Nora Pembroke Poems >>
The Fate Of Henry Hudson

I, Louis Marin, mariner, born on the Breton coast,
  Must pass from earth away,
  And, because wild remorse
  Pursues me--is my curse,
  My guilty hand this day
Will write down of the crime that haunts my death-bed like a ghost.

  In sixteen hundred ten,
  Bold Hudson and his men
Left London town behind with its castles, towers and fanes,
  The crew were twenty-three,
  Which, alas! included me
When the good ship _Discovery_ went sailing down the Thames
  We were all picked men and strong,
  We took willing hearts along
  Yes, our hearts were bold and brave
  Every eye was keen and bright,
  When the wild Atlantic wave
  Hid the homeland from our sight

On a voyage of discovery bound to win a high renown,
That on the line of years our names be proudly handed down
As, with merry hearts and light, we flew on before the blast,
We little dreamed this voyage was ordained to be our last
All full of reckless venture and so fearless--could we know
Hope beckoned on a path of fame to lure us into woe,
As we sailed into the frozen seas, the place of ice and snow,
We sighted the ominous Farewell Cape
And steered north through drift ice up Baffin's Strait
Oh, lonely and drear to the weary eye
Were the vast ice-fields floating slowly by
Not a blade of grass not a leaf to tell
That the summer verdure was possible
Round the pale horizon, the aching sight
Met an awful vastness of barren white,
As if earth lay beneath the chilly sky
Struck to death by Gehazi's leprosy
We sailed on, and round us on every hand,
On the darkling wave, on the desert strand,
On the rock-bound coast, on the icy cape,
The ice heaved up in wild fantastic shape;
In mountain, and mosque, and cathedral dome,
Lofty peak, and column, and minaret,
And ponderous arches in order set,
  Tower and spire and pinnacle high,
  Soaring up to the deep blue sky
Statues ice sculptured, frost work and fret,
That had some weird likeness to sights at home.

On and on we sailed through the waters dark,
Where the damp fog clung like a witch's veil,
And hid from the faces of watchers pale,
The dangers that crowded around our bark,
In this, the birth-place of the snow and mist.
Icebergs by the low clouds covered and kissed,
Clustered round us like ghosts to bar our way;
While the sharp sleet drove on the icy blast,
Cutting through the foam of the seething spray,
Sheathing in ice both sail and mast,
Northward still northward we sailed away.

The wild air was thick with flurrying snow;
The winds broken loose, raging, swept and swirled,
Heaping mountain drifts on hummock and floe,
  Deadly that wind as the cannon's breath,
  To crush out life with the blast of death.
Wreathing winding sheets round an Arctic world.
Upon that wild day, on that dreadful day!
Amid grinding noises of crash and jar,
With the winds and snow, waves and ice at war,
In their wildest fury and greatest might,
We drove with the storm into that wide bay,
That forever will keep our captain's name,
And embalm in horror his death and fame,
And around us closed in the Arctic night.
Our ship was caught in jaws of ice,
That closed on it, held it as in a vice,
Ice was around us mountains high
Its dazzling spear points pierced the sky,
  In every shape of vast and wild,
  Heaps upon heaps were tossed and hurled,
  Mountain on mountain roughly piled,
  The chaos of an icy world

It was a ghastly, beautiful sight,
The rosy flush of the Northern Light,
Lances of splendour shot through the sky
And blood-red banners were waved on high,
Creatures of light darted to and fro,
Dancing in mockery of our woe,
Unrolling with their luminous hands
Belts of glory, and quivering bands
Of heaving, pulsing, transparent green,
Throwing out light in shimmering waves,
That spread into a tremulous sea
Of wavering glowing brilliancy,
Clothing the heavens in delicate sheen,
From which darts, and arrows, and tongues of fire
Glancing in splendour higher and higher
Wove themselves into a glorious crown,
Letting bright streamers hang wavering down,
Until brilliant sea and crown of beams
Faded to mist like fairy dreams
  Vanishing all away, away,
Away behind ice wall and icy caves,
  Leaving us in the moonlight grey,
Pale skeletons sitting by frozen graves

We in our misery cared not,
For splendours that mocked our wretched lot,
We were locked in a place by God forgot
  He did not care
  For sigh or prayer,
For He never answered to help or bless,
But death and fell sickness and loathsomeness
Of disease that cometh from extreme cold,
Joined to cow the hearts of the brave and bold,
The provisions rotted within the hold,
And the worm eaten bread was foul to use.
Sufferings and agonies manifold
Gathered round the end of that fatal cruise.

