« PreviousContinue »
A stunted, stern, uncouth, amphibious stock, Or with a fleet of Kayaks to assail Hewn from the living marble of the rock,
The desperation of the stranded whale, Or sprung from mermaids, and in ocean's bed, When wedged 'twixt jagged rocks he writhes and rolls With orcs and seals, in sunless caverns bred, In agony among the ebbing shoals, They might have held, from unrecorded time, Lashing the waves to foam ; until the flood, Sole patrimony in that hideous clime,
From wounds, like geysers, seems a bath of blood,
Till morn beholds him slain along the shore.
Of these,—hereafter should the lyre be strung To climb the slippery cliffs, explore their cells, To arctic themes,—may glorious days be sung ; And storm and sack the sea-birds' citadels ;
Now be our task the sad reverse to tell, In bands, through snows, the mother-bear to trace, How in their march the nobler Normans fell;' Slay with their darts the cubs in her embrace, -Whether by dire disease, that turn'd the breath And while she lick'd their bleeding wounds, to brave of bounteous Heaven to pestilence and death, Her deadliest vengeance in her inmost cave: In number, strength, and spirit worn away, Train'd with inimitable skill to float,
Their lives became the cool assassin's prey ; Each, balanced in his bubble of a boat,
-Or in the battle-field, as Skraellings boast, With dexterous paddle steering through the spray, These pigmies put to fight their giant-host, With poised harpoon to strike his plunging prey, When front to front on scowling cliffs they stood, As though the skiff, the seaman, oar, and dart And shot their barbs athwart the parting food ; Were one compacted body, by one heart
Arrow smote arrow, dart encounter'd dart,
Till spent their missiles ; quick as in a dream
The Skraellings rush'd, the precipices scaler ; the western coast of Greenland in the fourtcenth century, and -D'erwhelm'd by multitudes the Normans fail'd; are generally supposed to have overpowered the few Norwopians scattered in that quarter. They were called Skraellings, A scatter'd remnant to the south retired, a word of uncertain etymology, but most probably a corruption But one by one along their route expired: of Karallit or People, by which they designated themselves. They perish'd ;—History can no more relate Or their origin nothing can be ascertained. It seems, on the of their obscure and unlamented fate; whole, not incredible (from evidence and arguments which need not be quoted here), that they are the descendants of Tartar- They perish'd ;-yet along that western shore ean rovers, gradually emigrating from the heart of Asia, cross- Where Commerce spread her colonies of yore, ing over into West America, traversing the northern latitudes Ruins of temples and of homes are traced, of that continent, and settling or wandering, as suited their convenience, till the foremost hordes reached Canada and Lab-1-Steps of magnificence amidst the waste, sador; from whence the first Skraellings may have found a pas- Where time hath trod, and left those wrecks to show snie, by land or sea, to Greenland. That the Greenlanders are That life hath been, where all is Death below. of the same stock with the Esquimaux, is obvious from the remarkable correspondence between their persone, dress, habitations, boats, and implements of hunting and fishing, as well as the similarity of manners, customs, superstitions, and language.
