Eighteen Hundred And Fifty-Nine - Poem by Kate Harrington
Oh, a grand old vessel was Fifty-Nine,
And a captain brave had she;
For eighteen hundred and more stout ships
He had steered over life's rough sea.
Eighteen hundred and more stout ships,
Bound not for different goals,
But all for the same, and freighted down
With cargoes of human souls.
And some of these souls were seared by crime;
Some, sin had made foul and black;
While others were pure as the flakes of snow
That cover our wild-flower track.
There were souls of monarchs, and souls of kings,
(The souls of their subjects, too ;)
And some were treacherous, false, and vile,
While others were heavenly true.
There were souls of brokers, bare, flinty things,
All shaved to tlie very core,
For even their honor was loaned on time,
At a hundred per cent, or more.
There were coquettes' souls of chameleon dyes,
And bachelors', knotty as pine,
And these unsocial and selfish souls
Came alone to old Fifty-Nine.
And old Captain Time, as they came aboard,
Counted all he could see;
But some were so narrow and shriveled up,
That they smuggled their passage free.
It was noon of night when the ship was launched,
But the ocean was calm and clear;
And merrily on, with her motley crew,
Went dancing the proud New Year.
On, past the glaciers of snow and ice
That decked the receding shore;
On to the isles where the spring-time sleeps,
Till she hears Time's distant oar.
And the forests woke when they heard afar
The flutter of coming sails ;
And whispered softly a low salute,
That was borne by the passing gales.
And every eye on the vessel's deck
Was turned toward that vision bright;
And those who worshiped at Nature's shrine
Were thrilled with a wild delight.
For those isles looked fair as a gleam of heaven
Through the sunset's golden bars;
Or like beauty's cheek, when its mantling flush
Is seen by the light of stars.
The ship was moored where the gentle flowers
Breathed fragrance on all around,
And the hours to some of the host within
Brought blessings and peace profound.
But, hark ! from the deck of old Fifty-Nine
A shout of defiance comes;
Then the tramp of feet, and the clang of war,
And the roll of advancing drums.
'To arms !' is echoed, in thunder-tones,
Through the din of the cannon's roar;
While sword and spear and the fair green earth
Are sated with human gore.
But Captain Time says never a word
To still the contending foes;
He has promised to steer the ship to port,
And has no hotirs to lose.
He is out, 'mid the blast and the shivering sails,
Tolling the funeral bell,
And every soul that can hear the sound
Sighs at the parting knell.
It tolls for one who has journeyed far,
Whose labors a world may boast;
Who has trodden Atlantic's crowded shore
And Pacific's quiet coast;
Whose wanderings led him o'er Southern plains,
Where eternal sunshine sleeps ;
And up to the loftiest Alpine height
Through snow-drifts' 'wildering steeps.
But Life's work is done, and the mourners pause
That the billows his dirge may sing,
As the dust of Humboldt is laid to rest
On the breast of the gentle Spring.
And slowly now is the vessel turned
From those bright, enchanting isles,
To hasten on where the Summer waits
With her witching, sunny smiles.
And it is not strange that those saddened hearts
Grew light as they neared her bowers,
And caught the gleam of her azure robes
Begirt with a zone of flowers;
Or that Captain Time, though his form is bent,
With labor and age and care,
Should feel a thrill through his palsied frame
When his ship was anchored there;
That the hoary seaman should half forget
The weight of unnumbered years,
When her rippling laugh, through ten thousand rills,
Was borne to his aged ears.
But see ! as they coast round those India isles,
Where the flowers of the orange blow,
Where the bulbul warbles its vesper hymns
By the light of the fire-fly's glow,
With the speed of thought he has left her side,
And fair Summer stands alone :
For off to the aft of old Fifty-Nine
Was a sound like a dying groan.
He has reached the spot, and he chants this dirge
As they bear the dust to shore,
And lay it down in its lonely bed
With a sigh of 'Nevermore' :
' Toll ! toll ! for a mighty soul
Is anchored in harbor now;
A mind creative, whose giant thoughts
Made men to his genius bow.
'Old Fifty-Nine, you are not so strong
Since you yielded up this prize;
You will feel no more his sustaining arm
When feuds and dissensions rise.
He will slumber here while incense sweet
From the date- and the palm-tree float ;
And a nation will hold in its heart of hearts
The name of the statesman Choate.
' But reef the topsail ! we may not wait
To sigh o'er the mighty dead,
For I know, from the surge of yon mountain waves,
There are breakers and shoals ahead.
Now cheerily, lads ! though the billows dash,
And the morrow bring cloudy weather,
We can bring her through with her motley crew
If we only ' pull together.''
And onward now, where grave Autumn sits
In her scarlet robes and golden,
And presses the juice from the purple grape
Like matrons in vineyards olden;
Where the blushing fruit from the ardent gaze
Of the sun drops down, to cover
The deepening flush that might else betray
Her heart to her distant lover:—
To this calm retreat Time hastens on,
To rest with the Autumn sober,
To gaze awhile on the cloudless skies
Of her dreamy, bright October.
But, hist ! there's an echo borne to his ear,
Too' feeble for distant thunder;
A sound as if fiends on old Fifty-Nine
Were tearing her shrouds asunder.
He turns and gazes ; no fleet of war
Has fired a signal warning;
He sees no speck upon sea or sky
On that fair autumnal morning.
And yet—'tis strange (he is very old,
And, perchance, he is frail and doting)—
But he fancies he sees the timbers shake
Where the Flag of the Free is floating.
And he thinks he hears (what absurd conceits
Make mortals unfit to reason !)—
He thinks he hears in that muffled sound
A murmur of 'Death and Treason.'
Yet he breathes no word of his doubts and fears,
Lest they call it imagination,
Until night comes on, and he finds the clan
At their murderous preparation.
And he looks aghast at the horrid work
The shadows of darkness cover,—
On the thirsty band that, like birds of prey,
O'er their slumbering victims hover.
And with scorn he turns from those dastard souls,
Their mutinous schemes bewailing,
While thought flies off to the days agone,
When old Fifty-Two was sailing.
And he thinks of one of its gallant crew,
Of his words of prophetic warning,
And sighs in vain for a Webster heart,
With patriot fervor burning.
'But, true hearts, rouse ye,' the captain cries,
As the tars from their hammocks spring ;
'We have traitors here we must urge to stay,
Till we let them off—with a swing.'
And once again is the vessel turned,
To stem the boisterous gales
That blow from the bleak December's shore
And moan through the shivering sails.
And hundreds of souls are landed here
On this coast so drear and bare,
While some are left on the vessel's deck
With looks of mute despair ;
For they see their captain's form on shore,
Afar o'er the waters wide,
And know that the ship is dashing on
To eternity's waiting tide.
And if ye list, at the dead of night,
To learn what her fate may be,
Ye may hear the wail of old Fifty- Nine
As she sinks in that soundless sea.
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