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

Miscellaneous: The Ocean

The Flying Dutchman

By John Boyle O’Reilly (1884–1890)

LONG time ago, from Amsterdam a vessel sailed away,—

As fair a craft as ever flung aside the laughing spray.

Upon the shore were tearful eyes, and scarfs were in the air,

As to her, o’er the Zuyder Zee, went fond adieu and prayer;

And brave hearts, yearning shoreward from the outward-going ship,

Felt lingering kisses clinging still to tear-wet cheek and lip.

She steered for some far eastern clime, and, as she skimmed the seas,

Each taper mast was bending like a rod before the breeze.

Her captain was a stalwart man,—an iron heart had he,—

From childhood’s days he lived upon the rolling Zuyder Zee:

He nothing feared upon the earth, scarce heaven itself he feared,

He would have dared and done whatever mortal man had dared!

He looked aloft, where high in air the pennant cut the blue,

And every rope and spar and sail was taut and strong and true.

He turned him from the swelling sheet to gaze upon the shore,—

Ah! little thought the skipper then ’t would meet his eye no more;

He dreamt not that an awful doom was hanging o’er his ship,

That Vanderdecken’s name would yet make pale the speaker’s lip.

The vessel bounded on her way, and dome and spire went down,—

Ere darkness fell, beneath the wave had sunk the distant town.

No more, no more, ye hapless crew, shall Holland meet your eye.

In lingering hope and keen suspense, maid, wife, and child shall die!

Away the brave sea-rover speeds, till sea and sky alone

Are round her, as her coarse she steers across the torrid zone.

Away, until the North Star fades, the Southern Cross is high,

And myriad gems of brightest beam are sparkling in the sky.

The tropic winds are left behind; she nears the Cape of Storms,

Where awful Tempest ever sits enthroned in wild alarms;

Where Ocean in his anger shakes aloft his foamy crest,

Disdainful of the proudest fleets that ride upon his breast.

Fierce swells the wind, the rushing wave a deadly challenge flings,

And from the wrathful Dutchman’s throat a wild defiance rings:

Impotent they to make him swerve, their might he dares deride,

And straight he holds his onward course, in the teeth of wind and tide.

For days and nights he struggles in the weird, unearthly fight.

His brow is bent, his eye is fierce, but looks of deep affright

Amongst the mariners go round, as hopelessly they steer:

They do not dare to murmur, but they whisper what they fear.

Their black-browed captain awes them: ’neath his darkened eye they quail,

And in a grim and sullen mood their bitter fate bewail.

As some fierce rider ruthless spurs a timid, wavering horse,

He drives his shapely vessel, and they watch the reckless course,

Till once again their skipper’s laugh is flung upon the blast;

The placid ocean smiles beyond, the dreaded Cape is passed!

Then northward o’er the Indian main the barque in beauty glides;

A thousand murmuring ripples break along her graceful sides:

The perfumed breezes fill her sails,—her destined port she nears,—

The captain’s brow has lost its frown, the mariners their fears.

“Land ho!” at length the welcome sound the watchful sailor sings,

And soon within an Indian bay the ship at anchor swings.

Not idle then the busy crew: erelong the spacious hold

Is emptied of its western freight, and stored with silk and gold.

Again the ponderous anchor ’s weighed; the shore is left behind,

The snowy sails are bosomed out before the favoring wind.

Across the warm blue Indian sea the trader southward hies,

And once again the North Star fades and Austral beacons rise.

For home she steers! she seems to know and answer to the word,

And joyous breasts the dancing wave like some fair ocean bird.

“For home! for home!” the merry crew with gladsome voices cry,

And e’en the sombre captain has a mild light in his eye.

But once again the Cape draws near, and furious surges rise;

And still the daring Dutchman’s laugh the hurricane defies.

But wildly shrieked the tempest ere the scornful sound had died,

A warning to the daring man to curb his impious pride.

A crested mountain struck the bow, and like a frighted bird

She trembled ’neath the awful shock. Then Vanderdecken heard

A pleading voice within the gale,—his better angel spoke,

But fled before his scowling look, as mast-high billows broke

O’er deck and poop and bulwark, till the crew with terror paled;

But Vanderdecken never flinched, nor ’neath the thunders quailed.

With folded arms and stern-pressed lips, dark anger in his eye,

He answered back the threatening frown that lowered o’er the sky.

With fierce impatience in his heart, and scornful look of flame,

He spoke, and thus with impious voice blasphemed God’s holy name:—

“Howl on, ye winds! ye tempests, howl! your rage is spent in vain:

Despite your strength, your frowns, your hate, I ’ll ride upon the main.

Defiance to your idle shrieks! I ’ll hold my chosen path:

I cringe not for thy Maker’s smile,—I care not for his wrath!”

He ceased. An awful silence fell: the tempest and the sea

Were hushed in sudden stillness by the Ruler’s dread decree.

The ship was riding motionless within the gathering gloom;

The Dutchman stood upon the poop and heard his dreadful doom.

The hapless crew were on the deck in swooning terror prone,

They, too, were bound in fearful fate. In angered thunder-tone

The judgment words swept o’er the sea: “Outcast, arraigned, condemned!

Go, toil forever on the deep, by shrieking tempests hemmed.

No home, no port, no calm, no rest, no gentle favoring breeze,

Shall ever greet thee. Go, accurst! and battle with the seas!

Go, braggart! struggle with the storm, nor ever cease to live,

But bear a million times the pangs that death and fear can give.

Away! and hide thy guilty head, a woe to all thy kind

Who ever see thy hopeless strife with ocean and with wind.

Away, presumptuous worm of earth! Go teach thy fellow-worms

The awful fate that waits on him who braves the King of Storms!”

’T was o’er. A lurid lightning flash lit up the sea and sky

Around and o’er the fated craft; then rose a wailing cry

From every heart within her, of keen anguish and despair;

But mercy was for them no more,—it died away in air.

Once more the lurid light gleamed out,—the ship was still at rest,

The crew were standing at their posts; with arms across his breast

Still stood the captain on the poop, but bent and crouching now

He bowed beneath that flat dread, and o’er his swarthy brow

Swept lines of anguish, as if he a thousand years of pain

Had lived and suffered. Then across the heaving, sullen main

The tempest shrieked triumphant, and the angry waters hissed

Their vengeful hate against the toy they oftentimes had kissed.

And ever through the midnight storm that hapless crew must speed;

They try to round the Stormy Cape, but never can succeed.

And oft when gales are wildest, and the lightning’s vivid sheen

Flashes back the ocean’s anger, still the Phantom Ship is seen

Ever heading to the southward in the fierce tornado’s swoop,

With her ghostly crew and canvas, and her captain on the poop,

Unrelenting, unforgiven; and ’t is said that every word

Of his blasphemous defiance still upon the gale is heard!

But heaven help the luckless ones to whom the sight appears,—

The doom of those is sealed near whom the ghastly sailor steers;

They ’ll never reach their destined port,—they ’ll see their homes no more,—

They who see the Flying Dutchman—never, never reach the shore!