The Musician's Tale - The Wayside Inn - Part Second

A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

THE BALLAD OF CARMILHAN

I

At Stralsund, by the Baltic Sea,
Within the sandy bar,
At sunset of a summer's day,
Ready for sea, at anchor lay
The good ship Valdemar.

The sunbeams danced upon the waves,
And played along her side;
And through the cabin windows streamed
In ripples of golden light, that seemed
The ripple of the tide.

There sat the captain with his friends,
Old skippers brown and hale,
Who smoked and grumbled o'er their grog,
And talked of iceberg and of fog,
Of calm and storm and gale.

And one was spinning a sailor's yarn
About Klaboterman,
The Kobold of the sea; a spright
Invisible to mortal sight,
Who o'er the rigging ran.

Sometimes he hammered in the hold,
Sometimes upon the mast,
Sometimes abeam, sometimes abaft,
Or at the bows he sang and laughed,
And made all tight and fast.

He helped the sailors at their work,
And toiled with jovial din;
He helped them hoist and reef the sails,
He helped them stow the casks and bales,
And heave the anchor in.

But woe unto the lazy louts,
The idlers of the crew;
Them to torment was his delight,
And worry them by day and night,
And pinch them black and blue.

And woe to him whose mortal eyes
Klaboterman behold.
It is a certain sign of death!--
The cabin-boy here held his breath,
He felt his blood run cold.



II

The jolly skipper paused awhile,
And then again began;
"There is a Spectre Ship," quoth he,
"A ship of the Dead that sails the sea,
And is called the Carmilhan.

"A ghostly ship, with a ghostly crew,
In tempests she appears;
And before the gale, or against the gale,
She sails without a rag of sail,
Without a helmsman steers.

"She haunts the Atlantic north and south,
But mostly the mid-sea,
Where three great rocks rise bleak and bare
Like furnace-chimneys in the air,
And are called the Chimneys Three.

"And ill betide the luckless ship
That meets the Carmilhan;
Over her decks the seas will leap,
She must go down into the deep,
And perish mouse and man."

The captain of the Valdemar
Laughed loud with merry heart.
"I should like to see this ship," said he;
"I should like to find these Chimneys Three,
That are marked down in the chart.

"I have sailed right over the spot," he said
"With a good stiff breeze behind,
When the sea was blue, and the sky was clear,--
You can follow my course by these pinholes here,--
And never a rock could find."

And then he swore a dreadful oath,
He swore by the Kingdoms Three,
That, should he meet the Carmilhan,
He would run her down, although he ran
Right into Eternity!

All this, while passing to and fro,
The cabin-boy had heard;
He lingered at the door to hear,
And drank in all with greedy ear,
And pondered every word.

He was a simple country lad,
But of a roving mind.
"O, it must be like heaven," thought he,
"Those far-off foreign lands to see,
And fortune seek and find!"

But in the fo'castle, when he heard
The mariners blaspheme,
He thought of home, he thought of God,
And his mother under the churchyard sod,
And wished it were a dream.

One friend on board that ship had he;
'T was the Klaboterman,
Who saw the Bible in his chest,
And made a sign upon his breast,
All evil things to ban.



III

The cabin windows have grown blank
As eyeballs of the dead;
No more the glancing sunbeams burn
On the gilt letters of the stern,
But on the figure-head;

On Valdemar Victorious,
Who looketh with disdain
To see his image in the tide
Dismembered float from side to side,
And reunite again.

"It is the wind," those skippers said,
"That swings the vessel so;
It is the wind; it freshens fast,
'T is time to say farewell at last
'T is time for us to go."

They shook the captain by the hand,
"Goodluck! goodluck!" they cried;
Each face was like the setting sun,
As, broad and red, they one by one
Went o'er the vessel's side.

The sun went down, the full moon rose,
Serene o'er field and flood;
And all the winding creeks and bays
And broad sea-meadows seemed ablaze,
The sky was red as blood.

The southwest wind blew fresh and fair,
As fair as wind could be;
Bound for Odessa, o'er the bar,
With all sail set, the Valdemar
Went proudly out to sea.

The lovely moon climbs up the sky
As one who walks in dreams;
A tower of marble in her light,
A wall of black, a wall of white,
The stately vessel seems.

Low down upon the sandy coast
The lights begin to burn;
And now, uplifted high in air,
They kindle with a fiercer glare,
And now drop far astern.

The dawn appears, the land is gone,
The sea is all around;
Then on each hand low hills of sand
Emerge and form another land;
She steereth through the Sound.

