Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part Second. The Musician’s Tale: The Ballad of Carmilhan

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Second. The Musician’s Tale: The Ballad of Carmilhan

AT Stralsund, by the Baltic Sea,

Within the sandy bar,

At sunset of a summer’s day,

Ready for sea, at anchor lay

The good ship Valdemar.

The sunbeams danced upon the waves,

And played along her side;

And through the cabin windows streamed

In ripples of golden light, that seemed

The ripple of the tide.

There sat the captain with his friends,

Old skippers brown and hale,

Who smoked and grumbled o’er their grog,

And talked of iceberg and of fog,

Of calm and storm and gale.

And one was spinning a sailor’s yarn

About Klaboterman,

The Kobold of the sea; a spright

Invisible to mortal sight,

Who o’er the rigging ran.

Sometimes he hammered in the hold,

Sometimes upon the mast,

Sometimes abeam, sometimes abaft,

Or at the bows he sang and laughed,

And made all tight and fast.

He helped the sailors at their work,

And toiled with jovial din;

He helped them hoist and reef the sails,

He helped them stow the casks and bales,

And heave the anchor in.

But woe unto the lazy louts,

The idlers of the crew;

Them to torment was his delight,

And worry them by day and night,

And pinch them black and blue.

And woe to him whose mortal eyes

Klaboterman behold.

It is a certain sign of death!—

The cabin-boy here held his breath,

He felt his blood run cold.

The jolly skipper paused awhile,

And then again began;

“There is a Spectre Ship,” quoth he,

“A ship of the Dead that sails the sea,

And is called the Carmilhan.

“A ghostly ship, with a ghostly crew,

In tempests she appears;

And before the gale, or against the gale,

She sails without a rag of sail,

Without a helmsman steers.

“She haunts the Atlantic north and south,

But mostly the mid-sea,

Where three great rocks rise bleak and bare

Like furnace chimneys in the air,

And are called the Chimneys Three.

“And ill betide the luckless ship

That meets the Carmilhan;

Over her decks the seas will leap,

She must go down into the deep,

And perish mouse and man.”

The captain of the Valdemar

Laughed loud with merry heart.

“I should like to see this ship,” said he;

“I should like to find these Chimneys Three

That are marked down in the chart.

“I have sailed right over the spot,” he said,

“With a good stiff breeze behind,

When the sea was blue, and the sky was clear,—

You can follow my course by these pinholes here,—

And never a rock could find.”

And then he swore a dreadful oath,

He swore by the Kingdoms Three,

That, should he meet the Carmilhan,

He would run her down, although he ran

Right into Eternity!

All this, while passing to and fro,

The cabin-boy had heard;

He lingered at the door to hear,

And drank in all with greedy ear,

And pondered every word.

He was a simple country lad,

But of a roving mind.

“Oh, it must be like heaven,” thought he,

“Those far-off foreign lands to see,

And fortune seek and find!”

But in the fo’castle, when he heard

The mariners blaspheme,

He thought of home, he thought of God,

And his mother under the churchyard sod,

And wished it were a dream.

One friend on board that ship had he;

’T was the Klaboterman,

Who saw the Bible in his chest,

And made a sign upon his breast,

All evil things to ban.

The cabin windows have grown blank

As eyeballs of the dead;

No more the glancing sunbeams burn

On the gilt letters of the stern,

But on the figure-head;

On Valdemar Victorious,

Who looketh with disdain

To see his image in the tide

Dismembered float from side to side,

And reunite again.

“It is the wind,” those skippers said,

“That swings the vessel so;

It is the wind; it freshens fast,

’T is time to say farewell at last,

’T is time for us to go.”

They shook the captain by the hand,

“Good luck! good luck!” they cried;

Each face was like the setting sun,

As, broad and red, they one by one

Went o’er the vessel’s side.

The sun went down, the full moon rose,

Serene o’er field and flood;

And all the winding creeks and bays

And broad sea-meadows seemed ablaze,

The sky was red as blood.

