by: Fitz-James O'Brien (1828-1862)

      LOFT upon an old basaltic crag,
      Which, scalped by keen winds that defend the Pole,
      Gazes with dead face on the seas that roll
      Around the secret of the mystic zone,
      A mighty nation's star-bespangled flag
      Flutters alone,
      And underneath, upon the lifeless front
      Of that drear cliff, a simple name is traced;
      Fit type of him who, famishing and gaunt,
      But with a rocky purpose in his soul,
      Breasted the gathering snows,
      Clung to the drifting floes,
      By want beleaguered, and by winter chased,
      Seeking the brother lost amid the frozen waste.
      Not many months ago we greeted him,
      Crowned with the icy honors of the North,
      Across the land his hard-won fame went forth,
      And Maine's deep woods were shaken limb by limb.
      His own mild Keystone State, sedate and prim,
      Burst from decorous quiet as he came.
      Hot Southern lips, with eloquence aflame,
      Sounded his triumph. Texas, wild and grim,
      Proffered its horny hand. The large-lunged West,
      From out his giant breast,
      Yelled its frank welcome. And from main to main,
      Jubilant to the sky,
      Thundered the mighty cry,
      In vain--in vain beneath his feet we flung
      The reddening roses! All in vain we poured
      The golden wine, and round the shining board
      Sent the toast circling, till the rafters rung
      With the thrice-tripled honors of the feast!
      Scarce the buds wilted and the voices ceased
      Ere the pure light that sparkled in his eyes,
      Bright as auroral fires in Southern skies,
      Faded and faded! And the brave young heart
      That the relentless Arctic winds had robbed
      Of all its vital heat, in that long quest
      For the lost captain, now within his breast
      More and more faintly throbbed.
      His was the victory; but as his grasp
      Closed on the laurel crown with eager clasp,
      Death launched a whistling dart;
      And ere the thunders of applause were done
      His bright eyes closed forever on the sun!
      Too late--too late the splendid prize he won
      In the Olympic race of science and art!
      Like to some shattered berg that, pale and lone,
      Drifts from the white North to a tropic zone,
      And in the burning day
      Wastes peak by peak away,
      Till on some rosy even
      It dies with sunlight blessing it; so he
      Tranquilly floated to a Southern sea,
      And melted into heaven.
      He needs no tears, who lived a noble life!
      We will not weep for him who died so well;
      But we will gather round the hearth, and tell
      The story of his strife,
      Such homage suits him well;
      Better than funeral pomp, or passing bell.
      What tale of peril and self-sacrifice!
      Prisoned amid the fastnesses of ice,
      With hunger howling o'er the wastes of snow!
      Night lengthening into months; the ravenous floe
      Crunching the massive ships, as the white bear
      Crunches his prey. The insufficient share
      Of loathsome food;
      The lethargy of famine: the despair
      Urging to labor, nervelessly pursued;
      Toil done with skinny arms, and faces hued
      Like pallid masks, while dolefully behind
      Glimmered the fading embers of a mind.
      That awful hour, when through the prostrate band
      Delirium stalked, laying his burning hand
      Upon the ghastly foreheads of the crew;
      The whispers of rebellion, faint and few
      At first, but deepening ever till they grew
      Into black thoughts of murder: such the throng
      Of horrors bound the hero. High the song
      Should be that hymns the noble part he played!
      Sinking himself--yet ministering aid
      To all around him. By a mighty will
      Living defiant of the wants that kill,
      Because his death would seal his comrade's fate;
      Cheering with ceaseless and inventive skill
      Those Polar waters, dark and desolate.
      Equal to every trial, every fate,
      He stands, until spring, tardy with relief,
      Unlocks the icy gate,
      And the pale prisoners thread the world once more,
      To the steep cliffs of Greenland's pastoral shore
      Bearing their dying chief.
      Time was when he should gain his spurs of gold
      From royal hands, who wooed the knightly state;
      The knell of old formalities is tolled,
      And the world's knights are now self-consecrate.
      No grander episode doth chivalry hold
      In all its annals, back to Charlemagne,
      The the lone vigil of unceasing pain,
      Faithfully kept through hunger and through cold,
      By the good Christian knight, ELISHA KANE.

"Kane" is reprinted from One Hundred Choice Selections. Ed. Phineas Garrett. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing Co., 1897.




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