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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 Shipwreck

By John Wilson (1720–1789)

(From The Isle of Palms)

BUT list! a low and moaning sound

At distance heard, like a spirit’s song,

And now it reigns above, around,

As if it called the ship along.

The moon is sunk; and a clouded gray

Declares that her course is run,

And, like a god who brings the day,

Up mounts the glorious sun.

Soon as his light has warmed the seas,

From the parting cloud fresh blows the breeze;

And that is the spirit whose well-known song

Makes the vessel to sail in joy along.

No fears hath she;—her giant form

O’er wrathful surge, through blackening storm,

Majestically calm would go

Mid the deep darkness white as snow!

But gently now the small waves glide

Like playful lambs o’er a mountain’s side.

So stately her bearing, so proud her array,

The main she will traverse for ever and aye.

Many ports will exult at the gleam of her mast!—

Hush! hush! thou vain dreamer! this hour is her last.

Five hundred souls in one instant of dread

Are hurried o’er the deck;

And fast the miserable ship

Becomes a lifeless wreck.

Her keel hath struck on a hidden rock,

Her planks are torn asunder,

And down come her masts with a reeling shock,

And a hideous crash like thunder.

Her sails are draggled in the brine

That gladdened late the skies,

And her pendant that kissed the fair moonshine

Down many a fathom lies.

Her beauteous sides, whose rainbow hues

Gleamed softly from below,

And flung a warm and sunny flush

O’er the wreaths of murmuring snow,

To the coral rocks are hurrying down

To sleep amid colors as bright as their own.

O, many a dream was in the ship

An hour before her death;

And sights of home with sighs disturbed

The sleepers’ long-drawn breath.

Instead of the murmur of the sea

The sailor heard the humming tree

Alive through all its leaves,

The hum of the spreading sycamore

That grows before his cottage-door,

And the swallow’s song in the eaves.

His arms enclosed a blooming boy,

Who listened with tears of sorrow and joy

To the dangers his father had passed;

And his wife,—by turns she wept and smiled,

As she looked on the father of her child

Returned to her heart at last.—

He wakes at the vessel’s sudden roll,

And the rush of waters is in his soul.

Astounded the reeling deck he paces,

Mid hurrying forms and ghastly faces;—

The whole ship’s crew are there!

Wailings around and overhead,

Brave spirits stupefied or dead,

And madness and despair.

Leave not the wreck, thou cruel boat!

While yet ’t is thine to save,

And angel-hands will bid thee float

Uninjured o’er the wave,

Though whirlpools yawn across thy way,

And storms, impatient for their prey,

Around thee fiercely rave!

Vain all the prayers of pleading eyes,

Of outcry loud and humble sighs,

Hands clasped, or wildly tossed on high

To bless or curse in agony!

Despair and resignation vain!

Away like a strong-winged bird she flies,

That heeds not human miseries,

And far off in the sunshine dies

Like a wave of the restless main!

Hush! hush! Ye wretches left behind!

Silence becomes the brave, resigned

To unexpected doom.


Now is the ocean’s bosom bare,

Unbroken as the floating air;

The ship hath melted quite away,

Like a struggling dream at break of day.

No image meets my wandering eye

But the new-risen sun, and the sunny sky.

Though the night-shades are gone, yet a vapor dull

Bedims the waves so beautiful;

While a low and melancholy moan

Mourns for the glory that hath flown.