CANTO V. Of these more may be said hereafler, should the poem of Greenland ever be completed. Meanwhile the slight sketch given in the context may suffice. The following description of a Green- The depopulation of the Norwegian Colonies on the lander's fishing-boat, or kayak, will, however, be useful to illustrate the passage. The kayak is six yards in length, pointed
eastern coast of Greenland, and the abandonmen. at the head and stern, and shaped like a weaver's shuttle ; it is of intercourse with it from Europe, in consequence at the same time scarcely a foot and a half broad over the mid- of the increase of the arctic ices, about the begin dle, and not more than a foot deep. It is built of a slender skel
ning of the fifteenth century. eton of wood, consisting of a keel, and long side-laths, with cross-ribs, like hoops, but not quite round. The whole is covered with seal's skin. In the middle of this covering there is a round aperture, supported with a strong rim of wood or bone. Launch on the gulf, my little Greenland bark ! The Greenlander slips into the cavity with his feet, and sits down Bear me through scenes unutterably dark; upon a board covered with soft skin; he then tucks his water. Scenes with the mystery of Nature seald, pelt, or great coat, so tight about him (the rim of the opening forming a girdle round his loins), that no water can penetrate Nor till the Jay of doom to be reveald: into his little skiff. His lance, harpoon, and fishing-tackle, are What though the spirits of the arctic gales all arranged in due order before him. His pautik, or oar (made Freeze round thy prow, or fight against thy sails, of red deal, and strengthened with bone inlaid), he uses with Safe as Arion, whom the dolphin bore, admirable dexterity. This, except when he is using his weapons, he grasps with both hands in the middle, striking the water Enamour'd of his music, to the shore, on either side alternately, by which means he can sail at the .2:e of twenty or even twenty-four leagues a day. In his kayak the Greenlander fears no storm, so long as he can keep his oar,
1 The incidents alloded to in this clause are presumed to have which enables him to sit upright among the roughest breakers, occasioned the extinction of the Norwegian colonists on the or if overturned, while the head is downward onder water, with western coast of Greenland. Cranız gays, that there is a disone stroke he can recover himself; but if he loses his oar, in a trict on Ball's River, called Pissiksarbik, or the place of arrows; high sea, he loses all. No European has ever yet been able to where it is believed, that the Skraellings and Norwegians fought learn to manage a kayak except in calm weather, and when he a batile, in which the latter were defeated. The modern Greenhad nothing to do but to row: to fish in it has been found im- landers affirm, that the name is derived from the circumstance poracticuble to any but the natives themselves, trained from their of the parties having shot their arrows ut one another from opinfanwy to all the hardy exercises which constituted, before the posite banks of the stream. Many rudera, or ruins of ancien wtroduction of Christianity, the whole education of the poor buildings, principally supposed to have been churches, are warbarians
found along the coast, from Disko Bay to Cape Farewe!.
On thee adventuring o'er an unknown main, -One wounded sufferer wakes, with pain opprest , I raise to warring elements a strain
Yet are his thoughts at home among the rest ; Of kindred harmony :
-O lend your breath, Then beams his eye, his heart dilated burns,
That vision to reality; and home
Is so endear'd, he vows no more to roam. Deeds perish'd from remembrance; truth, array'd, Ha! suddenly he starts ; with trembling lips, Like heaven by night, in emblematic shade, Salt shower-drops, oozing through the roof, be sips, When shines the horoscope, and star on star, Aware that instant, yet alarm'd too late, By what they are not, led to what they are ; -The sea liath burst its barrier, fix'd their fate; Atoms, that twinkle in an infant's eye,
Escape impossible; the tempests urge Are worlds, suns, systems in th' unbounded sky: Through the deep dell the inundating surge ; Thus, the few fabled woes my strains create Nor wall nor roof th' impetuous flood controls, Are hieroglyphics in a book of Fate,
Above, around, within, the deluge rolls ; And while the shadowy symbols I unroll,
He calls his comrades ;-ere their doom be known, Imagination reads a direr scroll.
”T is past ;-the snow-house utterly o'erthrown, Wake, ye wild visions ! o'er the northern deep, Its inmates vanish; never to be found, On clouds and winds, like warrior-spectres sweep; Living or dead, on habitable ground. Show by what plagues and hurricanes destroy'd, A breathing realm became a torpid void.
There is a beauteous hamlet in the vale ;
Green are the fields around it; sweetly sail The floods are raging, and the gales blow high,
The iwilight shadows o'er the darkening scene, Low as a dungeon-roof impends the sky;
Earth, air, and ocean, all alike serene. Prisoners of hope, between the clouds and waves,
Dipt in the hues of sun-set, wreathed in zones, Six fearless sailors man yon boat, that braves
The clouds are resting on their mountain-thrones; Peril redoubling upon peril past :
One peak alone exalts its glacier crest,
A golden paradise, above the rest ;
Thither the day with lingering steps retires,
Thus Aaron laid his gorgeous robes aside
On Horeb's consecrated top, and died.
