Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Buccaneer
By Richard H. Dana (1787–1879)
 
    THE ISLAND lies nine leagues away.
    Along its solitary shore,
    Of craggy rock and sandy bay,
    No sound but ocean’s roar,
Save, where the bold, wild sea-bird makes her home        5
Her shrill cry coming through the sparkling foam.
 
    But when the light winds lie at rest,
    And on the glassy, heaving sea,
    The black duck, with her glossy breast,
    Sits swinging silently;        10
How beautiful! no ripples break the reach,
And silvery waves go noiseless up the beach.
 
    And inland rests the green, warm dell;
    The brook comes tinkling down its side;
    From out the trees the sabbath bell        15
    Rings cheerful, far and wide,
Mingling its sounds with bleatings of the flocks,
That feed about the vale amongst the rocks.
 
    Nor holy bell, nor pastoral bleat
    In former days within the vale;        20
    Flapp’d in the bay the pirate’s sheet;
    Curses were on the gale;
Rich goods lay on the sand, and murder’d men;
Pirate and wrecker kept their revels then.
 
    But calm, low voices, words of grace,        25
    Now slowly fall upon the ear;
    A quiet look is in each face,
    Subdued and holy fear:
Each motion’s gentle; all is kindly done—
Come, listen, how from crime this isle was won.        30
 
    Twelve years are gone since Matthew Lee
    Held in this isle unquestion’d sway,
    A dark, low, brawny man was he—
    His law—“It is my way.”
Beneath his thickset brows a sharp light broke        35
From small gray eyes; his laugh a triumph spoke.
 
    Cruel of heart, and strong of arm,
    Loud in his sport, and keen for spoil,
    He little reck’d of good or harm,
    Fierce both in mirth and toil;        40
Yet like a dog could fawn, if need there were;
Speak mildly, when he would, or look in fear.
 
    Amidst the uproar of the storm,
    And by the lightning’s sharp, red glare,
    Were seen Lee’s face and sturdy form;        45
    His axe glanced quick in air.
Whose corpse at morn is floating in the sedge?
“There ’s blood and hair, Matt, on thy axe’s edge.”
 
    “Nay, ask him yonder; let him tell,
    I make the brute, not man, my mark.        50
    Who walks these cliffs, needs heed him well!
    Last night was fearful dark.
Think ye the lashing waves will spare or feel!
An ugly gash!—these rocks—they cut like steel.”
 
    He wiped his axe; and turning round,        55
    Said with a cold and harden’d smile,
    “The hemp is saved—the man is drown’d.
    Wilt let him float awhile,
Or give him christian burial on the strand?
He ’ll find his fellows peaceful ’neath the sand.”        60
 
    Lee’s waste was greater than his gain.
    “I ’ll try the merchant’s trade,” he thought.
    “The trouble’s less to kill, than feign;
    Things sweeter robb’d than bought.
But, yet, to circumvent them at their arts!”        65
Mann’d, and his spoils and cargo—Lee departs.
 
    ’T is fearful, on the broad-back’d waves,
    To feel them shake, and hear them roar:—
    Beneath, unsounded, dreadful caves—
    Around, no cheerful shore.        70
Yet ’midst this solemn world what deeds are done!
The curse goes up, the deadly sea-fight’s won,—
 
    And wanton talk and laughter heard,
    Where speaks God’s deep and awful voice.
    Look on that lonely ocean bird!        75
    Pray ye, when ye rejoice!
“Leave prayers to priests,” cries Lee: “I ’m ruler here!
These fellows know full well whom they ’re to fear!”
 
    The ship works hard; the seas run high;
    Their white tops flashing through the night,        80
    Give to the eager, straining eye,
    A wild and shifting light.
“Hard at the pumps!—The leak is gaining fast!—
Lighten the ship!—The devil rode that blast!”
 
