The Merchant Ship

A poem by 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.

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