The Lord’s-Day Gale
Bay St. Lawrence, August, 1873 In Gloucester port lie fishing craft,— More stanch and trim were never seen: They are sharp before and sheer abaft, And true their lines the masts between. Along the wharves of Gloucester Town Their fares are lightly handed down, And the laden flakes to landward lean. Well know the men each cruising-ground, And where the cod and mackerel be; Old Eastern Point the schooners round And leave Cape Ann on the larboard lee: Sound are the planks, the hearts are bold, That brave December's surges cold On Georges' shoals in the outer sea. And some must sail to the banks far north And set their trawls for the hungry cod,— In the ghostly fog grope back and forth By shrouded paths no foot hath trod; Upon the crews the ice-winds blow, The bitter sleet, the frozen snow,— Their lives are in the hand of God! New England! New England! Needs sail they must, so brave and poor, Or June be warm or Winter storm, Lest a wolf gnaw through the cottage-door! Three weeks at home, three long months gone, While the patient goodwives sleep alone, And wake to hear the breakers roar. The Grand Bank gathers in its dead,— The deep sea-sand is their winding-sheet; Who does not Georges' billows dread That dash together the drifting fleet? Who does not long to hear, in May, The pleasant wash of Saint Lawrence Bay, The fairest ground where fishermen meet? There the west wave holds the red sunlight Till the bells at home are rung for nine: Short, short the watch, and calm the night; The fiery northern streamers shine; The eastern sky anon is gold, And winds from piny forests old Scatter the white mists off the brine. The Province craft with ours at morn Are mingled when the vapors shift; All day, by breeze and current borne, Across the bay the sailors drift; With toll and seine its wealth they win,— The dappled, silvery spoil come in Fast as their hands can haul and lift. New England! New England! Thou lovest well thine ocean main! It spreadeth its locks among thy rocks, And long against thy heart hath lain; Thy ships upon its bosom ride And feel the heaving of its tide; To thee its secret speech is plain. Cape Breton and Edward Isle between, In strait and gulf the schooners lay; The sea was all at peace, I ween, The night before that August day; Was never a Gloucester skipper there, But thought erelong, with a right good fare, To sail for home from Saint Lawrence Bay. New England! New England! Thy giant's love was turned to hate! The winds control his fickle soul, And in his wrath he hath no mate. Thy shores his angry scourges tear, And for thy children in his care The sudden tempests lie in wait. The East Wind gathered all unknown,— A thick sea-cloud his course before; He left by night the frozen zone And smote the cliffs of Labrador; He lashed the coasts on either hand, And betwixt the Cape and Newfoundland Into the Bay his armies pour. He caught our helpless cruisers there As a gray wolf harries the huddling fold; A sleet—a darkness—filled the air, A shuddering wave before it rolled: That Lord's-day morn it was a breeze,— At noon, a blast that shook the seas,— At night,—a wind of Death took hold! It leapt across the Breton bar, A death-wind from the stormy East! It scarred the land, and whirled afar The sheltering thatch of man and beast; It mingled rick and roof and tree, And like a besom swept the sea, And churned the waters into yeast. From Saint Paul's light to Edward Isle A thousand craft it smote amain; And some against it strove the while, And more to make a port were fain: The mackerel-gulls flew screaming past, And the stick that bent to the noonday blast Was split by the sundown hurricane. Woe, woe to those whom the islands pen! In vain they shun the double capes: Cruel are the reefs of Magdalen; The Wolf's white fang what prey escapes? The Grin'stone grinds the bones of some, And Coffin Isle is craped with foam;— On Deadman's shore are fearful shapes! O, what can live on the open sea, Or moored in port the gale outride? The very craft that at anchor be Are dragged along by the swollen tide! The great storm-wave came rolling west, And tossed the vessels on its crest: The ancient bounds its might defied! The ebb to check it had no power; The surf ran up an untold height; It rose, nor yielded, hour by hour, A night and day, a day and night; Far up the seething shores it cast The wrecks of hull and spar and mast, The strangled crews,—a woful sight! There were twenty and more of Breton sail Fast anchored on one mooring-ground; Each lay within his neighbor's hail When the thick of the tempest closed them round: All sank at once in the gaping sea,— Somewhere on the shoals their corses be, The foundered hulks, and the seamen drowned. On reef and bar our schooners drove Before the wind, before the swell; By the steep sand-cliffs their ribs were stove,— Long, long, their crews the tale shall tell! Of the Gloucester fleet are wrecks threescore; Of the Province sail two hundred more Were stranded in that tempest fell. The bedtime bells in Gloucester Town That Sabbath night rang soft and clear; The sailors' children laid them down,— Dear Lord! their sweet prayers couldst thou hear? 'T is said that gently blew the winds; The goodwives, through the seaward blinds, Looked down the bay and had no fear. New England! New England! Thy ports their dauntless seamen mourn; The twin capes yearn for their return Who never shall be thither borne; Their orphans whisper as they meet; The homes are dark in many a street, And women move in weeds forlorn. And wilt thou quail, and dost thou fear? Ah no! though widows' cheeks are pale, The lads shall say: "Another year, And we shall be of age to sail!" And the mothers' hearts shall fill with pride, Though tears drop fast for them who died When the fleet was wrecked in the Lord's-Day gale.
Edmund Clarence Stedman’s other poems:
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