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

New England: Block Island (Manisees), R. I.

The Palatine

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

LEAGUES north, as fly the gull and auk,

Point Judith watches with eye of hawk;

Leagues south, thy beacon flames, Montauk!

Lonely and wind-shorn, wood-forsaken,

With never a tree for Spring to waken,

For tryst of lovers or farewells taken,

Circled by waters that never freeze,

Beaten by billow and swept by breeze,

Lieth the island of Manisees,

Set at the mouth of the Sound to hold

The coast lights up on its turret old,

Yellow with moss and sea-fog mould.

Dreary the land when gust and sleet

At its doors and windows howl and beat,

And Winter laughs at its fires of peat!

But in summer time, when pool and pond,

Held in the laps of valleys fond,

Are blue as the glimpses of sea beyond;

When the hills are sweet with the brier-rose,

And, hid in the warm, soft dells, unclose

Flowers the mainland rarely knows;

When boats to their morning fishing go,

And, held to the wind and slanting low,

Whitening and darkening the small sails show,—

Then is that lonely island fair;

And the pale health-seeker findeth there

The wine of life in its pleasant air.

No greener valleys the sun invite,

On smoother beaches no sea-birds light,

No blue waves shatter to foam more white!

There, circling ever their narrow range,

Quaint tradition and legend strange

Live on unchallenged, and know no change.

Old wives spinning their webs of tow,

Or rocking weirdly to and fro

In and out of the peat’s dull glow,

And old men mending their nets of twine,

Talk together of dream and sign,

Talk of the lost ship Palatine,—

The ship that, a hundred years before,

Freighted deep with its goodly store,

In the gales of the equinox went ashore.

The eager islanders one by one

Counted the shots of her signal gun,

And heard the crash when she drove right on!

Into the teeth of death she sped:

(May God forgive the hands that fed

The false lights over the rocky Head!)

O men and brothers! what sights were there!

White upturned faces, hands stretched in prayer!

Where waves had pity, could ye not spare?

Down swooped the wreckers, like birds of prey

Tearing the heart of the ship away,

And the dead had never a word to say.

And then, with ghastly shimmer and shine

Over the rocks and the seething brine,

They burned the wreck of the Palatine.

In their cruel hearts, as they homeward sped,

“The sea and the rocks are dumb,” they said:

“There ’ll be no reckoning with the dead.”

But the year went round, and when once more

Along their foam-white curves of shore

They heard the line-storm rave and roar,

Behold! again, with shimmer and shine,

Over the rocks and the seething brine,

The flaming wreck of the Palatine!

So, haply in fitter words than these,

Mending their nets on their patient knees,

They tell the legend of Manisees.

Nor looks nor tones a doubt betray;

“It is known to us all,” they quietly say;

“We too have seen it in our day.”

Is there, then, no death for a word once spoken?

Was never a deed but left its token

Written on tables never broken?

Do the elements subtle reflections give?

Do pictures of all the ages live

On Nature’s infinite negative,

Which, half in sport, in malice half,

She shows at times, with shudder or laugh,

Phantom and shadow in photograph?

For still, on many a moonless night,

From Kingston Head and from Montauk light

The spectre kindles and burns in sight.

Now low and dim, now clear and higher,

Leaps up the terrible Ghost of Fire,

Then, slowly sinking, the flames expire.

And the wise Sound skippers, though skies be fine,

Reef their sails when they see the sign

Of the blazing wreck of the Palatine!