The moon, meanwhile, o'er ocean's sombre bed,
New-risen, a thousand glow-worm lights hath spread, They verge to ruin ;-life and death depend
From east to west the wildfire splendors glance, On the next impulse; shrieks and prayers ascend; When, like the fish that mounts on drizzling wings, Till, in mid-heaven, her orb might seem the eye
And all the billows in her glory dance;
Of Providence, wide-watching from the sky,
While Nature slumbers ;-emblem of His grace,
The clouds have left the mountains; coldly bright, Behind, the ocean roaring in his wrath,
Their icy summits shed cerulean light; Mad as a Libyan wilderness by night,
The steep declivities between assume With all its lions up, in chase or fight.
A horror of unfathomable gloom : The fugitives right onward shun the beach, The village sleeps ;- from house to house, the ear Nor tarry till the inmost cove they reach,
Of yonder sentinel no sound can hear : Recluded in the labyrinthine dell,
A maniac ;-he, while calmer heads repose, Like the last hollow of a spiral shell.
Takes his night-round, to tell the stars his woes : There, with the ax or knife which haste could save, Woes, which his noble heart to frenzy stung; They build a house ;--- perhaps they dig a grave:
-He hath no bard, and they remain unsung. Of solid srow, well-squared, and piled in blocks, A warrior once, victorious arms he bore ; Brilliant as hewn from alabaster rocks,
And bears them still, although his wars are o'er, Their palace rises, narrowing to the roof,
For 't is his boast, with shield and sword in hand, And freezes into marble, tempest-proof;
To be the guardian Angel of the land. Night closing round, within its shade they creep,
Mark with what stern solemnity he stalks, And weary Nature sinks at once to sleep.
And to himself as to a legion talks ;
Now deep in council with his chiefs; anon, Oh! could we walk amidst their dreams, and see He starts as at the trumpet, leads them on, All that they have been, are, or wish to be,
And wins the day ;-his battle-shout alarms In fancy's world !-each at his own fire-side ;
None but the infant in the nurse's arms; One greets a parent: one a new-made bride;
Soon hush'd, but closer o her side, it sleeps :
While he abroad his watch in silence keena
At every door he halts, and brings a sigh,
But leaves a blessing, when he marches by
He stops; from that low roof, a deadly groan Who thus, in winter's long and social reign,
Hold feasts and tournaments upon the main,
When, built of solid floods, his bridge extends A spouse, a father, there hath breathed his last. A highway o'er the gulf to meeting friends, 'The widow and her little ones weep nol;
Whom rock3 impassable, or winds and tide, In its excess their misery is forgot,
Fickle and false, in summer months divide. One dumb, dark moment ;-then from all their eyes
The scene runs round with motion, rings with mirth Rain the salt tears, and loud their wailings rise :
-No happier spot upon the peopled earth;
Th' uneven ice is fint beneath their feet.
Here tents, a gay encampment, rise around,
Where music, song, and revelry resound; A resurrection of his soul he feels ;
There the blue smoke upwreathes a hundred spires, There is a motion in the air; his eye
Where humbler groups have lit their pine-wood fires. Blinks as it fear'd the falling of the sky.
Ere long they quit the tables ; knights and dames
Lead the blithe multitude to boisterous games.
Bears, wolves, and lynxes yonder head the chase ;
Here start the harness'd reindeer in the race; And in the moon of such empyrean hue,
Borne without wheels, a flight of rival cars It seem'd to bring the unseen world to view; - That splendid peak, the Power (which to the Track the ice-firmament, like shooting stars, spheres
Right to the goal, converging as they run, Had piled its turrets through a thousand years),
They dwindle through the distance into one.