    Ocean has swallow’d for its food        85
    Spoils thou didst gain in murderous glee;
    Matt, could its waters wash out blood,
    It had been well for thee.
Crime fits for crime. And no repentant tear
Hast thou for sin?—Then wait thine hour of fear.        90
 
    The sea has like a plaything toss’d
    That heavy hull the livelong night.
    The man of sin—he is not lost:
    Soft breaks the morning light.
Torn spars and sail,—her cargo in the deep—        95
The ship makes port with slow and laboring sweep.
 
    Within a Spanish port she rides.
    Angry and sour’d, Lee walks her deck.
    “Then peaceful trade a curse betides?—
    And thou, good ship, a wreck!        100
Ill luck in change!—Ho! cheer ye up, my men!
Rigg’d, and at sea, we ’ll to old work again!”
 
    A sound is in the Pyrenees!
    Whirling and dark, comes roaring down
    A tide, as of a thousand seas,        105
    Sweeping both cowl and crown.
On field and vineyard thick and red it stood.
Spain’s streets and palaces are full of blood;—
 
    And wrath and terror shake the land;
    The peaks shine clear in watchfire lights;        110
    Soon comes the tread of that stout band—
    Bold Arthur and his knights.
Awake ye, Merlin! Hear the shout from Spain!
The spell is broke!—Arthur is come again!—
 
    Too late for thee, thou young, fair bride;        115
    The lips are cold, the brow is pale,
    That thou didst kiss in love and pride.
    He cannot hear thy wail,
Whom thou didst lull with fondly murmur’d sound—
His couch is cold and lonely in the ground.        120
 
    He fell for Spain—her Spain no more;
    For he was gone who made it dear;
    And she would seek some distant shore,
    At rest from strife and fear,
And wait amidst her sorrows till the day,        125
His voice of love should call her thence away.
 
    Lee feign’d him grieved, and bow’d him low.
    ’T would joy his heart could he but aid
    So good a lady in her wo,
    He meekly, smoothly said.        130
With wealth and servants she is soon aboard,
And that white steed she rode beside her lord.
 
    The sun goes down upon the sea;
    The shadows gather round her home.
    “How like a pall are ye to me!        135
    My home, how like a tomb!
O! blow, ye flowers of Spain, above his head.—
Ye will not blow o’er me when I am dead.”
 
    And now the stars are burning bright;
    Yet still she looks towards the shore        140
    Beyond the waters black in night.
    “I ne’er shall see thee more!
Ye ’re many, waves, yet lonely seems your flow,
And I ’m alone—scarce know I where I go.”
 
    Sleep, sleep, thou sad one, on the sea!        145
    The wash of waters lulls thee now;
    His arm no more will pillow thee,
    Thy hand upon his brow.
He is not near, to hush thee, or to save.
The ground is his—the sea must be thy grave.        150
 
    The moon comes up—the night goes on.
    Why in the shadow of the mast,
    Stands that dark, thoughtful man alone?
    Thy pledge, man; keep it fast!
Bethink thee of her youth and sorrows, Lee:        155
Helpless, alone—and, then, her trust in thee!
 
    When told the hardships thou hadst borne,
    Her words were to thee like a charm.
    With uncheer’d grief her heart is worn.—
    Thou wilt not do her harm!        160
He looks out on the sea that sleeps in light,
And growls an oath—“It is too still tonight!
 
    He sleeps; but dreams of massy gold,
    And heaps of pearl. He stretch’d his hands.
    He hears a voice—“Ill man, withhold.”        165
    A pale one near him stands;
Her breath comes deathly cold upon his cheek;
Her touch is cold. He wakes with piercing shriek.
 
    He wakes; but no relentings wake
    Within his angry, restless soul.        170
    “What, shall a dream Matt’s purpose shake?
    The gold will make all whole.
Thy merchant’s trade has nigh unmann’d thee, lad!
What, balk thy chance because a woman ’s sad?”
 
    He cannot look on her mild eye—        175
    Her patient words his spirit quell.
    Within that evil heart there lie
    The hates and fears of hell.
His speech is short; he wears a surly brow.
There ’s none will hear her shriek. What fear ye now?        180
 
    The workings of the soul ye fear;
    Ye fear the power that goodness hath;
    Ye fear the Unseen One, ever near,
    Walking his ocean path.
From out the silent void there comes a cry—        185
“Vengeance is mine! Lost man, thy doom is nigh!”
 
