James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

October 30

De Long

By Andrew E. Watrous (d. 1902)

  • “I have found De Long and party—all dead. Melville.”
  • George De Long was an American naval officer and explorer. He embarked on the Jeannette for a three years’ cruise in Arctic waters but died in Siberia of cold and starvation on Oct. 30, 1881.

  • NO harbor of all harbors ’neath God’s sun

    Hath buoyed so much of all most priceless freight

    As this, since first a Spanish galleon

    Turned South from San Francisco’s golden gate.

    But—how they cheered from wharf and yard and deck!

    The costliest cargo that those roads hath crost

    Was when to face want, famine, fever, wreck,

    To battle with the forces of the frost,

    The craft, whose light name hence shall holy be,

    Steered for the Northern death across that windless sea.

    O lonely headlands of th’ Alaskan strait!

    Ye watched that lonelier vessel as she passed;

    Saw ye his face grow gladly satiate

    Of peril as he neared the ice-fields vast?

    For not the salvo’s roar, the cheering town,

    Nor Summer voyage o’er soft Pacific’s swell

    Delight such souls—nay, Nature’s sternest frown

    Sign of her fierce moods and implacable.

    So, where gray meeting seas the world divide

    With moaning wastes of chill and bitter foam,

    Methinks his step grew lighter as he eyed

    The confines of his all too narrow home.

    Northward—the night received them, and the ice

    Chill shining bergs and chiller shining stars

    Mocked them to whom one world would not suffice

    With toils and dangers, pestilences, wars.

    Northward—and East—the raving Arctic wind

    Stabbed at their hearts, pierced bone and marrow through,

    And vaster streamed the trackless tract behind,

    Nor nearer at their goal nor larger grew,

    And o’er their heads strange birds of omen flew.

    Then—stayed and stopped—the hungry ice beneath

    Gnawed ravening at the vessel’s groaning sides;

    And shut were they in horror as a sheath,

    ’Twixt the thick darkness and the frozen tides.

    And they became a memory to men

    Who said: “Lo! these, too, meet the ancient fate!”

    And weeks grew months and months grew years—and then

    Behold the dead raised from their lodging strait!

    Found! But how found? One blinded, one gone mad!

    And some are dead—the missing of the roll

    Doth their sepulture, awful, riteless, sad,

    Swell the dread trophies of the Northern pole?

    Answer from out Siberia’s lifeless waste,

    Answer from ’neath Siberia’s leaden skies,

    Though none shall know the desperate ills they faced,

    Till at the crack of Doom the dead arise;

    Found—like a gunner lying by his gun—

    They found the strong Republic’s strongest son:

    Her eagle at his crest, her stars his shoulders on.

    O solemn service of that ancient faith!

    From proudest minster, darkest catacomb;

    From where the Asian sunshafts scorch and scathe

    Judean deserts—ritual of Rome,

    All ages have thy prayers and pæans heard,

    But ne’er in all the measure of thy time,

    More faithful flock received thy weightful word

    From lips of holier priest—or more sublime—

    Than when beside the frost-sealed Lena he

    Read in unchanging voice thy changeless liturgy.

    O stormy splendor of the Saxon cheer,

    What echoes hast thou waked—of Afric night,

    When St. Arnaud the Legion—unto fear

    Most Foreign—hurled into the flaming fight;

    And those that roused on Alma’s blood-soaked height

    At sunset of that red September day;

    And those that taught the Rhine the Scottish might;

    And those that beat the walls of Monterey!

    But the breath failing in the feeble shout

    That gave their envoys God-speed through the snow,

    Despair showed vanquished, and the sinking doubt

    Of famine born in slow and sickening throe;

    Aye, showed each hero, where were heroes all

    Ready with Death to grip in certainty to fall!

    Gaunt corpses in weird solitude they lie,

    But as th’ Aurora’s signet on their sky,

    So on the tablets of enduring fame,

    Transcribed in fire the letters of each name

    Of those who on our streets but now we saw,

    Nor paled, oh, blindness, with presaging awe.