'What was the hardest hour’, you ask,
‘Ever I had at sea?’
There was that in the wreck of the Mary Ross
Is bitten into me.
Five merry weeks of sun and speed,
A ship well mann’d and stout—
One hour from home she falter’d, stopp’d
Short … and the lights went out.
What follow’d—O just-dealing God,
How firm must be Thy mind,
Such a beginning to have given
And such an end design’d!
…Sudden, from human eyes and hands
And kindred human breath,
Into the wild black Void, into
The unthought-on fangs of Death…
…The bitter cold was all—then breath
Again, and something cross’d
My clutching fingers; with a spar
Now was I driven and toss’d.
Where were the rest? My strain’d ear caught
No answer … Dazed and stark,
Moments it may have been, or hours,
Dash’d thro’ the roaring dark.
I thought that I must have traversed Time
And touch’d Eternity,
When, high in the air, a cry, a wail:
‘I am afraid! Save me!’
And yonder!—Oh what ’s that blacker black
Bulged out upon the gloom?
By the glint of the whirling spray I saw
Her lifted stern-post loom.
‘Save me!’ Oh what ’s yon whiter speck
O’er the yeasty glimmer wild?
Terribly flashed the hasty moon
On—the face of a little child!
Back chased the blessed dark—but, oh!
I’d seen! Aye, all too clear
I see her still—the piteous mouth,
The great eyes fixt with fear.
Not an hour since upon my knee
Her good-night pranks were play’d,
And now—to face Death … and alone…
God! and afraid? ‘Afraid!’
Oh, I cried from the trough—I promised her
The help that I could not give.
The wind drove back my words—the waves
Drove on their fugitive.
‘Somebody save me!’ And again
For one mad second’s space,
’Mid the rushing rack the quiet moon,
’Mid the wide void, that face!
And she saw me! Great Heaven, she smiled!
Stretch’d out her arms and cried,
‘Save me!’ and half my name—and then…
Then she was pacified.
For … a swirl … a suck … when next I rose,
Naught, save the stormy roar!
Down in the darkness I thank’d God.
She was afraid no more.