The Voyage

Not with a heart unmoved I left thy shores,
Dear native isle! oh — not without a pang,
As thy fair uplands lessened on the view,
Cast back the long, involuntary look!
The morning cheer'd our outset; gentle airs
Curl'd the blue deep, and bright the summer sun
Play'd o'er the summer ocean, when our barks
Began their way.
And they were gallant barks,
As ever through the raging billows rode;
And many a tempest's buffeting they bore.
Their sails all swelling with the eastern breeze,
Their tighten'd cordage clattering to the mast,
Steady they rode the main; the gale aloft
Sung in the shrouds, the sparkling waters hiss'd
Before, and froth'd, and whiten'd far behind.
Day after day, with one auspicious wind,
Right to the setting sun we held our course.
My hope had kindled every heart; they blest
The unvarying breeze, whose unabating strength
Still sped us onward; and they said that Heaven
Favor'd the bold emprise.
How many a time,
Mounting the mast-tower-top, with eager ken
They gazed, and fancied in the distant sky
Their promised shore, beneath the evening cloud,
Or seen, low lying, through the haze of morn.
I, too, with eyes as anxious watch'd the waves,
Though patient, and prepared for long delay;
For not on wild adventure had I rush'd
With giddy speed, in some delirious fit
Of fancy; but in many a tranquil hour
Weigh'd well the attempt, till hope matured to faith.
Day after day, day after day the same, —
A weary waste of waters! still the breeze
Hung heavy in our sails, and we held on
One even course: a second week was gone,
And now another past, and still the same,
Waves beyond waves, the interminable sea!
What marvel, if at length the mariners
Grew sick with long expectance? I beheld
Dark looks of growing restlessness; I heard
Distrust's low murmurings; nor avail'd it long
To see and not perceive. Shame had awhile
Repress'd their fear, till, like a smother'd fire,
It burst, and spread with quick contagion round,
And strengthen'd as it spread. They spake in tones
Which might not be mistaken; — They had done
What men dared do, ventured where never keel
Had cut the deep before; still all was sea,
The same unbounded ocean! — to proceed
Were tempting Heaven.
I heard with feign'd surprise,
And, pointing then to where our fellow bark,
Gay with her fluttering streamers and full sails,
Rode, as in triumph, o'er the element,
I ask'd them what their comrades there would deem
Of those so bold ashore, who, when a day,
Perchance an hour, might crown their glorious toil,
Shrunk then, and coward-like return'd to meet
Mockery and shame? True, they had ventured on
In seas unknown, beyond where ever man
Had plough'd the billows yet: more reason so
Why they should now, like him whose happy speed
Well nigh hath run the race, with higher hope
Press onward to the prize. But late they said,
Marking the favor of the steady gale,
That Heaven was with us; Heaven vouchsafed us still
Fair seas and favoring skies; nor need we pray
For other aid; the rest was in ourselves;
Nature had given it, when she gave to man
Courage and constancy.
They answer'd not,
Awhile obedient; but I saw with dread
The silent sullenness of cold assent.
Then, with what fearful eagerness I gazed,
At earliest daybreak, o'er the distant deep!
How sick at heart with hope, when evening closed,
Gazed through the gathering shadows! — but I saw
The sun still sink below the endless waves,
And still at morn, beneath the farthest sky,
Unbounded ocean heaved. Day after day
Before the steady gale we drove along, —
Day after day! The fourth week now had past;
Still all around was sea, — the eternal sea!
So long that we had voyaged on so fast,
And still at morning where we were at night,
And where we were at morn, at nightfall still,
The centre of that drear circumference,
Progressive, yet no change! — almost it seem'd
That we had pass'd the mortal bounds of space,
And speed was toiling in infinity.
My days were days of fear; my hours of rest
Were like a tyrant's slumber. Sullen looks,
Eyes turn'd on me, and whispers meant to meet
My ear, and loud despondency, and talk
Of home, now never to be seen again, —
I suffer'd these, dissembling as I could,
Till that avail'd no longer. Resolute
The men came round me. They had shown enough
Of courage now, enough of constancy;
Still to pursue the desperate enterprise
Were impious madness! they had deem'd,indeed
That Heaven in favor gave the unchanging gale
More reason now to think offended God,
When man's presumptuous folly strove to palm
The fated limits of the world, had sent
His winds, to waft us to the death we sought
Their lives were dear, they bade me know, and that
Many, and I, the obstinate, but one.
With that, attending no reply, they hailed
Our fellow bark, and told their fix'd resolve.
A shout of joy approved. Thus, desperate now
I sought my solitary cabin; there
Confused with vague, tumultuous feelings lay,
And to remembrance and reflection lost,
Knew only I was wretched.
Thus entranced
Cadwallon found me; shame, and grief, and pride,
And baffled hope, and fruitless anger swell'd
Within me. All is over! I exclaim'd;
Yet not in me, my friend, hath time produced
These tardy doubts and shameful fickleness;
I have not fail'd, Cadwallon! Nay, he said;
The coward fears which persecuted me
Have shown what thou hast suffer'd. We have
One hope — I pray'd them to proceed a day, —
But one day more; — this little have I gain'd,
And here will wait the issue; in yon bark
I am not needed, — they are masters there.

