'Twas off the Wash - the sun went down - the sea look'd black and grim,
For stormy clouds, with murky fleece, were mustering at the brim;
Titanic shades! enormous gloom! - as if the solid night
Of Erebus rose suddenly to seize upon the light!
It was a time for mariners to bear a wary eye
With such a dark conspiracy between the sea and sky!
Down went my-helm - close reef'd - the tack held freely in my hand -
With ballast snug - I put about, and scudded for the land.
Loud hiss'd the sea beneath her lee - my little boat flew fast,
But faster still the rushing storm came borne upon the blast.
Lord! what a roaring hurricane beset the straining sail!
What furious sleet, with level drift, and fierce assaults of hail!
What darksome caverns yawn'd before! what jagged steeps behind!
Like battle-steeds, with foamy manes, wild tossing in the wind.
Each after each sank down astern, exhausted in the chase,
But where it sank another rose and galloped in its place;
As black as night - they turned to white, and cast against the cloud
A snowy sheet, as if each surge upturned a sailor's shroud: -
Still flew my boat; alas! alas! her course was nearly run!
Behold yon fatal billow rise - ten billows heap'd in one!
With fearful speed the dreary mass came rolling, rolling, fast,
As if the scooping sea contain'd one only wave at last!
Still on it came, with horrid roar, a swift pursuing grave;
It seem'd as though some cloud had turned its hugeness to a wave!
Its briny sleet began to beat beforehand in my face -
I felt the rearward keel begin to climb its swelling base!
I saw its alpine hoary head impending over mine!
Another pulse - and down it rush'd - an avalanche of brine!
Brief pause had I, on God to cry, or think of wife and home;
The waters clos'd - and when I shriek'd, I shriek'd below the foam!
Beyond that rush I have no hint of any after deed -
For I was tossing on the waste, as senseless as a weed.
* * * * *
"Where am I? in the breathing world, or in the world of death?"
With sharp and sudden pang I drew another birth of breath;
My eyes drank in a doubtful light, my ears a doubtful sound -
And was that ship a real ship whose tackle seem'd around?
A moon, as if the earthly moon, was shining up aloft;
But were those beams the very beams that I had seen so oft?
A face, that mock'd the human face, before me watch'd alone;
But were those eyes the eyes of man that look'd against my own?
Oh! never may the moon again disclose me such a sight
As met my gaze, when first I look'd, on that accursed night!
I've seen a thousand horrid shapes begot of fierce extremes
Of fever; and most frightful things have haunted in my dreams -
Hyenas - cats - blood-loving bats - and apes with hateful stare, -
Pernicious snakes, and shaggy bulls - the lion, and she-bear -
Strong enemies, with Judas looks, of treachery and spite -
Detested features, hardly dimm'd and banish'd by the light!
Pale-sheeted ghosts, with gory locks, upstarting from their tombs -
All phantasies and images that flit in midnight glooms -
Hags, goblins, demons, lemures, have made me all aghast, -
But nothing like that GRIMLY ONE who stood beside the mast!
His cheek was black - his brow was black - his eyes and hair as dark;
His hand was black, and where it touch'd, it left a sable mark;
His throat was black, his vest the same, and when I look'd beneath,
His breast was black - all, all, was black, except his grinning teeth.
His sooty crew were like in hue, as black as Afric slaves!
Oh, horror! e'en the ship was black that plough'd the inky waves!
"Alas!" I cried, "for love of truth and blessed mercy's sake,
Where am I? in what dreadful ship? upon what dreadful lake?"
"What shape is that, so very grim, and black as any coal?
It is Mahound, the Evil One, and he has gain'd my soul!
Oh, mother dear! my tender nurse! dear meadows that beguil'd
My happy days, when I was yet a little sinless child, -
My mother dear - my native fields, I never more shall see:
I'm sailing in the Devil's Ship, upon the Devil's Sea!"
Loud laugh'd that SABLE MARINER, and loudly in return
His sooty crew sent forth a laugh that rang from stem to stern -
A dozen pair of grimly cheeks were crumpled on the nonce -
As many sets of grinning teeth came shining out at once:
A dozen gloomy shapes at once enjoy'd the merry fit,
With shriek and yell, and oaths as well, like Demons of the Pit.
They crow'd their fill, and then the Chief made answer for the whole; -
"Our skins," said he, "are black, ye see, because we carry coal;
You'll find your mother sure enough, and see your native fields -
For this here ship has pick'd you up - the Mary Ann of Shields!"