The spring kept away so late, oh so late!
Through death our numbers waxed feeble and few;
And when famine sat down among the crew,
Came both sullen anger and fiery hate,
And we hardened our hearts and cursed our fate.
Some deserted to speedily fall and freeze
Some, swollen and blue with the fell disease,
Blasphemed and called on the saints in turn
With choking utterance and livid tongue.
  We cursed the captain to his face
  For bringing us to this wretched case.
He sat among us gloomy and stern,
His venturous heart was with anguish wrung;
  While silent and sad
  Was the little lad,
  His only son,
  Once so full of fun
When he sailed on the cruise that had no return.

Sitting in our misery on a night,
Fresh wonders burst on our awe-struck sight;
  For the stars were raining out of the sky,
In a fiery shower, falling thick and fast;
Yea, and horrible sounds were on the blast,
Of crash and jar, and shivering moan,
As of rending earth; and all nature's groan
  Were sent to warn us the end was nigh.
With awe-struck gladness we looked around,
Waiting to hear the last trumpet sound.
From living death in that desolate Bay,
We had sprung to welcome the judgment day;
Although in the pit should our lot be cast,
So that this our great woe should end at last.
The bleak spring came, the ice did part;
Devils entered each sailor's heart;
No blessed thoughts sweetened our wretched lives,
Of the distant mother's, sweethearts, and wives;
Of innocent pleasures we valued most,
  In the greenwood haunts of our childhood's home,
In sweet English vale, or bold Breton coast,
  That we left to sail on the salt sea foam.

We launched the boat--we, the wicked crew--
Strong in the evil we meant to do,
To leave the most helpless ones behind--
The men who were loathsome, sick and blind.
We tumbled them in without sail or oar;
  We forced in the captain and his son;
  And when the horrible crime was done
We mocked them and told them to go ashore.
O, Mighty God of the sea and land!
Where hadst Thou hidden Thy strong right hand;
That this should happen under the sky,
And be looked at by Thy All-seeing eye
For we spread our sails to leave that spot,
Secure in that God regarded not.
As we steered the ship away, away,
From the boat that rocked on that dismal Bay,
There arose from the wretches left behind,
Helpless by famine, sick and blind,
A cry that would pierce through iron bars;
  The despairing groan
  Of those left alone
Passed through the ranks of the shivering stars,
  To the dreadful God on His holy throne.
When out of that accursed Bay,
Southward, homeward we sailed away.
We had favouring winds, we hurried fast,
Had our sails been of the hurricane's blast,
Our guilt so surrounded and hemmed us in
That we could not sail away from our sin;
For all nature knew that we had done
The awfullest deed beneath the sun
Our burning eyes were forbid to weep,
We lost the rest of the blessed sleep;
For scared by dreams and terrified
By visions, leaving us weary-eyed,
We knew that the tempter's work was done,
We had staked our souls and the fiend had won.

I stood one night at the wheel alone:
  Stars in millions were in the sky,
  Every star an accusing eye;
I heard again that horrible groan
Of horror, of helpless terror and pain,
I had hoped to nevermore hear again--
  The cry of those we had left alone.