Through Kattegat and Skager-rack
She flitteth like a ghost;
By day and night, by night and day,
She bounds, she flies upon her way
Along the English coast.

Cape Finisterre is drawing near,
Cape Finisterre is past;
Into the open ocean stream
She floats, the vision of a dream
Too beautiful to last.

Suns rise and set, and rise, and yet
There is no land in sight;
The liquid planets overhead
Burn brighter now the moon is dead,
And longer stays the night.



IV

And now along the horizon's edge
Mountains of cloud uprose,
Black as with forests underneath,
Above their sharp and jagged teeth
Were white as drifted snows.

Unseen behind them sank the sun,
But flushed each snowy peak
A little while with rosy light
That faded slowly from the sight
As blushes from the cheek.

Black grew the sky,--all black, all black;
The clouds were everywhere;
There was a feeling of suspense
In nature, a mysterious sense
Of terror in the air.

And all on board the Valdemar
Was still as still could be;
Save when the dismal ship-bell tolled,
As ever and anon she rolled,
And lurched into the sea.

The captain up and down the deck
Went striding to and fro;
Now watched the compass at the wheel,
Now lifted up his hand to feel
Which way the wind might blow.

And now he looked up at the sails,
And now upon the deep;
In every fibre of his frame
He felt the storm before it came,
He had no thought of sleep.

Eight bells! and suddenly abaft,
With a great rush of rain,
Making the ocean white with spume,
In darkness like the day of doom,
On came the hurricane.

The lightning flashed from cloud to cloud,
And rent the sky in two;
A jagged flame, a single jet
Of white fire, like a bayonet
That pierced the eyeballs through.

Then all around was dark again,
And blacker than before;
But in that single flash of light
He had beheld a fearful sight,
And thought of the oath he swore.

For right ahead lay the Ship of the Dead,
The ghostly Carmilhan!
Her masts were stripped, her yards were bare,
And on her bowsprit, poised in air,
Sat the Klaboterman.

Her crew of ghosts was all on deck
Or clambering up the shrouds;
The boatswain's whistle, the captain's hail,
Were like the piping of the gale,
And thunder in the clouds.

And close behind the Carmilhan
There rose up from the sea,
As from a foundered ship of stone,
Three bare and splintered masts alone:
They were the Chimneys Three.

And onward dashed the Valdemar
And leaped into the dark;
A denser mist, a colder blast,
A little shudder, and she had passed
Right through the Phantom Bark.

She cleft in twain the shadowy hulk,
But cleft it unaware;
As when, careering to her nest,
The sea-gull severs with her breast
The unresisting air.

Again the lightning flashed; again
They saw the Carmilhan,
Whole as before in hull and spar;
But now on board of the Valdemar
Stood the Klaboterman.

And they all knew their doom was sealed;
They knew that death was near;
Some prayed who never prayed before,
And some they wept, and some they swore,
And some were mute with fear.

Then suddenly there came a shock,
And louder than wind or sea
A cry burst from the crew on deck,
As she dashed and crashed, a hopeless wreck,
Upon the Chimneys Three.

The storm and night were passed, the light
To streak the east began;
The cabin-boy, picked up at sea,
Survived the wreck, and only he,
To tell of the Carmilhan.



INTERLUDE

When the long murmur of applause
That greeted the Musician's lay
Had slowly buzzed itself away,
And the long talk of Spectre Ships
That followed died upon their lips
And came unto a natural pause,
"These tales you tell are one and all
Of the Old World," the Poet said,
"Flowers gathered from a crumbling wall,
Dead leaves that rustle as they fall;
Let me present you in their stead
Something of our New England earth,
A tale which, though of no great worth,
Has still this merit, that it yields
A certain freshness of the fields,
A sweetness as of home-made bread."

The Student answered: "Be discreet;
For if the flour be fresh and sound,
And if the bread be light and sweet,
Who careth in what mill 't was ground,
Or of what oven felt the heat,
Unless, as old Cervantes said,
You are looking after better bread
Than any that is made of wheat?
You know that people nowadays
To what is old give little praise;
All must be new in prose and verse:
They want hot bread, or something worse,
Fresh every morning, and half baked;
The wholesome bread of yesterday,
Too stale for them, is thrown away,
Nor is their thirst with water slaked.

As oft we see the sky in May
Threaten to rain, and yet not rain,
The Poet's face, before so gay,
Was clouded with a look of pain,
But suddenly brightened up again;
And without further let or stay
He told his tale of yesterday.

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