Thomas Bailey Aldrich

(November 11, 1836 – March 19, 1907 / Portsmouth, New Hampshire)

The Shipman's Tale - Poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Listen my masters! I speak naught but truth.
From dawn to dawn they drifted on and on,
Not knowing wither nor to what dark end.
Now the North froze them, now the hot South scorched.
Some called to God, and found great comfort so;
Some gnashed their teeth with curses, some laughed
An empty laughter, seeing they yet lived,
So sweet was breath between their foolish lips.
Day after day the same relentless sun,
Night after night the same unpitying stars.
At intervals fierce lightning tore the clouds,
Showing vast hollow spaces, and the sleet
Hissed, and the torrents of the sky were loosed.
From time to time a hand relaxed its grip,
And some pale wretch slid down into the dark
With stifled moan, and transient horror seized
The rest who waited, knowing what must be.
At every turn strange shapes reached up and clutched
The whirling wreck, held on awhile, and then
Slipt back into that blackness whence they came.
Ah, hapless folk, to be so tost and torn,
So racked by hunger, fever, fire, and wave,
And swept at last into the nameless void--
Frail girls, strong men, and mothers with their babes!

And was none saved?
My masters, not a soul!

O shipman, woful, woful is thy tale!
Our hearts are heavy and our eyes are dimmed.
What ship is this that suffered such ill fate?

What ship, my masters? Know ye not?--The World!


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Read poems about / on: laughter, dark, fate, truth, fire, night, sky, time, sun, god, world, star, girl



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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