s shock,
  Through all the fearful night.
Was it in vain? That knew not we.        45
  We seemed, in that confusion vast
Of rushing wind and roaring sea,
  One point whereon was cast
The whole Atlantic’s weight of brine.
  Heaven help the ship should drift our way!        50
No matter how the light might shine
  Far on into the day.
When morning dawned, above the din
  Of gale and breaker boomed a gun!
Another! We who sat within        55
  Answered with cries each one.
Into each other’s eyes with fear,
  We looked through helpless tears, as still,
One after one, near and more near,
  The signals pealed, until        60
The thick storm seemed to break apart
  To show us, staggering to her grave,
The fated brig. We had no heart
  To look, for naught could save.
One glimpse of black hull heaving slow,        65
  Then closed the mists o’er canvas torn
And tangled ropes swept to and fro
  From masts that raked forlorn.
Weeks after, yet ringed round with spray,
  Our island lay, and none might land;        70
Though blue the waters of the bay
  Stretched calm on either hand.
And when at last from the distant shore
  A little boat stole out, to reach
Our loneliness, and bring once more        75
  Fresh human thought and speech,
We told our tale, and the boatmen cried:
  “’T was the Pocahontas,—all were lost!
For miles along the coast the tide
  Her shattered timbers tossed.”        80
Then I looked the whole horizon round,—
  So beautiful the ocean spread
About us, o’er those sailors drowned!
  “Father in heaven,” I said,—
A child’s grief struggling in my breast,—        85
  “Do purposeless thy children meet
Such bitter death? How was it best
  These hearts should cease to beat?
“O wherefore! Are we naught to thee?
  Like senseless weeds that rise and fall        90
Upon thine awful sea, are we
  No more then, after all?”
And I shut the beauty from my sight,
  For I thought of the dead that lay below;
From the bright air faded the warmth and light,        95
  There came a chill like snow.
Then I heard the far-off rote resound,
  Where the breakers slow and slumberous rolled,
And a subtile sense of Thought profound
  Touched me with power untold.        100
And like a voice eternal spake
  That wondrous rhythm, and, “Peace, be still!”
It murmured, “bow thy head and take
  Life’s rapture and life’s ill,
“And wait. At last all shall be clear.”        105
  The long, low, mellow music rose
And fell, and soothed my dreaming ear
  With infinite repose.
Sighing I climbed the lighthouse stair,
  Half forgetting my grief and pain;        110
And while the day died, sweet and fair,
  I lit the lamps again.

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