Monday, 29 November 2010

An 1839 shipwreck

I wrote on this blog a couple of weeks past about Dr. William Henderson, the brother of an ancestor of mine who was a physician in Perth for over half of the 19th century. In addition to his medical career, William was also a keen poet, and the following are a few verses he penned in the aftermath of witnessing a ship, as yet unidentified, being wrecked on the Scottish coast in 1839.


What shriek was that which fell on mine ear?
What wail of sad and hapless despair?
Was 't the moaning of the mighty deep,
From its bosom now hushed, though the storm be asleep;
Or the moans of that branch from you aged tree riven,
As it waves aloft in the winds of heaven?
Ah! no, see you female who bends in the blast
How her bosom heaves as each throe were the last.
What fixes her gaze on the troubled wave,
As it lashes the shore with its ceaseless lave?
Alas! 'tis the brave and manly form
Of her William, who yester-night braved the storm;
To save from yon wreck her perishing crew,
As aghast they stood with death in their view.
Twice to the billows his bosom he gave,
And twice from their power did he rescue and save;
Still from the blank came the dreadful wail
Of despair, as it sighed through the raging gale.
Though exhausted, yet firm as a pillar he stood,
Unharmed by the storm, unscathed by the flood.
His eye sought the wreck, then to heave was raised,
While those on the crowd intent on him gazed;
As again he plunged in the brinny wave,
To perish, or yon wretched sufferer to save;
Every eye was bent on his manly form,
As he dashed through the waves, and weathered the storm.

Through the fading ray of evening light,
Each eye was strained to its utmost sight;
Till he reached the wreck; when one's shriek so shrill
Came back on the storm, and all was still.
Long sought they the beech in the darkness of even,
Illumin'd anon by the flashing levin;
But all in vain.
Ah! who shall tell her so late a bride,
Of him engulphed in the ruthless tide?
How she knew I never could understand,
Nor saw her; till statue like on the sand
She stood by her husband's body there;
Cold, death-like, the image of hopeless despair.

They lifted the body, and bore it along,
She followed, unconscious amid the throng,
Nor a sigh, a groan, a tear from the eye,
relieved her heart from its agony.
She saw her William's body out laid,
And the trappings of death around it spread;
Then she locked her hand in that of the dead,
Nor could she be torn away from the bed.

Oh! break not the sapling thus bent by the blast,
Snap not the cord thus strained to the last,
Until time shall gently fan with his wings,
Her spirit to repose, and relieve life's springs;
Then religion shall point with her hallowed rod.
Her way to peace, her way to God.

August 5th, 1839.


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