    Nor dread of ever-during wo,
    Nor the sea’s awful solitude,
    Can make thee, wretch, thy crime forego.
    Then, bloody hand—to blood!        190
The scud is driving wildly over head;—
The stars burn dim; the ocean moans its dead.
 
    Moan for the living—moan our sins,—
    The wrath of man, more fierce than thine.
    Hark! still thy waves!—The work begins—        195
    He makes the deadly sign.
The crew glide down like shadows. Eye and hand
Speak fearful meanings through that silent band.
 
    They ’re gone. The helmsman stands alone;
    And one leans idly o’er the bow.        200
    Still as a tomb the ship keeps on;
    Nor sound nor stirring now.
Hush, hark! as from the centre of the deep—
Shrieks—fiendish yells! they stab them in their sleep.
 
    The scream of rage, the groan, the strife,        205
    The blow, the gasp, the horrid cry,
    The panting, stifled prayer for life,
    The dying’s heaving sigh,
The murderer’s curse, the dead man’s fix’d, still glare,
And fear’s and death’s cold sweat—they all are there!        210
 
    On pale, dead men, on burning cheek,
    On quick, fierce eyes, brows hot and damp,
    On hands that with the warm blood reek,
    Shines the dim cabin lamp.
Lee look’d. “They sleep so sound,” he, laughing, said,        215
“They ’ll scarcely wake for mistress or for maid.”
 
    A crash! They ’ve forced the door,—and then
    One long, long, shrill, and piercing scream
    Comes thrilling through the growl of men.
    ’T is hers!—O God, redeem        220
From worse than death thy suffering, helpless child!
That dreadful cry again—sharp, sharp, and wild!
 
    It ceased.—with speed o’ th’ lightning’s flash,
    A loose-robed form, with streaming hair,
    Shoots by.—A leap—a quick, short splash!        225
    ’T is gone!—There’s nothing there!
The waves have swept away the bubbling tide.
Bright-crested waves, how proudly on ye ride!
 
    She ’s sleeping in her silent cave,
    Nor hears the stern, loud roar above,        230
    Or strife of man on land or wave.
    Young thing! thy home of love
Thou soon hast reach’d!—Fair, unpolluted thing!
They harm’d thee not!—Was dying suffering?
 
    O, no!—To live when joy was dead;        235
    To go with one, lone, pining thought—
    To mournful love thy being wed—
    Feeling what death had wrought;
To live the child of wo, yet shed no tear,
Bear kindness, and yet share no joy nor fear;        240
 
    To look on man, and deem it strange
    That he on things of earth should brood,
    When all its throng’d and busy range
    To thee was solitude—
O, this was bitterness!—Death came and prest        245
Thy wearied lids, and brought thy sick heart rest.
 
    Why look ye on each other so,
    And speak no word?—Ay, shake the head!
    She ’s gone where ye can never go.
    What fear ye from the dead?        250
They tell no tales; and ye are all true men;
But wash away that blood; then, home again!—
 
    ’T is on your souls; it will not out!
    Lee, why so lost? ’T is not like thee!
    Come, where ’s thy revel, oath, and shout?        255
    —“That pale one in the sea!—
I mind not blood.—But she—I cannot tell!
A spirit was ’t?—It flash’d like fires of hell!—
 
    “And when it pass’d there was no tread!
    It leapt on deck.—Who heard the sound?        260
    I heard none!—Say—what was it fled?—
    Poor girl!—And is she drown’d?—
Went down these depths? How dark they look, and cold!
She ’s yonder! stop her!—Now!—there!—hold, man, hold!”
 
    They gazed upon his ghastly face.        265
    “What ails thee, Lee; and why that glare?”
    —“Look! ha, ’tis gone, and not a trace!
    No, no, she was not there!
Who of you said ye heard her when she fell?
’T was strange!—I ’ll not be fool’d!—Will no one tell?”        270
 
    He paused. As soon the wildness past.
    Then came the tingling flush of shame.
    Remorse and fear are gone as fast.
    “The silly thing ’s to blame
To quit us so. ’T is plain she loved us not;        275
Or she ’d have staid awhile, and shared my cot.”
 
