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

Miscellaneous: Atlantic Ocean

The Ship of the Dead

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

(From The Ballad of Carmilhan)

AND now along the horizon’s edge

Mountains of cloud uprose,

Black as with forests underneath,

Above, their sharp and jagged teeth

Were white as drifted snows.

Unseen behind them sank the sun,

But flushed each snowy peak

A little while with rosy light

That faded slowly from the sight

As blushes from the cheek.

Black grew the sky,—all black, all black;

The clouds were everywhere;

There was a feeling of suspense

In nature, a mysterious sense

Of terror in the air.

And all on board the Valdemar

Was still as still could be;

Save when the dismal ship-bell tolled,

As ever and anon she rolled,

And lurched into the sea.

The captain up and down the deck

Went striding to and fro;

Now watched the compass at the wheel,

Now lifted up his hand to feel

Which way the wind might blow.

And now he looked up at the sails,

And now upon the deep;

In every fibre of his frame

He felt the storm before it came,

He had no thought of sleep.

Eight bells! and suddenly abaft,

With a great rush of rain,

Making the ocean white with spume,

In darkness like the day of doom,

On came the hurricane.

The lightning flashed from cloud to cloud,

And rent the sky in two;

A jagged flame, a single jet

Of white fire, like a bayonet,

That pierced the eyeballs through.

Then all around is dark again,

And blacker than before;

But in that single flash of light

He had beheld a fearful sight,

And thought of the oath he swore.

For right ahead lay the Ship of the Dead,

The ghostly Carmilhan!

Her masts were stripped, her yards were bare,

And on her bowsprit, poised in air,

Sat the Klaboterman.

Her crew of ghosts was all on deck

Or clambering up the shrouds;

The boatswain’s whistle, the captain’s hail,

Were like the piping of the gale,

And thunder in the clouds.

And close behind the Carmilhan

There rose up from the sea,

As from a foundered ship of stone,

Three bare and splintered masts alone:

They were the Chimneys Three.

And onward dashed the Valdemar

And leaped into the dark;

A denser mist, a colder blast,

A little shudder, and she had passed

Right through the Phantom Bark.

She cleft in twain the shadowy hulk,

But cleft it unaware;

As when, careering to her nest,

The sea-gull severs with her breast

The unresisting air.

Again the lightning flashed; again

They saw the Carmilhan,

Whole as before in hull and spar;

But now on board of the Valdemar

Stood the Klaboterman.

And they all knew their doom was sealed;

They knew that death was near;

Some prayed who never prayed before,

And some they wept, and some they swore,

And some were mute with fear.

Then suddenly there came a shock,

And louder than wind or sea

A cry burst from the crew on deck,

As she dashed and crashed, a hopeless wreck,

Upon the Chimneys Three.

The storm and night were passed, the light

To streak the east began;

The cabin boy, picked up at sea,

Survived the wreck, and only he,

To tell of the Carmilhan.