by: Fitz-James O'Brien
- 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,
- HONOR TO KANE!
- 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.
POEMS BY FITZ-JAMES O'BRIEN
"Kane" is reprinted from
One Hundred Choice Selections. Ed. Phineas Garrett. Philadelphia:
Penn Publishing Co., 1897.