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

Miscellaneous: Polar Regions

Passing the Icebergs

By Thomas Buchanan Read (1822–1872)

A FEARLESS shape of brave device,

Our vessel drives through mist and rain,

Between the floating fleets of ice,—

The navies of the northern main.

These arctic ventures, blindly hurled,

The proofs of Nature’s olden force,—

Like fragments of a crystal world

Long shattered from its skyey course.

These are the buccaneers that fright

The middle sea with dream of wrecks,

And freeze the south-winds in their flight,

And chain the Gulf Stream to their decks.

At every dragon prow and helm

There stands some Viking as of yore;

Grim heroes from the Boreal realm

Where Odin rules the spectral shore.

And oft beneath the sun or moon

Their swift and eager falchions glow,—

While, like a storm-vexed wind, the rune

Comes chafing through some beard of snow.

And when the far North flashes up

With fires of mingled red and gold,

They know that many a blazing cup

Is brimming to the absent bold.

Up signal there, and let us hail

Yon looming phantom as we pass!

Note all her fashion, hull, and sail,

Within the compass of your glass.

See at her mast the steadfast glow

Of that one star of Odin’s throne;

Up with our flag, and let us show

The constellation on our own.

And speak her well; for she might say,

If from her heart the words could thaw,

Great news from some far frozen bay,

Or the remotest Esquimaux:

Might tell of channels yet untold,

That sweep the pole from sea to sea;

Of lands which God designs to hold

A mighty people yet to be:—

Of wonders which alone prevail

Where day and darkness dimly meet;

Of all which spreads the arctic sail;

Of Franklin and his venturous fleet:

How haply, at some glorious goal

His anchor holds, his sails are furled;

That Fame has named him on her scroll,

“Columbus of the Polar World”;

Or how his ploughing barques wedge on

Through splintering fields, with battered shares,

Lit only by that spectral dawn,

The mask that mocking darkness wears;

Or how, o’er embers black and few,

The last of shivered masts and spars,

He sits amid his frozen crew

In council with the Norland stars.

No answer,—but the sullen flow

Of ocean heaving long and vast;

An argosy of ice and snow,

The voiceless North swings proudly past.