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

New England: Isles of Shoals, N. H.

The Wreck of the Pocahontas

By Celia Thaxter (1835–1894)

I LIT the lamps in the lighthouse tower,

For the sun dropped down and the day was dead;

They shone like a glorious clustered flower,—

Ten golden and five red.

Looking across, where the line of coast

Stretched darkly, shrinking away from the sea,

The lights sprang out at its edge,—almost

They seemed to answer me!

O warning lights! burn bright and clear,

Hither the storm comes! Leagues away

It moans and thunders low and drear,—

Burn till the break of day!

Good-night! I called to the gulls that sailed

Slow past me through the evening sky;

And my comrades, answering shrilly, hailed

Me back with boding cry.

A mournful breeze began to blow,

Weird music it drew through the iron bars,

The sullen billows boiled below,

And dimly peered the stars;

The sails that flecked the ocean floor

From east to west leaned low and fled;

They knew what came in the distant roar

That filled the air with dread!

Flung by a fitful gust, there beat

Against the window a dash of rain;—

Steady as tramp of marching feet

Strode on the hurricane.

It smote the waves for a moment still,

Level and deadly white for fear;

The bare rock shuddered,—an awful thrill

Shook even my tower of cheer.

Like all the demons loosed at last,

Whistling and shrieking, wild and wide,

The mad wind raged, while strong and fast

Rolled in the rising tide.

And soon in ponderous showers the spray,

Struck from the granite, reared and sprung

And clutched at tower and cottage gray,

Where overwhelmed they clung

Half drowning to the naked rock;

But still burned on the faithful light,

Nor faltered at the tempest’s shock,

Through all the fearful night.

Was it in vain? That knew not we.

We seemed, in that confusion vast

Of rushing wind and roaring sea,

One point whereon was cast

The whole Atlantic’s weight of brine.

Heaven help the ship should drift our way!

No matter how the light might shine

Far on into the day.

When morning dawned, above the din

Of gale and breaker boomed a gun!

Another! We who sat within

Answered with cries each one.

Into each other’s eyes with fear,

We looked through helpless tears, as still,

One after one, near and more near,

The signals pealed, until

The thick storm seemed to break apart

To show us, staggering to her grave,

The fated brig. We had no heart

To look, for naught could save.

One glimpse of black hull heaving slow,

Then closed the mists o’er canvas torn

And tangled ropes swept to and fro

From masts that raked forlorn.

Weeks after, yet ringed round with spray,

Our island lay, and none might land;

Though blue the waters of the bay

Stretched calm on either hand.

And when at last from the distant shore

A little boat stole out, to reach

Our loneliness, and bring once more

Fresh human thought and speech,

We told our tale, and the boatmen cried:

“’T was the Pocahontas,—all were lost!

For miles along the coast the tide

Her shattered timbers tossed.”

Then I looked the whole horizon round,—

So beautiful the ocean spread

About us, o’er those sailors drowned!

“Father in heaven,” I said,—

A child’s grief struggling in my breast,—

“Do purposeless thy children meet

Such bitter death? How was it best

These hearts should cease to beat?

“O wherefore! Are we naught to thee?

Like senseless weeds that rise and fall

Upon thine awful sea, are we

No more then, after all?”

And I shut the beauty from my sight,

For I thought of the dead that lay below;

From the bright air faded the warmth and light,

There came a chill like snow.

Then I heard the far-off rote resound,

Where the breakers slow and slumberous rolled,

And a subtile sense of Thought profound

Touched me with power untold.

And like a voice eternal spake

That wondrous rhythm, and, “Peace, be still!”

It murmured, “bow thy head and take

Life’s rapture and life’s ill,

“And wait. At last all shall be clear.”

The long, low, mellow music rose

And fell, and soothed my dreaming ear

With infinite repose.

Sighing I climbed the lighthouse stair,

Half forgetting my grief and pain;

And while the day died, sweet and fair,

I lit the lamps again.