Skipper Ireson's Ride

Original Text: 
The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge edition, ed. H. E. S. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894): 55-56. PS 3250 E94 1894 Robarts Library.
2Told in story or sung in rhyme, --
5Witch astride of a human back,
7The strangest ride that ever was sped
9    Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
10    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
11        By the women of Marblehead!
12Body of turkey, head of owl,
13Wings a-droop like a rained-on fowl,
14Feathered and ruffled in every part,
15Skipper Ireson stood in the cart.
16Scores of women, old and young,
17Strong of muscle, and glib of tongue,
18Pushed and pulled up the rocky lane,
19Shouting and singing the shrill refrain:
20    "Here 's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
21    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
22        By the women o' Morble'ead!"
23Wrinkled scolds with hands on hips,
24Girls in bloom of cheek and lips,
25Wild-eyed, free-limbed, such as chase
27Brief of skirt, with ankles bare,
28Loose of kerchief and loose of hair,
30Over and over the Mænads sang:
31    "Here 's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
32    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
33        By the women o' Morble'ead!"
34Small pity for him! -- He sailed away
35From a leaking ship in Chaleur Bay, --
36Sailed away from a sinking wreck,
37With his own town's-people on her deck!
38"Lay by! lay by!" they called to him.
39Back he answered, "Sink or swim!
40Brag of your catch of fish again!"
41And off he sailed through the fog and rain!
42    Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
43    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
44        By the women of Marblehead!
46That wreck shall lie forevermore.
47Mother and sister, wife and maid,
48Looked from the rocks of Marblehead
49Over the moaning and rainy sea, --
50Looked for the coming that might not be!
51What did the winds and the sea-birds say
52Of the cruel captain who sailed away? --
53    Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
54    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
55        By the women of Marblehead!
56Through the street, on either side,
57Up flew windows, doors swung wide;
58Sharp-tongued spinsters, old wives gray,
59Treble lent the fish-horn's bray.
60Sea-worn grandsires, cripple-bound,
61Hulks of old sailors run aground,
62Shook head, and fist, and hat, and cane,
63And cracked with curses the hoarse refrain:
64    "Here's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
65    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
66        By the women o' Morble'ead!"
68Bloom of orchard and lilac showed.
69Little the wicked skipper knew
70Of the fields so green and the sky so blue.
71Riding there in his sorry trim,
72Like an Indian idol glum and grim,
73Scarcely he seemed the sound to hear
74Of voices shouting, far and near:
75    "Here's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
76    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
77        By the women o' Morble'ead!"
78"Hear me, neighbors!" at last he cried, --
79"What to me is this noisy ride?
80What is the shame that clothes the skin
81To the nameless horror that lives within?
82Waking or sleeping, I see a wreck,
83And hear a cry from a reeling deck!
84Hate me and curse me, -- I only dread
85The hand of God and the face of the dead!"
86    Said old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
87    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
88        By the women of Marblehead!
89Then the wife of the skipper lost at sea
90Said, "God has touched him! why should we!"
91Said an old wife mourning her only son,
92"Cut the rogue's tether and let him run!"
93So with soft relentings and rude excuse,
94Half scorn, half pity, they cut him loose,
95And gave him a cloak to hide him in,
96And left him alone with his shame and sin.
97    Poor Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
98    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
99        By the women of Marblehead!

Notes

1] The editor prefaces the poem with the following note:

"In the valuable and carefully prepared His­
tory of Marblehead
, published in 1879 by
Samuel Roads, Jr., it is stated that the crew
of Captain Ireson, rather than himself, were
responsible for the abandonment of the dis­
abled vessel. To screen themselves they
charged their captain with the crime. In view
of this the writer of the ballad addressed the
following letter to the historian:---

OAK KNOLL, DANVERS, 5 mo. 18, 1880.

MY DEAR FRIEND: I heartily thank thee
for a copy of thy History of Marblehead. I
have read it with great interest and think good
use has been made of the abundant material.
No town in Essex County has a record more
honorable than Marblehead; no one has done
more to develop the industrial interests of our
New England seaboard, and certainly none
have given such evidence of self-sacrificing
patriotism. I am glad the story of it has been
at last told, and told so well. I have now no
doubt that thy version of Skipper Ireson's
ride is the correct one. My verse was founded
solely on a fragment of rhyme which I heard
from one of my early schoolmates, a native of
Marblehead.

I supposed the story to which it referred dated
back at least a century. I knew nothing of
the participators, and the narrative of the ballad
was pure fancy. I am glad for the sake of
truth and justice that the real facts are given in
thy book. I certainly would not knowingly do
injustice to any one, dead or living.

I am very truly thy friend,

JOHN G. WHITTIER."

Skipper Ireson's first name was Benjamin, and his nickname Flood. Back to Line

3] Apuleius's Golden Ass: a fictional autobiography of the author, born about 114 A.D. in Madaura in Africa, in which tale he is transformed into an ass, as which he sees the many follies of man until restored to human form by the goddess Isis. Back to Line
4] one-eyed Calender's horse of brass: reference untraced. Back to Line
6] Islam's prophet on Al-Borák: the horse Al-Borák bore Mohammed from Mecca to Jerusalem. Back to Line
8] Marblehead: township north of Boston and Lynn on Massachusetts Bay on the Atlantic ocean, originally part of Salem. Back to Line
26] Bacchus: Dionysius, the Greek god of wine, often depicted with Mænads. Back to Line
29] conch-shells: mollusc shells employed as horns (OED "conch" 8, "conch-shell"). Back to Line
45] Chaleur Bay is off the Gulf of St. Lawrence near the Gaspe peninsula (if that is what is meant here). Back to Line
67] Salem: a town in Massachusetts. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1857
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.