    And then the ribald laugh’d. The jest,
    Though old and foul, loud laughter drew.
    And words more foul came from the rest
    Of that infernal crew.        280
Note, heaven, their blasphemy, their broken trust!
Lust panders murder—murder panders lust!
 
    Now slowly up they bring the dead
    From out that silent, dim-lit room.
    No prayer at their quick burial said—        285
    No friend to weep their doom.
The hungry waves have seized them one by one;
And, swallowing in their prey, go roaring on.
 
    Cries Lee, “We must not be betray’d.
    ’T is but to add another corse!        290
    Strange words, ’t is said, an ass once bray’d.
    I ’ll never trust a horse!
We ’ll throw him on the waves alive! He ’ll swim;
For once a horse shall ride—we all ride him.”
 
    Such sound to mortal ear ne’er came        295
    As rang far o’er the waters wide.
    It shook with fear the stoutest frame—
    That horse is on the tide!
As the waves leave, or lift him up, his cry
Comes lower now—and, now, ’t is near and high.        300
 
    And through the swift wave’s yesty crown
    His scared eyes shoot a fiendish light,
    And fear seems wrath. He now sinks down,
    Now heaves again to sight,
Then drifts away; yet all that night they hear        305
Far off that dreadful cry.—But morn is near.
 
    O, hadst thou known what deeds were done,
    When thou wast shining far away,
    Wouldst thou let fall, calm-coming sun,
    Thy warm and silent ray?        310
The good are in their graves; thou canst not cheer
Their dark, cold mansions. Sin alone is here.
 
    “The deed ’s complete! The gold is ours!
    There, wash away that bloody stain!
    Pray who’d refuse what fortune showers?        315
    Now, lads, we ’ll lot our gain.
Must fairly share, you know, what’s fairly got!
A truly good night’s work! Who ’ll say ’t was not?”
 
    There ’s song, and oath, and gaming deep—
    Hot words, and laughter—mad carouse:        320
    There ’s nought of prayer, and little sleep.
    The devil keeps the house!
“Lee cheats!” cried Jack.—Lee struck him to the heart.
“That’s foul!” one mutter’d.—“Fool! you take your part!—
 
    “The fewer heirs the richer, man!        325
    Hold forth thy palm, and keep thy prate!
    Our life, we read, is but a span.
    What matters, soon or late?
Death comes!”—On shore, and ask’d how many died?
“That sickness swept near half,” said Lee, and sigh’d.        330
 
    Within our bay, one stormy night,
    The isle’s men saw boats make for shore,
    With here and there a dancing light
    That flash’d on man and oar.
When hail’d, the rowing stopt, and all was dark.        335
“Ha! lantern work!—We ’ll home!—They’re playing shark!”
 
    Next day, at noon, towards the town,
    All stared and wonder’d much to see,
    Matt and his men come strolling down.
    The boys shout, “Here comes Lee!”        340
“Thy ship, good Lee?” “Not many leagues from shore
Our ship by chance took fire.”—They learnt no more.
 
    He and his crew were flush of gold.
    “You did not lose your cargo, then?”
    —“Learn where all ’s fairly bought and sold,        345
    Heaven prospers those true men.
Forsake your evil ways, as we forsook
Our ways of sin, and honest courses took!
 
    “Wouldst see my log-book? fairly writ,
    With pen of steel, and ink like blood!        350
    —How lightly doth the conscience sit!
    Learn, truth’s the only good.”
And thus, with flout, and cold and impious jeer,
He fled repentance, if he ’scaped not fear.
 