Where smoother waves have form'd a sea of glass, Touches, as lightly as the passing wind, And the huge mass, o'erbalanced, undermined,
With pantomimic change the skaiters pass;
Now toil like ships 'gainst wind and stream; then wheel And dislocated from its base of snow, Slides down the slope, majestically slow,
Like flames blown suddenly asunder; reel
Like drunkards; then dispersed in tangents wide, Till o'er the precipice, down headlong sent, And in ten thousand, thousand spangles rent.
Away with speed invisible they glide. It piles a hill where spread a vale before :
Peace in their hearts, death-weapons in their hands -From rock to rock the echoes round the shore,
Fierce in mock-batile meet fraternal bands,
Whom the same chiefs erewhile to conflict led, Tell with their deep artillery the fate Of the whole village, crush'd beneath its weight.
When friends by friends, by kindred kindred bled. -The sleepers wake,—their homes in ruins hurl’d,— And foot the mazes of the giddy dance ;
Here youthful rings with pipe and drum advance, They wake—from death into another world. The gazing maniac, palsied into stone,
Grey-beard spectators, with illumined eye,
Lean on their staves, and talk of days gone by; Amidst the wreck of ice, survives alone ; A sudden interval of reason gleams,
Children, who mimic all, from pipe and drum
To chase and batile, dream of years to come.
Those years to come the young shall ne'er behold; "T were ranture back to frenzy to escape.
The days gone by no more rejoice the old. Again the clouds of desolation roll,
There is a boy, a solitary boy, Blotting all old remembrance from his soul;
Who takes no part in all this whirl of joy, Whate'er his sorrows or his joys have been, Yet in the speechless transport of his soul, His spirit grows embodied through this scene : He lives, and moves, and breathes throughout the With eyes of agony, and clenching hands,
whole : Fix'd in recoil, a frozen form he stands,
Him should destruction spare, the plot of earth, And smit with wonder at his people's doom, That forms his play-ground, gave a poet birth, Becomes the monument upon their lomb.
Who on the wings of his immortal lays,
Thino heroes, Greenland! to the stars shall raise Behold a scene, magnificent and new;
It must not be :-abruptly from the show Nor land nor water meet th' excursive view; He turns bis eyes ; his thoughts are gone below The round horizon girds one frozen plain,
To sound the depths of ocean, where his mind The mighty tombstone of the buried main,
Creates the wonders which it cannot find.
To the mock tide's alternate fall and swell,
No ;--for he feels it beat through every vein ; North, south, and west, by dogs or reindeer drawn, Groan following groan (as from a Giant's breast, Careering sledges cross the unbroken lawn, Beneath a burying mountain, ill at rest), And bring, from bays and forelands round the coast, With awe ineffable his spirit thrills, Youth lwanty, valor. Greenland's proudest boast, And rapture fires his blood, while terror chills
The keen expression of his eye alarms
Where are the multitudes of yesterday? His mother; she hath caught him in her arms, At morn they came ; at eve they pass'd away. And learn'd the cause ;—that cause, no sooner known, Yet some survive ;-yon castellated pile From lip to lip, o'er many a league is flown; Floats on the surges, like a fairy isle ; Voices to voices, prompt as signals, rise
Pre-eminent upon its peak, behold, In shrieks of consternation to the skies:
With walls of amethyst and roofs of gold, Those skies, meanwhile, with gathering darkness The semblance of a city; towers and spires scowl ;
Glance in the firmament with opal fires; Hollow and winterly the bleak winds howl. Prone from those heights pellucid fountains flow -From morn till noon had ether smiled serene, O’er pearly meads, through emerald vales below Save one black-belted cloud, far eastward seen, No lovelier pageant moves beneath the sky,' Like a snow-mountain ;-there in ambush lay Nor one so mournful to the nearer eye; Th' undreaded tempest, panting for his prey : Here, when the bitterness of death had pass'd That cloud by stealth hath through the welkin O'er others, with their sledge and reindeer cast. spread,
Five wretched ones, in dumb despondence, wait And hangs in meteor-twilight over-head;
The lingering issue of a nameless fate; At foot, beneath the adamantine floor,
A bridal party :
-mark yon reverend sage Loose in their prison-house the surges roar:
In the brown vigor of autumnal age; To every eye, ear, heart, the alarm is given, His daughter in her prime; the youth, who won And land ward crowds (like flocks of sea-fowl driven, Her love by miracles of prowess done; When storms are on the wing), in wild affright, With these, two meet companions of their joy, On foot, in sledges, urge their panic fight,
Her younger sister, and a gallant boy, In hope the refuge of the shore to gain
Who hoped, like him, a gentle heart to gain Ere the disruption of the struggling main,
By valorous enterprise on land or main. Foretold hy man; a stroke, like lightning sent -These, when the ocean-pavement fail'd their feet In thunder, through th' unstable continent, Sought on a glacier's crags a safe retreat, Which now, elastic on the swell below,
But in the shock, from its foundation forn, Rolls high in undulation to and fro.
