Henry James Pye

(20 February 1745 – 11 August 1813 / London, England)

On The Wreck Of The Halsewell - Poem by Henry James Pye


Now the loud winds with angry pinions sweep
The laboring bosom of the stormy deep,
The face of day o'erspread by vapors scowls,
And 'mid the shrowds the increasing tempest howls,
O'er the tall mast the giant surges rise,
And a new Chaos mingles earth and skies;
Bold even in danger's face, the naval train
Exert their force, and try their art in vain;
Despair and Death on all their efforts lower,
And the loud tempest mocks their feeble power.
Large and more large the threatening rocks appear,
And every billow brings their fate more near.—
Steep Purbeck's chalky cliffs, whose welcome sight
So oft have fill'd the bosom with delight,
When, as from hostile coasts and distant skies
The wave-worn mariner, returning, spies
Their well-known summits with exulting eyes,
Renews each scene with thoughts domestic dear,
And wets the cheek with joy's o'er raptur'd tear,
Now in the dreadful garb of terror dress'd
Freeze life's warm tide, and chill the shuddering breast;
And the lov'd shore that life, that freedom gave,
Now sinks her sons beneath the whelming wave.

So Jason's infant race, a suppliant train,
Around their frantic mother cling in vain,
Hang on the parent bosom that supplied
Their earliest nurture with it's milky tide;
On all their pangs she smiles with savage joy,
And her own hands her hated race destroy.
Full on the shore the giddy vessel drives,
And the rude shock her solid timbers rives,
The lashing wave her batter'd planks divides,
And o'er her deck the sea resistless rides.—
Say shall no voice in pitying strains relate
The hardy mariner's untimely fate,
Who oft Britannia's streaming flag unfurl'd
To the wild inmates of the Southern world,
Or with bold prow the hostile fleet explor'd
When louder than the surge the battle roar'd?
Yes! yes! to them the sorrowing Muse shall pay
The votive tribute of a mournful lay:
Yet while she pours the unavailing tear
Some transient gleams the night of horror chear.
For scenes that frequent shapes of Death impart
Arm the firm breast, and steel the manly heart;
And he who oft has seen his ghastly form
Glare in the fight, and thunder in the storm,
Will with bold arm his tyrant force engage,
And while he combats mitigates his rage.

Not such the means to check the awful doom
When Youth and Beauty meet the watery tomb:
Where those mild graces partial Nature gave
To sooth the labors of the wise, and brave,
Soften'd by all that fond assiduous care
Which every bosom gives the young, and fair,
Each kind attention warm affection pays,
The Parent's fondness, and the Lover's praise,
Teach Sensibility's resistless glow
To raise each fear, and double every woe.
Say how shall they, whose eye's averted sight
Shrinks trembling from the phantom of affright,
While Art inventive skreens each lovely form
Or from the sultry ray, or chilling storm;
Say how shall they with gentle bosoms brave
The rushing torrent of the delug'd wave,
Where Death's pale shape in heighten'd terrors dress'd
Strikes icy horror through the firmest breast?

What language can describe, what colors shew,
Each varied form of terror and of woe?—
With pallid features, and dishevell'd hair,
In all the agony of dumb despair,
Here on the deck the wretched victim lies,
And views approaching death with lifted eyes.
Here piercing cries drown'd by the sounding main
Invoke an absent mother's aid in vain.
Here stony fear arrests the laboring breath,
And dread, anticipates the stroke of death.
This on the crew her eye attentive throws
To try if hope one distant ray bestows.
And see supreme in sorrow and distress
The wretched sire his trembling daughters press,
Now down his cheeks the streaming torrents roll,
And speak the bitter anguish of his soul;
And now parental care his face beguiles,
And hides his heartfelt pangs in transient smiles,
Throws a faint sunshine o'er the brow of care,
And gilds with hope the horror of despair.—
Heavens!—that soul-piercing shriek!—the conflict's o'er,
Hush'd are their cries, their bosoms beat no more;
Sad, silent, all, save where the wild winds urge
The sullen fury of the heaving surge;
And, floating lifeless, see each beauteous form
Drives a pale corse before the ruthless storm.

Even the stern mariner whose doubtful hand
Just grasps the summit of the wish'd for land,
While scarce his thoughts the sense of safety know,
Escap'd from rocks above, and waves below,
Amid the conflict keen of hope and fear
Hears their last cries still vibrate in his ear,
Feels their keen anguish 'midst his dearest strife,
And mourns their sufferings while he pants for life.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 27, 2010

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