    Remorse and fear he drowns in drink.        355
    “Come, pass the bowl, my jolly crew!
    It thicks the blood to mope and think.
    —Here ’s merry days, though few!”
And then he quaffs.—So riot reigns within;
So brawl and laughter shake that house of sin.        360
 
    Matt lords it now throughout the isle.
    His hand falls heavier than before.
    All dread alike his frown or smile.
    None come within his door,
Save those who dipp’d their hands in blood with him;        365
Save those who laugh’d to see the white horse swim.
 
    “To night ’s our anniversary;
    And, mind me, lads, we ’ll have it kept
    With royal state and special glee!
    Better with those who slept        370
Their sleep that night, had he be now, who slinks!
And health and wealth to him who bravely drinks!”
 
    The words they spoke, we may not speak.
    The tales they told, we may not tell.
    Mere mortal man, forbear to seek        375
    The secrets of that hell!
Their shouts grow loud. ’T is near mid hour of night.
What means upon the water that red light?
 
    Not bigger than a star it seems:
    And, now, t is like the bloody moon:        380
    And, now, it shoots in hairy streams
    Its light!—’T will reach us soon!
A ship! and all on fire!—hull, yards and mast!
Her sheets are sheets of flame!—She ’s nearing fast!
 
    And now she rides, upright and still,        385
    Shedding a wild and lurid light
    Around the cove, on inland hill,
    Waking the gloom of night.
All breathes of terror! Men in dumb amaze
Gaze on each other ’neath the horrid blaze.        390
 
    It scares the sea-birds from their nests.
    They dart and wheel with deaf’ning screams;
    Now dark,—and now their wings and breasts
    Flash back disastrous gleams.
O, sin, what hast thou done on this fair earth?        395
The world, O man, is wailing o er thy birth.
 
    And what comes up above that wave,
    So ghastly white?—a spectral head!—
    A horse’s head!—(May heaven save
    Those looking on the dead,—        400
The waking dead!) There on the sea he stands—
The spectre-horse!—He moves; he gains the sands!
 
    Onward he speeds. His ghostly sides
    Are streaming with a cold, blue light.
    Heaven keep the wits of him who rides        405
    The spectre-horse tonight!
His path is shining like a swift ship’s wake;
He gleams before Lee’s door like day’s gray break.
 
    The revel now is high within;
    It breaks upon the midnight air.        410
    They little think, ’midst mirth and din,
    What spirit waits them there.
As if the sky became a voice, there spread
A sound to appal the living, stir the dead.
 
    The spirit-steed sent up the neigh.        415
    It seem’d the living trump of hell,
    Sounding to call the damn’d away,
    To join the host that fell.
It rang along the vaulted sky: the shore
Jarr’d hard, as when the thronging surges roar.        420
 
    It rang in ears that knew the sound;
    And hot, flush’d cheeks are blanch’d with fear.
    And why does Lee look wildly round?
    Thinks he the drown’d horse near?
He drops his cup—his lips are stiff with fright.        425
Nay, sit thee down!—It is thy banquet night.
 
    “I cannot sit. I needs must go:
    The spell is on my spirit now.
    I go to dread—I go to wo!”
    O, who so weak as thou,        430
Strong man!—His hoofs upon the door-stone, see,
The shadow stands!—His eyes are on thee, Lee!—
 
    Thy hair pricks up!—“O, I must bear
    His damp, cold breath! It chills my frame!
    His eyes—their near and dreadful glare        435
    Speak that I must not name!”
Thou ’rt mad to mount that horse!—“A power within,
I must obey—cries, ‘mount thee, man of sin!’”
 
    He ’s now astride the spectre’s back,
    With rein of silk, and curb of gold.        440
    ’T is fearful speed!—the rein is slack
    Within his senseless hold:
Nor doth he touch the shade he strides—upborne
By an unseen power.—God help thee, man forlorn!
 
    He goes with speed: he goes with dread!        445
    And now they ’re on the hanging steep!
    And, now! the living and the dead,
    They ’ll make the horrid leap!
The horse stops short:—his feet are on the verge.
He stands, like marble, high above the surge.        450
 
    And, nigh, the tall ship yet burns on,
    With red, hot spars and crackling flame.
    From hull to gallant, nothing ’s gone.
    She burns, and yet ’s the same!
Her hot, red flame is beating, all the night,        455
On man and horse, in their cold, phosphor light.
 
