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

British America: Baffin’s Bay

The Fate of Sir John Franklin

By Bessie Raynor Parkes (1829–1925)

IN summer, eighteen fifty-eight,

A ship sailed out from Aberdeen;

A gilded pet for summer state

The little Fox had been.

But ringing hammers night and day

Her coat of iron mail did fix,

Before they sent the Fox away

With sailors twenty-six.

I call them sailors every one,

Since all were true in time of need;

A very little band to run

Great risk for doubtful meed.

True English hearts sent food and drink,

And everything the crew could store,

And every blessing heart could think

Pursued them from the shore.

And so, across the great salt deep,

From Aberdeen they steamed away;

And, doubling Greenland’s ice-clogged steep,

Pushed up to Baffin’s Bay.

But there the cruel ice grew thick,

And hemmed them in, and hemmed them round;

The little Fox she could not pick

Her way into the Sound,

Which opens westwards towards the Bay,

And leads to endless mysteries,

And kept for many a weary day

The secret of the seas.

So, being finally beset,

Her prow was wedged as in a vice;

And month by month was never wet

Amidst those leagues of ice.

For eight long months seemed motionless,

While game and tale the gloom beguiles;

Yet she, in darkness and distress,

Drifted a thousand miles!

All down the length of Baffin’s Bay,

A southern drift the Fox did keep,

Till darkness melted quite away,

And she into the deep.

A solemn and an awful track

That silent passage seems to me,

From midnight and the Frozen Pack,

To sunshine and the sea!

And then the gallant little ship

Put joyfully into the shore,

And soon her slender paddles dip

In Northern seas once more.

This time the summer days were long,

The little Fox is very wise,

And soon she paddles, safe and strong,

Beneath the western skies.

Now Heaven direct her in her track,

And send some sure and guiding breeze,

Or she will never bring us back

The secret of the seas.

She struggles up the Northern route,

The Northern ice is hard and broad;

The little Fox must put about

And seek some other road.

But, though she struggles day and night,

She cannot reach the wished-for land;

The captain and his men alight

Upon a frozen strand.

An awful thing it was to be

Alone upon the icy plain,

Which broadens imperceptibly

Into an icy main!

And then they sledged both east and north,

And then they sledged both south and west,

Till the dread doubt which drove them forth

At last was set at rest.

What did they find? A paper, scored

With English writing, English names,

(How long by English hearts deplored!)

Signed Crosier and Fitzjames!

Scant record of their hungry grief

That blotted page supplied;

But one faint gleam of sad relief—

The day when Franklin died.

At least he died within his cot,

While kindly eyes were watching there;

We know no tribute was forgot,

They buried him with prayer.

And thus the secret of the seas

Was yielded to their quest,

The mystery of mysteries

Was solved and set at rest.