The Flying Dutchman

A poem by James Russell Lowell

Don't believe in the Flying Dutchman?
I've known the fellow for years;
My button I've wrenched from his clutch, man:
I shudder whenever he nears!

He's a Rip van Winkle skipper,
A Wandering Jew of the sea,
Who sails his bedevilled old clipper
In the wind's eye, straight as a bee.

Back topsails! you can't escape him;
The man-ropes stretch with his weight,
And the queerest old toggeries drape him,
The Lord knows how long out of date!

Like a long-disembodied idea,
(A kind of ghost plentiful now,)
He stands there; you fancy you see a
Coeval of Teniers or Douw.

He greets you; would have you take letters:
You scan the addresses with dread,
While he mutters his donners and wetters,--
They're all from the dead to the dead!

You seem taking time for reflection,
But the heart fills your throat with a jam,
As you spell in each faded direction
An ominous ending in dam.

Am I tagging my rhymes to a legend?
That were changing green turtle to mock:
No, thank you! I've found out which wedge-end
Is meant for the head of a block.

The fellow I have in my mind's eye
Plays the old Skipper's part here on shore,
And sticks like a burr, till he finds I
Have got just the gauge of his bore.

This postman 'twist one ghost and t'other,
With last dates that smell of the mould,
I have met him (O man and brother,
Forgive me!) in azure and gold.

In the pulpit I've known of his preaching,
Out of hearing behind the time,
Some statement of Balaam's impeaching,
Giving Eve a due sense of her crime.

I have seen him some poor ancient thrashing
Into something (God save us!) more dry,
With the Water of Life itself washing
The life out of earth, sea, and sky.

O dread fellow-mortal, get newer
Despatches to carry, or none!
We're as quick as the Greek and the Jew were
At knowing a loaf from a stone.

Till the couriers of God fail in duty,
We sha'n't ask a mummy for news,
Nor sate the soul's hunger for beauty
With your drawings from casts of a Muse.

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