The Iceberg

Original Text: 
Selected Poems of Sir Charles G. D. Roberts Toronto: Ryerson, 1936): 3-9. PS 8485 O22A17 Robarts Library.
1I was spawned from the glacier,
2A thousand miles due north
4And the spawning,
5When my vast, wallowing bulk went under,
6Emerged and heaved aloft,
7Shaking down cataracts from its rocking sides,
8With mountainous surge and thunder
9Outraged the silence of the Arctic sea.
10    Before I was thrust forth
11A thousand years I crept,
12Crawling, crawling, crawling irresistibly,
13Hid in the blue womb of the eternal ice,
14While under me the tortured rock
15Groaned,
16And over me the immeasurable desolation slept.
17    Under the pallid dawning
18Of the lidless Arctic day
19Forever no life stirred.
20No wing of bird --
21Of ghostly owl low winnowing
23No foot of backward-glancing fox
24Half glimpsed, and vanishing like a breath, --
25No lean and gauntly stalking bear,
26Stalking his prey.
27Only the white sun, circling the white sky.
28Only the wind screaming perpetually.
29    And then the night --
30The long night, naked, high over the roof of the world,
31Where time seemed frozen in the cold of space, --
32Now black, and torn with cry
33Of unseen voices where the storm raged by,
34Now radiant with spectral light
35As the vault of heaven split wide
37And close ranked spears of gold and blue,
38Thin scarlet and thin green,
39Hurtled and clashed across the sphere
40And hissed in sibilant whisperings,
41And died.
42And then the stark moon, swinging low,
43Silver, indifferent, serene,
44Over the sheeted snow.
45    But now, an Alp afloat,
46In seizure of the surreptitious tide,
47Began my long drift south to a remote
48And unimagined doom.
49Scornful of storm,
50Unjarred by thunderous buffetting of seas,
51Shearing the giant floes aside,
52Ploughing the wide-flung ice-fields in a spume
53That smoked far up my ponderous flanks,
54Onward I fared,
55My ice-blue pinnacles rendering back the sun
56In darts of sharp radiance;
57My bases fathoms deep in the dark profound.
58    And now around me
59Life and the frigid waters all aswarm.
60The smooth wave creamed
62So pale the light struck through them.
63Gulls and gannets screamed
64Over the feast, and gorged themselves, and rose,
65A clamour of weaving wings, and hid
66Momently my face.
67The great bull whales
68With cavernous jaws agape,
69Scooped in the spoil, and slept,
70Their humped forms just awash, and rocking softly, --
71Or sounded down, down to the deeps, and nosed
72Along my ribbed and sunken roots,
73And in the green gloom scattered the pasturing cod.
74    And so I voyaged on, down the dim parallels,
75Convoyed by fields
76Of countless calving seals
77Mild-featured, innocent-eyed, and unforeknowing
78The doom of the red flenching knives.
79I passed the storm-racked gate
81And savage Chidley where the warring tides
82In white wrath seethe forever.
83Down along the sounding shore
84Of iron-fanged, many-watered Labrador
85Slow weeks I shaped my course, and saw
88Of ships and snare of bergs.
89Here, by the deep conflicting currents drawn,
90I hung,
91And swung,
92The inland voices Gulfward calling me
93To ground amid my peers on the alien strand
94And roam no more.
95But then an off-shore wind,
96A great wind fraught with fate,
97Caught me and pressed me back,
98And I resumed my solitary way.
99    Slowly I bore
101And passed the sentinel light far-beaming late
102Along the liners' track,
103And slanted out Atlanticwards, until
104Above the treacherous swaths of fog
105Faded from the view the loom of Newfoundland.
106    Beautiful, ethereal
107In the blue sparkle of the gleaming day,
108A soaring miracle
109Of white immensity,
111That wondered and were gone,
112Their wreathed smoke trailing them beyonf the verge.
113And when in the night they passed --
114The night of stars and calm,
115Forged up and passed, with churning surge
116And throb of huge propellers, and long-drawn
117Luminous wake behind,
118And sharp, small lights in rows,
119I lay a ghost of menace chill and still,
120A shape pearl-pale and monstrous, off to leeward,
121Blurring the thin horizon line.
122    Day dragged on day,
123And then came fog,
124By noon, blind-white,
125And in the night
126Black-thick and smothering the sight.
127Folded therein I waited,
128Waited I knew not what
129And heeded not,
130Greatly incurious and unconcerned.
131I heard the small waves lapping along my base,
132Lipping and whispering, lisping with bated breath
133A casual expectancy of death.
134I heard remote
135The deep, far carrying note
136Blown from the hoarse and hollow throat
138Louder and louder rose the sound
139In deepening diapason, then passed on,
140Diminishing, and dying, --
141And silence closed around.
142And in the silence came again
143Those stealthy voices,
144That whispering of death.
145    And then I heard
146The thud of screws approaching.
147Near and more near,
148Louder and yet more loud,
149Through the thick dark I heard it, --
150The rush and hiss of waters as she ploughed
151Head on, unseen, unseeing,
152Toward where I stood across her path, invisible.
153And then a startled blare
154Of horror close re-echoing, -- a glare
155Of sudden, stabbing searchlights
156That but obscurely pierced the gloom;
157And there
158I towered, a dim immensity of doom.
159    A roar
160Of tortured waters as the giant screws,
161Reversed, thundered full steam astern.
162Yet forward still she drew, until,
163Slow answering desperate helm,
164She swerved, and all her broadside came in view,
165Crawling beneath me;
166And for a moment I saw faces, blanched,
167Stiffly agape, turned upward, and wild eyes
168Astare; and one long, quavering cry went up
169As a submerged horn gored her through and through,
170Ripping her beam wide open;
171And sullenly she listed, till her funnels
172Crashed on my steep,
173And men sprang, stumbling, for the boats.
174    But now, my deep foundations
175Mined by those warmer seas, the hour had come
176When I must change.
177Slowly I leaned above her,
178Slowly at first, then faster,
179And icy fragments rained upon her decks.
180Then my enormous mass descended on her,
181A falling mountain, all obliterating, --
182And the confusion of thin, wailing cries,
184And shriek of steam escaping
185Suddenly died.
186And I rolled over,
187Wallowing,
188And once more came to rest,
189My long hid bases heaved up high in air.
190    And now, from fogs emerging,
191I traversed blander seas,
192Forgot the fogs, the scourging
193Of sleet-whipped gales, forgot
194My austere origin, my tremendous birth,
195My journeyings, and that last cataclysm
196Of overwhelming ruin.
197My squat, pale, alien bulk
198Basked in the ambient sheen;
199And all about me, league on league outspread,
200A gulf of indigo and green.
201I laughed in the light waves laced with white, --
202Nor knew
203How swiftly shrank my girth
204Under their sly caresses, how the breath
205Of that soft wind sucked up my strength, nor how
206The sweet, insidious fingers of the sun
207Their stealthy depredations wrought upon me.
208    Slowly now
209I drifted, dreaming.
210I saw the flying-fish
211With silver gleaming
212Flash from the peacock-bosomed wave
213And flicker through an arc of sunlit air
214Back to their element, desperate to elude
215The jaws of the pursuing albacore.
216    Day after day
217I swung in the unhasting tide.
218Sometimes I saw the dolphin folk at play,
219Their lithe sides iridescent-dyed,
220Unheeding in their speed
221That long grey wraith,
222The shark that followed hungering beneath.
223Sometimes I saw a school
224Of porpoise rolling by
225In ranked array,
226Emerging and submerging rhythmically,
227Their blunt black bodies heading all one way
228Until they faded
229In the horizon's dazzling line of light.
230Night after night
231I followed the low, large moon across the sky,
232Or counted the large stars on the purple dark,
233The while I wasted, wasted and took no thought,
234In drowsed entrancement caught; --
235Until one noon a wave washed over me,
236Breathed low a sobbing sigh,
237Foamed indolently, and passed on;
238And then I knew my empery was gone;
239As I, too, soon must go.
240Nor was I ill content to have it so.
241    Another night
242Gloomed o'er my sight,
243With cloud, and flurries of warm, wild rain.
244Another day,
245Dawning delectably
246With amber and scarlet stain,
247Swept on its way,
248Glowing and shimmering with heavy heat.
249A lazing tuna rose
250And nosed me curiously,
251And shouldered me aside in brusque disdain,
252So had I fallen from my high estate.
253A foraging gull
254Stooped over me, touched me with webbed pink feet,
256Indignant at the chill.
257    Last I became
258A little glancing globe of cold
259That slid and sparkled on the slow-pulsed swell.
260And then my fragile, scintillating frame
261Dissolved in ecstasy
262Of many coloured light,
263And I breathed up my soul into the air
264And merged forever in the all-solvent sea.

