The Drowned Mariner
by ELIZABETH OAKES SMITH (1806-1893)
A mariner sat on the shrouds one night;
The wind was piping free;
Now bright, now dimmed was the moon-light pale,
And the phosphor gleamed in the wake of the whale,
As he floundered in the sea;
The scud was flying athwart the sky,
The gathering winds went whistling by,
And the wave as it towered, then fell in spray,
Looked an emerald wall in the moonlight ray.
The mariner swayed and rocked on the mast,
But the tumult pleased him well;
Down the yawning wave his eye he cast,
And the monsters watched as they hurried past
Or lightly rose and fell;
For their broad, damp fins were under the tide,
And they lashed as they passed the vessel’s side,
And their filmy eyes, all huge and grim,
Glared fiercely up, and they glared at him.
Now freshens the gale, and the brave ship goes
Like an uncurbed steed along;
A sheet of flame is the spray she throws,
As her gallant prow the water ploughs,
But the ship is fleet and strong:
The topsails are reefed and the sails are furled,
And onward she sweeps o’er the watery world,
And dippeth her spars in the surging flood;
But there came no chill to the mariner’s blood.
Wildly she rocks, but he swingeth at ease,
And holds him by the shroud;
And as she careens to the crowding breeze,
The gaping deep the mariner sees,
And the surging heareth loud.
Was that a face, looking up at him,
With its pallid cheek and its cold eyes dim?
Did it beckon him down? did it call his name?
Now rolleth the ship the way whence it came.
The mariner looked, and he saw with dread
A face he knew too well;
And the cold eyes glared, the eyes of the dead,
And its long hair out on the wave was spread.
Was there a tale to tell?
The stout ship rocked with a reeling speed,
And the mariner groaned, as well he need;
For, ever, down as she plunged on her side,
The dead face gleamed from the briny tide.
Bethink thee, mariner, well, of the past,—
A voice calls loud for thee:—
There’s a stifled prayer, the first, the last;—
The plunging ship on her beam is cast,—
Oh, where shall thy burial be?
Bethink thee of oaths that were lightly spoken,
Bethink thee of vows that were lightly broken,
Bethink thee of all that is dear to thee,
For thou art alone on the raging sea:
Alone in the dark, alone on the wave,
To buffet the storm alone,
To struggle aghast at thy watery grave,
To struggle and feel there is none to save,—
God shield thee, helpless one!
The stout limbs yield, for their strength is past,
The trembling hands on the deep are cast,
The white brow gleams a moment more,
Then slowly sinks—the struggle is o’er.
Down, down where the storm is hushed to sleep,
Where the sea its dirge shall swell,
Where the amber drops for thee shall weep,
And the rose-lipped shell her music keep,
There thou shalt slumber well.
The gem and the pearl lie heaped at thy side,
They fell from the neck of the beautiful bride,
From the strong man’s hand, from the maiden’s brow,
As they slowly sunk to the wave below.
A peopled home is the ocean bed;
The mother and child are there;
The fervent youth and the hoary head,
The maid, with her floating locks outspread,
The babe with its silken hair;
As the water moveth they lightly sway,
And the tranquil lights on their features play;
And there is each cherished and beautiful form,
Away from decay, and away from the storm.
Elizabeth Oakes Smith was born Elizabeth Oakes Prince near Portland, Maine. She was descended on her father’s side from Thomas Prince, one of the early Puritan governors of the Plymouth colony. Despite her wishes to go to college, she was married at age 16 to the much older Seba Smith, who became widely known as the author of the ” Jack Downing” letters in 1830. His land speculation deals, however, bankrupted him by 1837. In an effort to help support the family, Elizabeth began to write, initially under male aliases. Elizabeth’s first poems were published in the Southern Literary Messenger and she soon became acquainted with many prominent writers. Her autobiography and personal papers contain many interesting accounts of her encounters with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, William Cullen Bryant and Horace Greeley. Elizabeth went on to write many popular dime novels and also became very active as an advocate for women’s rights.