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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Harpswell, Me.

The Dead Ship of Harpswell

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

WHAT flecks the outer gray beyond

The sundown’s golden trail?

The white flash of a sea-bird’s wing,

Or gleam of slanting sail?

Let young eyes watch from Neck and Point,

And sea-worn elders pray,—

The ghost of what was once a ship

Is sailing up the bay!

From gray sea-fog, from icy drift,

From peril and from pain,

The home-bound fisher greets thy lights,

O hundred-harbored Maine!

But many a keel shall seaward turn,

And many a sail outstand,

When, tall and white, the Dead Ship looms

Against the dusk of land.

She rounds the headland’s bristling pines;

She threads the isle-set bay;

No spur of breeze can speed her on,

Nor ebb of tide delay.

Old men still walk the Isle of Orr

Who tell her date and name,

Old shipwrights sit in Freeport yards

Who hewed her oaken frame.

What weary doom of baffled quest,

Thou sad sea-ghost, is thine?

What makes thee in the haunts of home

A wonder and a sign?

No foot is on thy silent deck,

Upon thy helm no hand;

No ripple hath the soundless wind

That smites thee from the land!

For never comes the ship to port,

Howe’er the breeze may be;

Just when she nears the waiting shore

She drifts again to sea.

No tack of sail, nor turn of helm,

Nor sheer of veering side;

Stern-fore she drives to sea and night,

Against the wind and tide.

In vain o’er Harpswell Neck the star

Of evening guides her in;

In vain for her the lamps are lit

Within thy tower, Seguin!

In vain the harbor-boat shall hail,

In vain the pilot call;

No hand shall reef her spectral sail,

Or let her anchor fall.

Shake, brown old wives, with dreary joy,

Your gray-head hints of ill;

And, over sick-beds whispering low,

Your prophecies fulfil.

Some home amid yon birchen trees

Shall drape its door with woe;

And slowly where the Dead Ship sails,

The burial boat shall row!

From Wolf Neck and from Flying Point,

From island and from main,

From sheltered cove and tided creek,

Shall glide the funeral train.

The dead-boat with the bearers four,

The mourners at her stern,—

And one shall go the silent way

Who shall no more return!

And men shall sigh, and women weep,

Whose dear ones pale and pine,

And sadly over sunset seas

Await the ghostly sign.

They know not that its sails are filled

By pity’s tender breath,

Nor see the Angel at the helm

Who steers the Ship of Death!