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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 Alfred Domett (1811–1887)

(From Ranolf and Amohia)

IN deep blue sky the sun is bright;

The port some few miles off in sight;

The pleasant sea’s subsiding swell

Of gales for days gone by may tell,

But on the bar no breaker white,

Only as yet a heavier roll

Denotes where lurks that dangerous shoal.

Alert with lead and chart and glass,

The pilot seeks the well-known pass;

All his familiar marks in view

Together brought, distinct and true.

Erelong the tide’s decreasing stream

Chafes at the nearer bank beneath;

The sea’s dark face begins to gleam

(Like tiger roused that shows his teeth)

With many a white foam-streak and seam:

Still should the passage, though more rough,

Have depth of water, width enough.

But why, though fair the wind and filled

The sails, though masts and cordage strain,

Why hangs, as by enchantment stilled,

The ship unmoving? All in vain

The helm is forced hard down; ’t is plain

The shoal has shifted, and the ship

Has touched, but o’er its tail, may slip:

She strains,—she moves,—a moment’s bound,

She makes ahead,—then strikes again

With greater force the harder ground.

She broaches to, her broadside black

Full in the breakers’ headlong track;

They leap like tigers on their prey;

She rolls as on they come amain,

Rolls heavily as in writhing pain.

The precious time flies fast away,—

The launch is swiftly manned and sent

Over the lee, with wild intent

To anchor grapplings where the tide

Runs smoother, and the ship might ride

Secure beyond the raging bar,

Could they but haul her off so far.

The boat against her bows is smashed;

Beneath the savage surges dashed,

Sucked under by the refluent wave,

They vanish, all those seamen brave.

On, on,—the breakers press,—no check,

No pause,—fly hissing o’er the wreck,

And scour along the dangerous deck.

The bulwarks on the seaward side,

Boats, rudder, stern-post iron-tied

With deep-driven bolts,—how vain a stay!

The weight of waters tears away.

Alas! and nothing can be done,—

No downward-hoisted flag, no gun

Be got at to give greater stress

To that unheard demand for aid

By the lost ship’s whole aspect made,—

Herself, in piteous helplessness,

One huge sad signal of distress.

Still on and on, the tide’s return

Redoubling now their rage and bulk,

In one fierce sweep from stem to stern

The thundering sheets of breakers roar,

High as the tops in spray-clouds soar,

And down in crashing cataracts pour

Over the rolling tortured hulk.

Death glares in every horrid shape,—

No help, no mercy, no escape!

For falling spars dash out the brains

Of some, and flying guns adrift,

Or splinters crush them,—slaughter swift

Whereof no slightest trace remains,

The furious foam no bloodshed stains:

Up to the yards and tops they go,—

No hope, no chance of life below!

Then as each ponderous groaning mast

Rocks loosened from its hold at last,

The shrouds and stays, now hanging slack,

Now jerking, bounding tensely back,

Fling off the helpless victims fast,

Like refuse on the yeast of death

That bellows, raves, and boils beneath.

One hapless wretch around his waist

A knotted rope has loosely braced;

When from the stay to which he clings

The jerking mast the doomed one flings,

It slips, and by the neck he swings:

Death grins and glares in hideous shape,—

No hope, no pity, no escape!

Still on and on, all day the same,

Through all that brilliant summer day

Beneath a sky so blithe and blue

The wild white whirl of waters flew,

In stunning volleys overswept

And beat the black ship’s yielding frame,

And all around roared, tossed, and leapt

Mad-wreathing swathes of snow! affray

More dire than most disastrous rout

Of some conceivable array

Of thronged white elephants,—as they

Their phalanx broke in warfare waged

In Siam or the Punjaub,—raged

And writhed their great white trunks about,

With screams that shrill as trumpets rung,

And drove destruction everywhere

In maddened terror at the shout

Of turbaned hosts and torches’ flare

Full in their monstrous faces flung;—

Wide horror! but to this, no less,

This furious lashing wilderness,

Innocuous-seeming, transient, tame!

Still on, still on, like fiends of Hell

Whiter than angels, frantic, fell,

Through all that summer day the same

The merciless murderous breakers came,

And to the mizzen-top that swayed

With every breach those breakers made,

Unaided, impotent to aid,

The mates and master clung all day.

There, while the sun onlooking gay

Triumphant trod his bright highway,—

There, till his cloudless rich decline,

Faint in the blinding deafening drench

Of salt waves roaring down the whine

And creaking groans each grinding wrench

Took from the tortured timbers,—there

All day, all day, in their despair,

The gently brave, the roughly good,

Collected, calm and silent stood.

That hideous doom they firmly face;

To no unmanly moans give way,

No frantic gestures; none disgrace

With wild bravado, vain display,

Their end, but like true men await

The dread extremity of fate.

Alas! and yet no tongue can tell

What thoughts of life and loved ones swell

With anguish irrepressible,

The hearts these horrors fail to quell.

The master urges them to prayer,

“No hope on earth, be heaven your care!”

And is it mockery—Oh, but mark

Those masts and crowding figures, dark

Against the flush of love and rest

Suffusing all the gorgeous west

In tearful golden glory drest,—

Such soft majestic tenderness,

As of a power that longs to bless

With ardors of divinest breath

All but one raging spot of death;

For all the wide expanse beside

Is blushing, beauteous as a bride,

And a fierce wedding-day indeed

It seems, of Life and Death, with none to heed.

And now the foam spurts up between

The starting deck-planks; downward bowed

The mighty masts terrific lean;

Then each with its despairing crowd

Of life, with one tremendous roar

Falls like a tower,—and all is o’er.