One only day! — The gale blew strong, the bark
Sped through the waters; but the silent hours,
Who make no pause, went by; and centred still
We saw the dreary vacancy of heaven
Close round our narrow view, when that brief term
The last, poor respite of our hopes, expired.
They shorten'd sail, and call'd with coward pray
For homeward winds. Why, what poor slaves at we!
In bitterness I cried; the sport of chance;
Left to the mercy of the elements,
Or the more wayward will of such as these,
Blind tools and victims of their destiny!
Yea, Madoc! he replied, the Elements
Master indeed the feeble powers of man!
Not to the shores of Cambria will thy ships
Win back their shameful way! — or H E , whose witt
Unchains the winds, hath bade them minister
To aid us, when all human hope was gone,
Or we shall soon eternally repose
From life's long voyage.
As he spake, I saw
The clouds hang thick and heavy o'er the deep,
And heavily, upon the long, slow swell,
The vessel labor'd on the laboring sea.
The reef-points rattled on the shivering sail,
At fits the sudden gust howl'd ominous,
Anon with unremitting fury raged;
High roll'd the mighty billows, and the blast.
Swept from their sheeted sides the showery foam
Vain now were all the seamen's homeward how
Vain all their skill! — we drove before the storm

'Tis pleasant, by the cheerful hearth, to hearth
Of tempests and the dangers of the deep,
And pause at times, and feel that we are safe;
Then listen to the perilous tale again,
And with an eager and suspended soul,
Woo terror to delight us. — But to hear
The roaring of the raging elements, —
To know all human skill, all human strength,
Avail not, — to look round, and only see
The mountain wave incumbent with its weight
Of bursting waters o'er the reeling bark, —
Oh God, this is indeed a dreadful thing!
And he who hath endured the horror once
Of such an hour, doth never hear the storm
Howl round his home, but he remembers it,
And thinks upon the suffering mariner.

Onward we drove: with unabating force
The tempest raged; night added to the storm
New horrors, and the morn arose o'erspread
With heavier clouds. The weary mariners
Call'd on Saint Cyric's aid; and I, too, placed
My hope on Heaven, relaxing not the while
Our human efforts. Ye who dwell at home,
Ye do not know the terrors of the main!
When the winds blow, ye walk along the shore,
And as the curling billows leap and toss,
Fable that Ocean's mermaid Shepherdess
Drives her white flocks afield, and warns in time
The wary fisherman. Gwenhidwy warned
When we had no retreat! My secret heart
Almost had fail'd me. — Were the Elements
Confounded in perpetual conflict here,
Sea, Air, and Heaven? Or were we perishing
Where at their source the Floods, forever thus,
Beneath the nearer influence of the Moon,
Labor'd in these mad workings? Did the Waters
Here on their outmost circle meet the Void,
The verge and brink of Chaos? Or this Earth, —
Was it indeed a living thing, — its breath
The ebb and flow of Ocean? and had we
Reached the storm rampart of its Sanctuary,
The insuperable boundary, raised to guard
Its mysteries from the eye of man profane?

Three dreadful nights and days we drove along;
The fourth, the welcome rain came rattling down;
The wind had fallen, and through the broken cloud
Appeared the bright, dilating blue of heaven.
Imbolden'd now, I call'd the mariners: —
Vain were it should we bend a homeward course,
Driven by the storm so far: they saw our barks,
For service of that long and perilous way,
Disabled, and our food belike to fail.
Silent they heard, reluctant in assent;
Anon, they shouted joyfully. — I look'd
And saw a bird slow sailing overhead,
His long, white pinions by the sunbeam edged,
As though with burnish'd silver; — never yet
Heard I so sweet a music as his cry!

Yet three days more, and hope more eager now,
Sure of the signs of land, — weed-shoals, and birds
Who flock'd the main, and gentle airs which breathed,
On seemed to breathe fresh fragrance from the shore.
On the last evening, a long, shadowy line
Skirted the sea; — how fast the night closed in!
I stood upon the deck, and watch'd till dawn.
But who can tell what feelings fill'd my heart,
When, like a cloud, the distant land arose
Gray from the ocean, — when we left the ship,
And cleft, with rapid oars, the shallow wave
And stood triumphant on another world.
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