Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Phantom Ship

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

Various Islands: St. Helena

The Phantom Ship

By From the German

Anonymous translation

THE CLOUDS are dark, and the winds are wailing;

The sky is deserted of moon and star.

It is the hour when the ship goeth sailing

Along the dusk ocean fast and far.

That lone ship, steered by a viewless hand,

And pauseless on her path,

No storm shall wreck; she shall, reach the strand

Unharmed by the elements’ wrath.

Far out in the offing, where on the billows

The winds are dumb, and the stilled air dies,

Arises a barren rock, and pillows

Its naked head amid burning skies.

There nothing bloometh of green or soft;

No blithe bird nestles there;

The eagle alone, from his throne aloft,

Reigns over a desert bare.

Yet there sleeps he who was Europe’s lord,

Her king, her hero, her man of doom,

And his head-gear, golden sceptre, and sword

Lie noteless on his forsaken tomb.

No voice bewails the illustrious dead;

It is silentness all and dearth,

It is ghastly gloom round the last low bed

Of the mightiest spirit of earth!

And the moons roll round, and the seasons duly,

And stark the emperor lieth alway,

Till again in its course refalleth newly

The stormful night of the fifth of May.

Amiddle that black and dolorous night

He passed from this world of strife,

And, when it returns, in the swift year’s flight,

He awakes for a while to life.

And now, as the conquered gale is dying,

The ship approaches in phantom-show,

A spectre-flag at her mast-head flying

Of golden bees on a field of snow.

And the king embarks, in the moonlight blue,

And away she hies as a bird,

Without a pilot, without a crew,

And with sails all wind-unstirred.

He paces her deck, that hero of story,

And looks abroad through the desert night.

His thoughts fly back to his years of glory;

His eyes rekindle with living light.

And on she speeds to the ancient shore

Of history and romance,—

And the hero’s heart leaps up once more,—

He knows his beloved France!

Again he treadeth her soil, which trembles

Beneath the feet of the genius of war;

But, how changed seems all! The land resembles

The wreck, the shell of a burnt-out star!

He seeketh her cities, but findeth none,—

He looks for her armies in vain,—

They flourished, they lived, but under the sun

Of his resplendent reign!

He seeks the throne that he won by conquest;

’T is trod into dust with the things that were.

France knows it no more! Yet still hath he one quest,—

The father looks round for his royal heir;

He calls aloud for the boy whose birth

Was hailed as the hope of the age;

Alas! his life is outblotted from earth,

His name from history’s page!

“All, all are gone!” cries the desolate-hearted,—

“My glory, my people, my son, my crown!

O, how are the days of my power departed!

How lost is the nation I raised to renown!

My house and my hopes alike lie prone

In an all-engulfing grave,—

A slave sits now upon Cæsar’s throne,

And Cæsar hath sunk to a slave!”