The Wreck of the Hesperus

Original Text: 
The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Bibliographical and Critical Notes, Riverside Edition (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890), I, 60-64. PS 2250 E90 Robarts Library.
2    That sailed the wintry sea;
3And the skipper had taken his little daughtèr,
4    To bear him company.
5Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
6    Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
7And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
8    That ope in the month of May.
9The skipper he stood beside the helm,
10    His pipe was in his mouth,
11And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
12    The smoke now West, now South.
13Then up and spake an old Sailòr,
14    Had sailed to the Spanish Main,
15"I pray thee, put into yonder port,
16    For I fear a hurricane.
17"Last night, the moon had a golden ring,
18    And to-night no moon we see!"
19The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,
20    And a scornful laugh laughed he.
21Colder and louder blew the wind,
22    A gale from the Northeast,
23The snow fell hissing in the brine,
24    And the billows frothed like yeast.
25Down came the storm, and smote amain
26    The vessel in its strength;
27She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
28    Then leaped her cable's length.
29"Come hither! come hither! my little daughtèr,
30    And do not tremble so;
31For I can weather the roughest gale
32    That ever wind did blow."
33He wrapped her warm in his seaman's coat
34    Against the stinging blast;
35He cut a rope from a broken spar,
36    And bound her to the mast.
37"O father! I hear the church-bells ring,
38    Oh say, what may it be?"
39"'T is a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast!" --
40    And he steered for the open sea.
41"O father! I hear the sound of guns,
42    Oh say, what may it be?"
43"Some ship in distress, that cannot live
44    In such an angry sea!"
45"O father! I see a gleaming light,
46    Oh say, what may it be?"
47But the father answered never a word,
48    A frozen corpse was he.
49Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
50    With his face turned to the skies,
51The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
52    On his fixed and glassy eyes.
53Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed
54    That savèd she might be;
55And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave
57And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
58    Through the whistling sleet and snow,
59Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
60    Tow'rds the reef of Norman's Woe.
61And ever the fitful gusts between
62    A sound came from the land;
63It was the sound of the trampling surf
64    On the rocks and the hard sea-sand.
65The breakers were right beneath her bows,
66    She drifted a dreary wreck,
67And a whooping billow swept the crew
68    Like icicles from her deck.
69She struck where the white and fleecy waves
70    Looked soft as carded wool,
71But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
72    Like the horns of an angry bull.
73Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
74    With the masts went by the board;
75Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
76    Ho! ho! the breakers roared!
77At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
78    A fisherman stood aghast,
79To see the form of a maiden fair,
80    Lashed close to a drifting mast.
81The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
82    The salt tears in her eyes;
83And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
84    On the billows fall and rise.
85Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
86    In the midnight and the snow!
87Christ save us all from a death like this,
88    On the reef of Norman's Woe!


1] Longfellow described the composition of the poem as follows: "I wrote last evening a notice of Allston's poems. After which I sat till twelve o'clock by my fire, smoking, when suddenly it came into my mind to write the Ballad of the Schooner Hesperus; which accordingly I did. Then I went to bed, but could not sleep. New thoughts were running in my mind, and I got up to add them to the ballad. It was three by the clock. I then went to bed and fell asleep. I feel pleased with the ballad. It hardly cost me an effort. It did not come into my mind by lines but by stanzas." (Editor, p. 54.) Back to Line
56] See Matthew 8.23-27. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
The New World (Jan. 14, 1840); Ballads and Other Poems (1841)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.