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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Brave Old Ship, the Orient

By Robert Traill Spence Lowell (1816–1891)

[Born in Boston, Mass., 1816. Died in Schenectady, N. Y., 1891. Fresh Hearts that Failed Three Thousand Years Ago. 1860.]

WOE for the brave ship Orient!

Woe for the old ship Orient!

For in broad, broad light, and with land in sight,

Where the waters bubbled white,

One great sharp shriek! One shudder of affright!—

down went the brave old ship, the Orient!

It was the fairest day in the merry month of May,

And sleepiness had settled on the seas;

And we had our white sail set, high up, and higher yet,

And our flag flashed and fluttered at its ease;

The cross of St. George, that in mountain and in gorge,—

On the hot and dusty plain,—

On the tiresome, trackless main,—

Conquering out,—conquering home again,—

Had flamed, the world over, on the breeze.

Ours was the far-famed Albion.

And she had her best look of might and beauty on,

As she swept across the seas that day.

The wind was fair and soft, both alow and aloft,

And we wore the even hours away.

The steadying sun heaved up, as day drew on,

And there grew a long swell of the sea.

And, first in upper air, then under, everywhere,

From the topmost towering sail

Down, down to quarter-rail,

The wind began to breathe more free.

It was soon to breathe its last,

For a wild and bitter blast

Was the master of that stormy day to be.

“Ho! Hilloa! A sail!” was the topman’s hail:

“A sail, hull-down upon our lee!”

Then with sea-glass to his eye,

And his gray locks blowing by,

The Admiral sought what she might be.

And from top, and from deck,

Was it ship? Was it wreck? A far-off, far-off speck,

Of a sudden we found upon our lee.

On the round waters wide, floated no thing beside,

But we and the stranger sail:

And a hazy sky, that threatened storm,

Came coating the heaven so blue and warm,

And ahead hung the portent of a gale;

A black bank hanging there

When the order came, to wear,

Was remembered, ever after, in the tale.

Across the long, slow swell

That scarcely rose and fell,

The wind began to blow out of the cloud;

And scarce an hour was gone ere the gale was fairly on,

And through our strained rigging howled aloud.

Before the stormy wind, that was maddening behind,

We gathered in our canvas farthest spread.

Black clouds had started out

From the heavens all about,

And the welkin grew all black overhead.

But though stronger and more strong

The fierce gale rushed along,

The stranger brought her old wind in her breast.

Up came the ship from the far-off sea,

And on with the strong wind’s breath rushed we.

She grew to the eye, against the clouded sky,

And eagerly her points and gear we guessed.

As we made her out, at last,

She was maimed in spar and mast

And she hugged the easy breeze for rest.

We could see the old wind fail

At the nearing of our gale;

We could see them lay their course with the wind:

Still we neared and neared her fast,

Hurled on by our fierce blast,

With the seas tumbling headlong behind.

She had come out of some storm, and, in many a busy swarm,

Her crew were refitting, as they might,

The wreck of upper spars

That had left their ugly scars,

As if the ship had come out of a fight.

We scanned her well, as we drifted by:

A strange old ship, with her poop built high,

And with quarter-galleries wide,

And a huge beaked prow, as no ships are builded now,

And carvings all strange, beside.

A Byzantine bark, and a ship of name and mark

Long years and generations ago;

Ere any mast or yard of ours was growing hard

With the seasoning of long Norwegian snow.

She was the brave old Orient,

The old imperial Orient,

Brought down from times afar,

Not such as our ships are,

But unchanged in hull and unchanged in spar,

Since mighty ships of war were builded so.

Down her old black side poured the water in a tide,

As they toiled to get the better of a leak:

We had got a signal set in the shrouds,

And our men through the storm looked on in crowds:—

But for wind, we were near enough to speak.

It seemed her sea and sky were in times long, long gone by,

That we read in winter-evens about;

As if to other stars

She had reared her old-world spars,

And her hull had kept an old-time ocean out.

We saw no signal fly, and her men scarce lifted eye,

But toiled at the work that was to do;

It warmed our English blood

When across the stormy flood

We saw the old ship and her crew.

The glories and the memories of other days agone

Seemed clinging to the old ship, as in storm she labored on.

The old ship Orient!

The brave, imperial Orient!

All that stormy night through, our ship was lying-to

Whenever we could keep her to the wind;

But late in the next day we gained a quiet bay,

For the tempest had left us far behind.

So before the sunny town

Went our anchors splashing down:

Our sails we hung all out to the sun;

While airs from off the steep

Came playing at bo-peep

With our canvas, hour by hour, in their fun.

We leaned on boom or rail with many a lazy tale

Of the work of the storm that had died;

And watched, with idle eyes,

Our floats, like summer flies,

Riding lazily about the ship’s side.

Suddenly they cried, from the other deck,

That the Orient was gone to wreck!

That her hull lay high on a broken shore,

And the brave old ship would float no more.

But we heard a sadder tale, ere the night came on,

And a truer tale, of the ship that was gone.

They had seen from the height,

As she came from yester-night,

While the storm had not gone by, and the sea was running high,

A ship driving heavily to land;

A strange great ship (so she seemed to be

While she tumbled and rolled on the far-off sea,

And strange when she toiled, near at hand),

But some ship of mark and fame,

Though crippled, then, and lame,

And that must have been gallantly manned.

So she came, driving fast;

They could tell her men, at last;

There were harbors down the coast on her lee;

When, strangely, she broached to,—

Then, with her gallant crew,

Went headlong down into the sea.

That was the Orient;

The brave old Orient:

Such a ship as never more will be.