That mass is slowly o'er the waters borne, Men, reindeer, dogs, the giddy impulse feel, An ice-berg on whose verge all day they stand And jostling headlong, back and forward reel: And eye the blank horizon's ring for land. While snow, sleet, hail, or whirling gusts of wind, All night around a dismal flame they weep; Exhaust, bewilder, stop the breath, and blind. Their sledge, by piecemeal, lights the hoary deep. All is disrnay and uproar; some have found Morn brings no comfort; at her dawn expire Death for deliverance, as they leap'd on ground, The latest embers of their latest fire ; Swept back into the flood ;- but hope is vain : For warmth and food the patient reindeer bleeds, Ere half the fugitives the beach can gain, Happier in death than those he warms and feeds. The fix'd ice, severing from the shore, with shocks -How long, by that precarious raft upbuoy'd, of earthquake violence, bounds against the rocks; They blindly drifted on a shoreless void ; Then suddenly, while on the verge they stand, How long they suffer'd, or how soon they found The whole recoils for ever from the land,
Rest in the gulf, or peace on living ground: And leaves a gulf of foam along the shore, -Whether, by hunger, cold, and grief consumed, In which whoever plunge are seen no more. They perish'd miserably—and unentomb'd
(While on that frigid bier their corses lay), Ocean, meanwhile, abroad hath burst the roof Became the sea-fowl's or the sea-bear's prey ; That sepulchred his waves ; he bounds aloof. -Whether the wasting mound, by swift degrees, In boiling cataracts, as volcanoes spout
Exhaled in mist, and vanish'd from the seas, Their fiery fountains, gush the waters out; While they, too weak to struggle even in death, The frame of ice, with dire explosion rends, Lock'd in each other's arms resign'd their breath, And down th' abyss the mingled crowd descends. And their white skeletons, beneath the wave, Heaven! from this closing horror hide thy light; Lie intertwined in one sepulchral cave: Cast thy thick mantle o'er it, gracious Night! -Or meeting some Norwegian bark at sea, These screams of mothers with their infants lost, They deemed its deck a world of liberty ; These groans of agony from wretches, lost On rocks and whirlpools—in thy storms be drown'd, The crash of mountain-ice to atoms ground, an authentic narrative of a journey on sledges along the coast And rage of elements !-while winds, that yell of Labrador, by two Moravian missionaries and a number of Like demons, peal the universal knell,
Esquimaux, in the year 1742. The first incident in this Canto,
the destruction of the snow-house, is partly borrowed from tho The shrouding waves around their limbs shall spread,
same record. "And Darkness be the burier of the dead."
1 The Ice-bergs, both fixed and floating, present the most fanTheir pangs are o'er :-at morn the tempests cease, tastic and magnificent forms, which an active imagination may And the freed ocean rolls himself to peace;
easily convert into landscape-scenery. Crantz says, that some Broad to the sun his heaving breast expands,
of these look like churches, with pillars, arches, portals, and
illuminated windows; others like castles, with square and spiral He holds his mirror to a hundred lands;
A third class assume the appearance of ships in full While cheering gales pursue the eager chase sail, to which pilots have occasionally gone out, for the puror billows round immeasurable space.'
pose of conducting them into harbor; many again resemble large islands, with hill and dale, as well as villages, and even
cities, built upon the margin of the sea. Two of these stoo:] 1 The principal phenomena described in this disruption of for many years in Disco Bay, which the Dutch whalers calleus so immense a breadth of ice, aro introduced on the authority of Amsterdam and Haarlem.
