The Poems of Henry Kendall

The Merchant Ship

Henry Kendall

THE SUN o’er the waters was throwing
    In the freshness of morning its beams;
And the breast of the ocean seemed glowing
    With glittering silvery streams:
A bark in the distance was bounding
    Away for the land on her lee;
And the boatswain’s shrill whistle resounding
    Came over and over the sea.
The breezes blew fair and were guiding
    Her swiftly along on her track,
And the billows successively passing,
    Were lost in the distance aback.
The sailors seemed busy preparing
    For anchor to drop ere the night;
The red rusted cables in fathoms
    Were haul’d from their prisons to light.
Each rope and each brace was attended
    By stout-hearted sons of the main,
Whose voices, in unison blended,
    Sang many a merry-toned strain.

Forgotten their care and their sorrow,
    If of such they had ever known aught,
Each soul was wrapped up in the morrow—
    The morrow which greeted them not;
A sunshiny hope was inspiring
    And filling their hearts with a glow
Like that on the billows around them,
    Like the silvery ocean below.
As they looked on the haven before them,
    Already high looming and near,
What else but a joy could invade them,
    Or what could they feel but a cheer?

.     .     .     .     .

The eve on the waters was clouded,
    And gloomy and dark grew the sky;
The ocean in blackness was shrouded,
    And wails of a tempest flew by;
The bark o’er the billows high surging
    ’Mid showers of the foam-crested spray,
Now sinking, now slowly emerging,
    Held onward her dangerous way.
The gale in the distance was veering
    To a point that would drift her on land,
And fearfully he that was steering
    Look’d round on the cliff-girdled strand.
He thought of the home now before him
    And muttered sincerely a prayer
That morning might safely restore him
    To friends and to kind faces there.
He knew that if once at the mercy
    Of the winds and those mountain-like waves
The sun would rise over the waters—
    The day would return on their graves.

.     .     .     .     .

Still blacker the heavens were scowling,
    Still nearer the rock-skirted shore;
Yet fiercer the tempest was howling
    And louder the wild waters roar.
The cold rain in torrents came pouring
    On deck thro’ the rigging and shrouds,
And the deep, pitchy dark was illumined
    Each moment with gleams from the clouds
Of forky-shap’d lightning as, darting,
    It made a wide pathway on high,
And the sound of the thunder incessant
    Re-echoed the breadth of the sky.
The light-hearted tars of the morning
    Now gloomily watching the storm
Were silent, the glare from the flashes
    Revealing each weather-beat form,
Their airy-built castles all vanished
    When they heard the wild conflict ahead;
Their hopes of the morning were banished,
    And terror seemed ruling instead.
They gazed on the heavens above them
    And then on the waters beneath,
And shrunk as foreboding those billows
    Might shroud them ere morrow in death.

.     .     .     .     .

Hark! A voice o’er the tempest came ringing,
    A wild cry of bitter despair
Re-echoed by all in the vessel,
    And filling the wind-ridden air.
The breakers and rocks were before them
    Discovered too plain to their eyes,
And the heart-bursting shrieks of the hopeless
    Ascending were lost in the skies.
Then a crash, then a moan from the dying
    Went on, on the wings of the gale,
Soon hush’d in the roar of the waters
    And the tempest’s continuing wail.
The “Storm Power” loudly was sounding
    Their funeral dirge as they passed,
And the white-crested waters around them
    Re-echoed the voice of the blast.
The surges will show to the morrow
    A fearful and heartrending sight,
And bereaved ones will weep in their sorrow
    When they think of that terrible night.

.     .     .     .     .

The day on the ocean returning
    Saw still’d to a slumber the deep—
Not a zephyr disturbing its bosom,
    The winds and the breezes asleep.
Again the warm sunshine was gleaming
    Refulgently fringing the sea,
Its rays to the horizon beaming
    And clothing the land on the lee.
The billows were silently gliding
    O’er the graves of the sailors beneath,
The waves round the vessel yet pointing
    The scene of their anguish and death.
They seemed to the fancy bewailing
    The sudden and terrible doom
Of those who were yesterday singing
    And laughing in sight of their tomb.

.     .     .     .     .

’Tis thus on the sea of existence—
    The morning begins without care,
Hope cheerfully points to the distance,
    The Future beams sunny and fair;
And we—as the bark o’er the billows,
    Admiring the beauty of day,
With Fortune all smiling around us—
    Glide onward our silvery way.
We know not nor fear for a sorrow
    Ever crossing our pathway in life;
We judge from to-day the to-morrow
    And dream not of meeting with strife.
This world seems to us as an Eden
    And we wonder when hearing around
The cries of stern pain and affliction
    How such an existence is found.
But we find to our cost when misfortune
    Comes mantling our sun in its night,
That the Earth was not made to be Heaven,
    Not always our life can be bright.
In turn we see each of our day-dreams
    Dissolve into air and decay,
And learn that the hopes that are brightest
    Fade soonest—far soonest away.

These lines were written in 1857, and were suggested by the wreck
of the Dunbar, but the writer did not confine himself in particular
to a description of that disaster, as may be seen from perusal.— H.K.

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