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Lord Byron (1788–1824). Poetry of Byron. 1881.

II. Descriptive and Narrative

The Shipwreck

(Don Juan, Canto ii. Stanzas 49–53.)

’TWAS twilight, and the sunless day went down

Over the waste of waters; like a veil,

Which, if withdrawn, would but disclose the frown

Of one whose hate is mask’d but to assail.

Thus to their hopeless eyes the night was shown,

And grimly darkled o’er the faces pale,

And the dim desolate deep: twelve days had Fear

Been their familiar, and now Death was here.

Some trial had been making at a raft,

With little hope in such a rolling sea,

A sort of thing at which one would have laugh’d,

If any laughter at such times could be,

Unless with people who too much have quaff’d,

And have a kind of wild and horrid glee,

Half epileptical, and half hysterical:—

Their preservation would have been a miracle.

At half-past eight o’clock, booms, hencoops, spars,

And all things, for a chance, had been cast loose,

That still could keep afloat the struggling tars,

For yet they strove, although of no great use:

There was no light in heaven but a few stars,

The boats put off o’ercrowded with their crews;

She gave a heel, and then a lurch to port,

And, going down head foremost—sunk, in short.

Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell—

Then shriek’d the timid, and stood still the brave,—

Then some leap’d overboard with dreadful yell,

As eager to anticipate their grave;

And the sea yawn’d around her like a hell,

And down she suck’d with her the whirling wave,

Like one who grapples with his enemy,

And strives to strangle him before he die.

And first one universal shriek there rush’d,

Louder than the loud ocean, like a crash

Of echoing thunder; and then all was hush’d,

Save the wild wind and the remorseless dash

Of billows; but at intervals there gush’d,

Accompanied with a convulsive splash,

A solitary shriek, the bubbling cry

Of some strong swimmer in his agony.