-Or sunward sailing, on green Erin's sod, And every sound along the air that comes,
With Greenland's banner streaming at the mast;
The full-swoln sails, the spring-tide, and the breeze
The monks at matins issuing from their cells,
Wake town and country, sea and shore, to bliss
Unknown for years on any morn but this.
Whose mob of moving shadows o'er the sand
Lengthen to giants, while the hovering sun A hundred colonies, erewhile that lay
Lights up a thousand radiant points from one. On the green marge of many a shelter'd bay,
The pilots launch their boats :-a race! a race!
The strife of oars is seen in every face ;
Arrn against arm puts forth its might to reach,
And guide the welcome stranger to the beach.
-Shouts from the shore, the cliffs, the boats, arise ;
No voice, no signal from the ship replies;
Nor on the deck, the yards, the bow, the stern,
Can keenest eye a human form discern.
Oh! that those eyes were open'd, there to see,
How, in serene and dreadful majesty,
Sits the destroying Angel at the helm! That crisis comes; the wasted fuel fails ;'
-He, who hath lately march'd from realm to realm, The cattle perish; famine long prevails;
And from the palace to the peasant's shed, With torpid sloth, intenser seasons bind
Made all the living kindred to the dead :
Nor man alone, dumb nature felt bis wrath,
Drought, mildew, murrain, strew'd his carnage-path;
Harvest and vintage cast their timeless fruil,
Forests before him wither'd from the root.
He comes commission'd; and in evil hour
Propitious elements prepare his way;
His day of landing is a festal day.
A boat arrives ;-to those who scale the deck,
or life appears but one disastrous wreck; The bliss for which he looks at morn in vain.
Fall’n from the rudder which he fain had grasp'd, Two years are gone, and half expired a third
But stronger Death his wrestling hold unclasp'd, (The nation's heart is sick with hope deferrd), The film of darkness freezing o'er his eyes, Since last for Europe sail'd a Greenland prow,
A lukewarm corpse, the brave commander lies ;
Whom one by one the rife contagion slew,
Even from their pinnacle his soul took flight.
But from approaching boats, when rivals throng, As if, for so would fond expectance think,
They seize the helm, in silence steer along, A sail had cross'd it on the horizon's brink.
And cast their anchor, 'midst exulting cries, His fervent soul, in ecstasy outdrawn,
That make the rocks the echoes of the skies, Glows with the shadows kindling through the dawn. Till the mysterious signs of woes to come, Till every bird that Aashes through the brine
Circled by whispers, strike the uproar dumb. Appears an arm’d and gallant brigantine ;
Rumor affirms, that by some heinous spell 1 Groenland has been supplied with fuel, from time imme- of Lapland witches, crew and captain fell; morial, brought by the tide from the northern shores of Asia, Nonc guess the secret of perfidious fate, and other regions, probably even from California, and the coast Which all shall know too soon,-yet know too late of America lowards Behring's Straits. This annual provision, however, has gradually been decreasing for some years past (being partly intercepted by the accumulation of ice), on the
The monks, who claim the ship, divide the stores shores of modern Greenland towards Davis's Straits. Should it of food and raiment, at their convent-doors. fail altogether, that country (like the east) must become unin- --A mother, hastening to her cheerless shed, babitable: as the natives themselves employ wood in the con- Breaks to her little ones untasted bread; struction of their houses, their heats, and their implements of Clamorous as nestling birds, the hungry band fishing, hunting, and shooting, and could not find any adequate substitute for it at home
Receive a mortal portion at her hand.