    Through that cold light the fearful man
    Sits looking on the burning ship.
    Thou ne’er again wilt curse and ban.
    How fast he moves the lip!        460
And yet he does not speak, or make a sound!
What see you, Lee,—the bodies of the drown’d?
 
    “I look, where mortal man may not—
    Into the chambers of the deep.
    I see the dead, long, long forgot—        465
    I see them in their sleep.
A dreadful power is mine, which none can know,
Save he who leagues his soul with death and wo.”
 
    Thou mild, sad mother—waning moon,
    Thy last, low, melancholy ray        470
    Shines toward him.—Quit him not so soon!
    Mother, in mercy, stay!
Despair and death are with him; and canst thou,
With that kind, earthward look, go leave him now?
 
    O, thou wast born for things of love;        475
    Making more lovely in thy shine
    Whate’er thou look’st on. Hosts above,
    In that soft light of thine,
Burn softer:—earth, in silvery veil, seems heaven.—
Thou ’rt going down!—Thou ’st left him unforgiven!        480
 
    The far, low west is bright no more.
    How still it is! No sound is heard
    At sea, or all along the shore,
    But cry of passing bird.
Thou living thing,—and dar’st thou come so near        485
These wild and ghastly shapes of death and fear?
 
    Now long that thick, red light has shone
    On stern, dark rocks, and deep, still bay,
    On man and horse that seem of stone,
    So motionless are they.        490
But now its lurid fire less fiercely burns:
The night is going—faint, gray dawn returns.
 
    That spectre-steed now slowly pales;
    Now changes like the moonlit cloud.
    That cold, thin light, now slowly fails,        495
    Which wrapt them like a shroud.
Both ship and horse are fading into air.—
Lost, mazed, alone, see, Lee is standing there!
 
    The morning air blows fresh on him;
    The waves dance gladly in his sight;        500
    The sea-birds call, and wheel, and skim—
    O, blessed morning light!
He doth not hear that joyous call; he sees
No beauty in the wave; he feels no breeze.
 
    For he ’s accurst from all that ’s good;        505
    He ne’er must know his healing power.
    The sinner on his sins must brood;
    Must wait, alone, his hour.
Thou stranger to earth’s beauty—human love,
There ’s here no rest for thee, no hope above!        510
 
    The hot sun beats upon his head.
    He stands beneath its broad, fierce blaze,
    As stiff and cold as one that ’s dead:
    A troubled, dreamy maze
Of some unearthly horror, all he knows—        515
Of some wild horror past, and coming woes.
 
    The gull has found her place on shore;
    The sun ’s gone down unto his rest;
    All ’s still but ocean’s weary roar—
    There stands the man unblest.        520
But, see, he moves—he turns, as asking where
His mates!—Why looks he with that piteous stare?
 
    Go, get thee home, and end thy mirth!
    Go, call the revellers again!
    They ’ve fled the isle; and o’er the earth        525
    Are wanderers, like Cain.
As he his door-stone past, the air blew chill.
The wine is on the board; Lee, take thy fill!
 
    “There ’s none to meet me, none to cheer:
    The seats are empty—lights burnt out;        530
    And I alone, must sit me here:
    Would I could hear their shout!”
Thou ne’er shalt hear it more—more taste thy wine!—
Silent thou sitt’st within the still moonshine.
 
    Day came again; and up he rose,        535
    A weary man, from his lone board.
    Nor merry feast, nor sweet repose
    Did that long night afford.
No shadowy-coming night, to bring him rest—
No dawn, to chase the darkness of his breast!        540
 
    He walks within the day’s full glare
    A darken’d man. Where’er he comes,
    All shun him. Children peep and stare;
    Then, frighted, seek their homes.
Through all the crowd a thrilling horror ran.        545
They point and say—“There goes the evil man!”
 
    He turns and curses in his wrath
    Both man and child; then hastes away
    Shoreward, or takes some gloomy path;
    But there he cannot stay:        550
Terror and madness drive him back to men;
His hate of man to solitude again.
 