Notes

3] Cape Chidley: the northernmost tip of Labrador, north of Newfoundland and Quebec, and heading the mountainous, heavily glaciated Labrador Highlands. 1000 miles north through Hudson Strait (80) one finds the northern coast of Baffin Island and the southern coast of Devon and Somerset Islands, part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands. Back to Line
22] ptarmigan: arctic grouse. Back to Line
36] flaming Polar cohorts: northern lights. Back to Line
61] capelin: smelt-like arctic fish, the staple of whales. Back to Line
80] Hudson Strait: inland body of water linking Hudson Bay and the Labrador Sea just north of the Atlantic Ocean. Back to Line
86] Mokkowic: this must be Makkovik or Cape Makkovik, a small settlement now served by air, between Davis Inlet to the north and Groswater Bay to the south along the Labrador coast.
Napiskawa: not located. Back to Line
87] Belle Isle: an Atlantic island just north of Newfoundland and east of Labrador and separated from the mainland by the Strait of Belle Isle (also alluded to by T. S. Eliot in Gerontion). Back to Line
100] Bauld: Cape Bauld is the northern-most tip of Newfoundland just west of L'Anse aux Meadows, the first Viking settlement of North America. Back to Line
110] cynosure: focus of attention, also a term for the North Star and the Little Bear constellation. Back to Line
137] some lone tanker: the fate of this ship recalls the Titanic, a luxury sea-liner that sank after colliding with an iceberg on April 15, 1912, on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, with a loss of 1500 of some 2200 on board. See Thomas Hardy's "Convergence of the Twain", in some respects an influence on Roberts' poem. Back to Line
183] Babel: Genesis 11 tells the story of how men intended to build a tower high enough to reach the heavens but were punished by God for their pride by suddenly being made to speak in different languages. Back to Line
255] skreeling: not located but describing the noise of the "indignant" gulls. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1931
Publication Notes: 
The University of Toronto Quarterly (October 1931).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.