English: Illustration for “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. From Illustrated Poems and Songs for Young People, edited by Mrs. [L.D.] Sale Barker. Published 1885. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Another blurred batch of sea poems today. That none of the students chose “The Wreck of the Hesperus,”
that morbid Longfellow melodrama that my mother used to recite, left me vaguely disappointed and relieved. No one could have owned “Hesperus” like my mother with her thick Salem Mass. accent. I cannot read it without hearing her voice. The skipper of the Hesperus binds his daughter to the mast during a violent storm. She, being a rather chatty child, keeps asking the beleaguered old salt questions that he patiently answers until the twelfth stanza:
O father! I see a gleaming light,
Oh say, what may it be?”
But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.
In Ma’s dialect, corpse became a very earnest “caawpse” and I had to suppress my delighted laughter or she would not continue to my favorite part:
Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
With his face turned to the skies,
The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
On his fixed and glassy eyes.
I loved the lantern. I loved the snow. I loved the odd repetition of “gleamed” and “gleaming” and I loved death’s glassy stare.