    Time passes on, and he grows bold—
    His eye more fierce, his oaths more loud.
    None dare from Lee the hand withhold;        555
    He rules and scoffs the crowd.
But still at heart there lies a secret fear;
For now the year’s dread round is drawing near.
 
    He swears; but he is sick at heart;
    He laughs; but he turns deadly pale.        560
    His restless eye and sudden start—
    These tell the dreadful tale
That will be told: it needs no words from thee,
Thou self-sold slave to fear and misery.
 
    Bond-slave of sin, see there—that light!        565
    “Ha! take me—take me from its blaze!”
    Nay, thou must ride the steed tonight!
    But many weary days
And nights will shine and darken o’er thy head,
Ere thou wilt go with him to meet the dead.        570
 
    Again the ship lights all the land;
    Again Lee strides the spectre-beast;
    Again upon the cliff they stand—
    This once thou’lt be released!—
Gone horse and ship; but Lee’s last hope is o’er;        575
Nor laugh, nor scoff, nor rage, can help him more.
 
    His spirit heard that spirit say,
    “Listen!—I twice have come to thee.
    Once more—and then a dreadful way!
    And thou must go with me!”        580
Ay, cling to earth as sailor to the rock!
Sea-swept, suck’d down in the tremendous shock,
 
    He goes!—So thou must loose thy hold,
    And go with death; nor breathe the balm
    Of early air, nor light behold,        585
    Nor sit thee in the calm
Of gentle thoughts, where good men wait their close.—
In life, or death, where look’st thou for repose?
 
    Who ’s yonder on that long, black ledge,
    Which makes so far into the sea?        590
    See! there he sits, and pulls the sedge—
    Poor, idle Matthew Lee!
So weak and pale? A year and little more,
And thou didst lord it bravely round this shore.
 
    And on the shingles now he sits,        595
    And rolls the pebbles ’neath his hands;
    Now walks the beach; then stops by fits,
    And scores the smooth, wet sands;
Then tries each cliff, and cove, and jut, that bounds
The isle; then home from many weary rounds.        600
 
    They ask him why he wanders so,
    From day to day, the uneven strand?
    —“I wish, I wish that I might go!
    But I would go by land;
And there ’s no way that I can find—I ’ve tried        605
All day and night!”—He look’d towards sea and sigh’d.
 
    It brought the tear to many an eye,
    That, once, his eye had made to quail.
    “Lee, go with us; our sloop rides nigh;
    Come! help us hoist her sail.”        610
He shook.—“You know the spirit-horse I ride!
He ’ll let me on the sea with none beside!”
 
    He views the ships that come and go,
    Looking so like to living things.
    O! ’t is a proud and gallant show        615
    Of bright and broad spread wings
Flinging a glory round them, as they keep
Their course right onward through the unsounded deep.
 
    And where the far-off sand-bars lift
    Their backs in long and narrow line,        620
    The breakers shout, and leap, and shift,
    And send the sparkling brine
Into the air; then rush to mimic strife:—
Glad creatures of the sea! How all seems life!—
 
    But not to Lee. He sits alone;        625
    No fellowship nor joy for him.
    Borne down by wo, he makes no moan,
    Though tears will sometimes dim
That asking eye.—O, how his worn thoughts crave—
Not joy again, but rest within the grave.        630
 
    The rocks are dripping in the mist
    That lies so heavy off the shore.
    Scarce seen the running breakers;—list
    Their dull and smother’d roar!
Lee hearkens to their voice.—“I hear, I hear        635
You call.—Not yet!—I know my time is near!”
 
    And now the mist seems taking shape,
    Forming a dim, gigantic ghost,—
    Enormous thing!—There ’s no escape;
    ’T is close upon the coast.        640
Lee kneels, but cannot pray.—Why mock him so?
The ship has clear’d the fog, Lee, see her go!
 
