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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI. 1876–79.

Miscellaneous: Polar Regions

On the Ice Islands Seen Floating in the German Ocean

By William Cowper (1731–1800)

March 19, 1799

WHAT portents, from that distant region, ride,

Unseen till now in ours, the astonished tide?

In ages past, old Proteus, with his droves

Of sea-calves, sought the mountains and the groves.

But now descending whence of late they stood,

Themselves the mountains seem to rove the flood.

Dire times were they, full-charged with human woes;

And these, scarce less calamitous than those.

What view we now? More wondrous still? Behold!

Like burnished brass they shine, or beaten gold;

And all around the pearl’s pure splendor show,

And all around the ruby’s fiery glow.

Come they from India, where the burning earth,

All bounteous, gives her richest treasures birth;

And where the costly gems, that beam around

The brows of mightiest potentates, are found?

No. Never such a countless dazzling store

Had left, unseen, the Ganges’ peopled shore.

Rapacious hands, and ever-watchful eyes,

Should sooner far have marked and seized the prize.

Whence sprang they then? Ejected have they come

From Ves’vius’ or from Ætna’s burning womb!

Thus shine they self-illumed, or but display

The borrowed splendors of a cloudless day?

With borrowed beams they shine. The gales, that breathe

Now landward, and the current’s force beneath,

Have borne them nearer: and the nearer sight,

Advantaged more, contemplates them aright.

Their lofty summits crested high, they show,

With mingled sleet, and long-incumbent snow.

The rest is ice. Far hence, where most severe

Bleak winter wellnigh saddens all the year,

Their infant growth began. He bade arise

Their uncouth forms, portentous in our eyes.

Oft as dissolved by transient suns, the snow

Left the tall cliff, to join the flood below;

He caught, and curdled with a freezing blast

The current ere it reached the boundless waste.

By slow degrees uprose the wondrous pile,

And long successive ages rolled the while;

Till, ceaseless in its growth, it claimed to stand,

Tall as its rival mountains on the land.

Thus stood, and unremovable by skill,

Or force of man, had stood the structure still;

But that, though firmly fixed, supplanted yet

By pressure of its own enormous weight,

It left the shelving beach, and with a sound

That shook the bellowing waves and rocks around

Self-launched, and swiftly, to the briny wave,

As if instinct with strong desire to lave,

Down went the ponderous mass. So bards of old,

How Delos swam the Ægean deep, have told.

But not of ice was Delos. Delos bore

Herb, fruit, and flower. She, crowned with laurel, wore,

Even under wintry skies, a summer smile;

And Delos was Apollo’s favorite isle.

But, horrid wanderers of the deep, to you

He deems Cimmerian darkness only due.

Your hated birth he deigned not to survey,

But, scornful, turned his glorious eyes away.

Hence! seek your home, no longer rashly dare

The darts of Phœbus, and a softer air;

Lest ye regret, too late, your native coast,

In no congenial gulf forever lost!