The sky was changed, an angry glare
Lit up the billows, and through the air
Flaming swords flashed in invisible hands,
Ready to execute God's commands.
The solemn light of the pale moon's glance
Glowed with the wrath of His countenance.
At the far horizon shadowy things
Shod with the lightning, with fiery wings,
  Were darting with messages to and fro,
I saw them flitting on, noiseless, swift,
Through the holy vail of luminous mist,
  Where God was apportioning our woe.
I knew the time had come when He meant
To mete out to us our punishment.
An awful voice from the maintop fell:
  "Where is the captain and sick of the crew?"
It filled my brain with the pains of hell;
  The cold sweat started like drops of dew.
My hair stood up--for, over the side,
On the rolling swell of the heaving tide,
  Gliding along on the crest of a wave,
I saw, in the moonlight's shimmering track,
  Our messmates, the feeble, sick and blind,
  That leagues away we had left behind;
To the vessel groping their blind way back
Coming again to join the crew;
  Led by the captain looking as brave,
As full of command, as he used to do

The wave heaved up to the bulwark's side,
  And one after one they stepped on board.
Dead men, with eyes that opened wide
  With the stare of blindness--gracious Lord!
One of them groped his way abaft,
  And laid his swollen hand on the wheel.
His hand that in death was clammy and damp;
His blind eyes stared at the binnacle lamp,
  As if the dead hand had nerves of steel,
He altered the ship's course in spite of me
  Who could only stare at him and gasp,
  For I was in the nightmare's grasp.
Fiends in the air around me laughed;
But the dead man worked on all silently,
Nor noticed the ecstacy of my fears;
Yet he was a man I had known for years.
A messmate at sea, a comrade on shore,
And in jolly carouse, in wassail roar.
My holiday time with him I spent
When I was of life-blood innocent;
But he never looked or spoke to me,
But steered away from the open sea.
Towards the shore beyond the desolate strait,
Where suffering and crime had been so great.

Dead hands pulled the ropes and trimmed the sails,
But no cheery cries the night wind hails.
They worked the ship like men who slept
  But steadily, oh so steadily!
They took in sail, the watch they kept,
  And groped about blindly, silently.
Fore and aft on the waves swarmed fiendish things,
Vile creatures that seemed to be heads with wings.
  Like a shoal of porpoises millions strong,
Alive with motion that could not rest,
Twisting out ropes from the breaker's crest,
From the fleecy foam of the yeasty spray,
With hands that appeared and vanished away;
Chattering, they towed the ship along;
And we, the living, stood looking on,
Until that horrible night was gone.

When the grey of dawn came in the sky,
With a scream and a cheer the fiends vanished;
Over the side filing silently
Went our messmates, the corpses swollen and dead,
Gliding over the waves with the vanishing night
Till the low clouds covered them up from our sight.

We, like men who have got respite from pain,
Put about the ship toward home again,
The sails swelled out with a favouring wind;
The coast of horrors we left behind.
And cheerily sailed in the blessed light;
But the ghosts of the crew came back at night.
Whatever distance we gained by day.
They steered us back in the moonlight grey.

How it came to pass I can never tell,
But I thought of God in the jaws of hell--
Through my despair came the thought that He
Was a helper in extremity
For the first time in my wandering years,
My burning eyes felt the bliss of tears
Like refreshing dew on soul and sense
Fell the softening grace of penitence
The Grace Divine that maketh whole,
Stole into the darkness of my soul

Sad thoughts were rising into prayer,
  By the wheel on the night air chill and raw
The ghost of my messmate stood by me,
  And looked in my face with eyes that saw
The blue lips said "Be awake, and aware,
  The enchanted ship will touch the shore,
Fly then from us, and you will be free,
  Your penance of suffering will be o'er
But the rest, for the deed that they have done
Shall sail on without rest beneath the sun."

I made my escape when we reached the shore,
And I saw the ship and the crew no more
Alone I laid myself down to die,
No human aid, as I thought, was nigh
  I longed for death, I was not afraid
I was found by roving hunter bands,
Brought back to life by merciful hands,
  The hands of a dark skinned Indian maid.
She nursed me with skill and tenderness,
And recovered me from loathsomeness
But the day has come and the hours draw nigh,
When I, Louis Marin, must surely die
I write down my crime, that soon or late
The world may know Captain Hudson's fate

I write of our crime and our sufferings,
Of vengeance that follows, remorse that stings
Messmates remember though crime is done,
In the lonest spot beneath the sun,
Where footstep of man has never trod,
It's under the eye of an avenging God.
He comes near, a Swift Witness, with intent
That they who sow crime shall reap punishment.