The southwest wind blew fresh and fair,

As fair as wind could be;

Bound for Odessa, o’er the bar,

With all sail set, the Valdemar

Went proudly out to sea.

The lovely moon climbs up the sky

As one who walks in dreams;

A tower of marble in her light,

A wall of black, a wall of white,

The stately vessel seems.

Low down upon the sandy coast

The lights begin to burn;

And now, uplifted high in air,

They kindle with a fiercer glare,

And now drop far astern.

The dawn appears, the land is gone,

The sea is all around;

Then on each hand low hills of sand

Emerge and form another land;

She steereth through the Sound.

Through Kattegat and Skager-rack

She flitteth like a ghost;

By day and night, by night and day,

She bounds, she flies upon her way

Along the English coast.

Cape Finisterre is drawing near,

Cape Finisterre is past;

Into the open ocean stream

She floats, the vision of a dream

Too beautiful to last.

Suns rise and set, and rise, and yet

There is no land in sight;

The liquid planets overhead

Burn brighter now the moon is dead,

And longer stays the night.

And now along the horizon’s edge

Mountains of cloud uprose,

Black as with forests underneath,

Above, their sharp and jagged teeth

Were white as drifted snows.

Unseen behind them sank the sun,

But flushed each snowy peak

A little while with rosy light,

That faded slowly from the sight

As blushes from the cheek.

Black grew the sky,—all black, all black;

The clouds were everywhere;

There was a feeling of suspense

In nature, a mysterious sense

Of terror in the air.

And all on board the Valdemar

Was still as still could be;

Save when the dismal ship-bell tolled,

As ever and anon she rolled,

And lurched into the sea.

The captain up and down the deck

Went striding to and fro;

Now watched the compass at the wheel,

Now lifted up his hand to feel

Which way the wind might blow.

And now he looked up at the sails,

And now upon the deep;

In every fibre of his frame

He felt the storm before it came,

He had no thought of sleep.

Eight bells! and suddenly abaft,

With a great rush of rain,

Making the ocean white with spume,

In darkness like the day of doom,

On came the hurricane.

The lightning flashed from cloud to cloud,

And rent the sky in two;

A jagged flame, a single jet

Of white fire, like a bayonet,

That pierced the eyeballs through.

Then all around was dark again,

And blacker than before;

But in that single flash of light

He had beheld a fearful sight,

And thought of the oath he swore.

For right ahead lay the Ship of the Dead,

The ghostly Carmilhan!

Her masts were stripped, her yards were bare,

And on her bowsprit, poised in air,

Sat the Klaboterman.

Her crew of ghosts was all on deck

Or clambering up the shrouds;

The boatswain’s whistle, the captain’s hail

Were like the piping of the gale,

And thunder in the clouds.

And close behind the Carmilhan

There rose up from the sea,

As from a foundered ship of stone,

Three bare and splintered masts alone:

They were the Chimneys Three.

And onward dashed the Valdemar

And leaped into the dark;

A denser mist, a colder blast,

A little shudder, and she had passed

Right through the Phantom Bark.

She cleft in twain the shadowy hulk,

But cleft it unaware;

As when, careering to her nest,

The sea-gull severs with her breast

The unresisting air.

Again the lightning flashed; again

They saw the Carmilhan,

Whole as before in hull and spar;

But now on board of the Valdemar

Stood the Klaboterman.

And they all knew their doom was sealed;

They knew that death was near;

Some prayed who never prayed before,

And some they wept, and some they swore,

And some were mute with fear.

Then suddenly there came a shock,

And louder than wind or sea

A cry burst from the crew on deck,

As she dashed and crashed, a hopeless wreck,

Upon the Chimneys Three.

The storm and night were passed, the light

To streak the east began;

The cabin-boy, picked up at sea,

Survived the wreck, and only he,

To tell of the Carmilhan.