    A sweet, low voice, in starry nights,
    Chants to his ear a plaining song.
    Its tones come winding up those heights,        645
    Telling of wo and wrong;
And he must listen till the stars grow dim,
The song that gentle voice doth sing to him.
 
    O, it is sad that aught so mild
    Should bind the soul with bands of fear;        650
    That strains to soothe a little child,
    The man should dread to hear!
But sin hath broke the world’s sweet peace—unstrung
The harmonious chords to which the angels sung.
 
    In thick, dark nights he ’d take his seat        655
    High up the cliffs, and feel them shake,
    As swung the sea with heavy beat
    Below—and hear it break
With savage roar, then pause and gather strength,
And then, come tumbling in its swollen length.        660
 
    But thou no more shalt haunt the beach,
    Nor sit upon the tall cliff’s crown,
    Nor go the round of all that reach,
    Nor feebly sit thee down,
Watching the swaying weeds:—another day,        665
And thou ’lt have gone far hence that dreadful way.
 
    To night the charmed number ’s told.
    “Twice have I come for thee,” it said.
    “Once more, and none shall thee behold.
    Come! live one, to the dead!”—        670
So hears his soul, and fears the coming night;
Yet sick and weary of the soft, calm light.
 
    Again he sits within that room;
    All day he leans at that still board;
    None to bring comfort to his gloom,        675
    Or speak a friendly word.
Weaken’d with fear, lone, haunted by remorse,
Poor, shatter’d wretch, there waits he that pale horse.
 
    Not long he ’ll wait.—Where now are gone
    Peak, citadel, and tower, that stood        680
    Beautiful, while the west sun shone,
    And bathed them in his flood
Of airy glory?—Sudden darkness fell;
And down they sank, peak, tower, and citadel.
 
    The darkness, like a dome of stone,        685
    Ceils up the heavens.—’T is hush as death—
    All but the ocean’s dull, low moan.
    How hard Lee draws his breath!
He shudders as he feels the working Power.
Arouse thee, Lee! up! man thee for thine hour!—        690
 
    ’T is close at hand: for there, once more,
    The burning ship. Wide sheets of flame
    And shafted fire she show’d before;
    Twice thus she hither came;—
But now she rolls a naked hulk, and throws        695
A wasting light; then, settling, down she goes.
 
    And where she sank, up slowly came
    The Spectre-Horse from out the sea.
    And there he stands! His pale sides flame.
    He ’ll meet thee shortly, Lee.        700
He treads the waters as a solid floor:
He ’s moving on. Lee waits him at the door.
 
    They ’ve met.—“I know thou com’st for me,”
    Lee’s spirit to the spectre said—
    “I know that I must go with thee—        705
    Take me not to the dead.
It was not I alone that did the deed!”
Dreadful the eye of that still, spectral steed!
 
    Lee cannot turn. There is a force
    In that fix’d eye, which holds him fast.        710
    How still they stand!—that man and horse.
    —Thine hour is almost past.”
“O, spare me,” cries the wretch, “thou fearful one!”
—“My time is full—I must not go alone.”
 
    “I ’m weak and faint. O, let me stay!”        715
    —“Nay, murderer, rest nor stay for thee!”
    The horse and man are on their way;
    He bears him to the sea.
Hark! how the spectre breathes through this still night!
See, from his nostrils streams a deathly light!        720
 
    He ’s on the beach; but stops not there.
    He ’s on the sea!—Lee, quit the horse!
    Lee struggles hard.—’T is mad despair!—
    ’T is vain! The spirit-corse
Holds him by fearful spell;—he cannot leap.        725
Within that horrid light he rides the deep.
 
    It lights the sea around their track—
    The curling comb, and dark steel wave:
    There, yet, sits Lee the spectre’s back—
    Gone! gone! and none to save!        730
They ’re seen no more; the night has shut them in.
May heaven have pity on thee, man of sin!
 
    The earth has wash’d away its stain.
    The seal’d-up sky is breaking forth,
    Mustering its glorious hosts again        735
    From the far south and north.
The climbing moon plays on the rippling sea.
—O, whither on its waters rideth Lee?
 
 
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