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Poem by Francis Turner Palgrave

Sir Hugh Willoughby


  Two ships upon the steel-blue Arctic seas
  When day was long and night itself was day,
  Forged heavily before the South West breeze
  As to the steadfast star they curved their way;
  Two specks of man, two only signs of life,
Where with all breathing things white Death keeps endless strife.

  The Northern Cape is sunk: and to the crew
  This zone of sea, with ice-floes wedged and rough,
  Domed by its own pure height of tender blue,
  Seems like a world from the great world cut off:
  While, round the horizon clasp'd, a ring of white,
Snow-blink from snows unseen, walls them with angry light.

  Now that long day compact of many days
  Breaks up and wanes; and equal night beholds
  Their hapless driftage past uncharted bays,
  And in her chilling, killing arms enfolds:
  While the near stars a thousand arrowy darts
Bend from their diamond eyes, as the low sun departs.

  Or the weird Northern Dawn in idle play
  Mocks their sad souls, now trickling down the sky
  In many-quivering lines of golden spray,
  Then blazing out, an Iris-arch on high,
  With fiery lances fill'd and feathery bars,
And sheeny veils that hide or half-reveal the stars.

  A silent spectacle!  Yet sounds, 'tis said,
  On their forlornness broke; a hissing cry
  Of mockery and wild laugh, as, overhead,
  Those blight fantastic squadrons flaunted by:--
  And that false dawn, long nickering, died away,
And the Sun came not forth, and Heaven withheld the day.

  O King Hyperion, o'er the Delphic dale
  Reigning meanwhile in glory, Ocean know
  Thine absence, and outstretch'd an icy veil,
  A marble pavement, o'er his waters blue;
  Past the Varangian fiord and Zembla hoar,
And from Petsora north to dark Arzina's shore:--

  An iron ridge o'erhung with toppling snow
  And giant beards of icicled cascade:--
  Where, frost-imprison'd as the long mouths go,
  The _Good Hope_ and her mate-ship lay embay'd;
  And those brave crews knew that all hope was gone;
England be seen no more; no more the living sun.

  A store that daily lessens 'neath their eyes;
  A little dole of light and fire and food:--
  While Night upon them like a vampyre lies
  Bleaching the frame and thinning out the blood;
  And through the ships the frost-bit timbers groan,
And the Guloine prowls round, with dull heart-curdling moan.

  Then sometimes on the soul, far off, how far!
  Came back the shouting crowds, the cannon-roar,
  The latticed palace glittering like a star,
  The buoyant Thames, the green, sweet English shore,
  The heartful prayers, the fireside blaze and bliss,
The little faces bright, and woman's last, last kiss.

  --O yet, for all their misery, happy souls!
  Happy in faith and love and fortitude:--
  For you, one thought of England dear controls
  All shrinking of the flesh at death so rude!
  Though long at rest in that far Arctic grave,
True sailor hero hearts, van of our bravest brave.

  And one by one the North King's searching lance
  Touch'd, and they stiffen'd at their task, and died;
  And their stout leader glanced a farewell glance;
  'God is as close by sea as land,' he cried,
  'In His own light not nearer than this gloom,'--
And look'd as one who o'er the mountains sees his home.

  Home!--happy sound of vanish'd happiness!
  --But when the unwilling sun crept up again,
  And loosed the sea from winter and duresse,
  The seal-wrapt race that roams the Lapland main
  Saw in Arzina, wondering, fearing more,
The tatter'd ships, in snows entomb'd and vaulted o'er:

  And clomb the decks, and found the gallant crew,
  As forms congeal'd to stone, where frozen fate
  Took each man in his turn, and gently slew:--
  Nor knew the heroic chieftain, as he sate,
  English through every fibre, in his place,
The smile of duty done upon the steadfast face.

Francis Turner Palgrave

Francis Turner Palgrave's other poems:
  1. A Night Journey
  2. A Crusader's Tomb
  3. Elizabeth at Tilbury
  4. The PoetТs Euthanasia
  5. A Home in the Palace

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