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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Doom of Lee

By Richard Henry Dana, Sr. (1787–1879)

From ‘The Buccaneer

WHO’S sitting on that long black ledge

Which makes so far out in the sea,

Feeling the kelp-weed on its edge?

Poor idle Matthew Lee!

So weak and pale? A year and little more,

And bravely did he lord it round this shore!

And on the shingles now he sits,

And rolls the pebbles ’neath his hands;

Now walks the beach; then stops by fits,

And scores the smooth wet sands;

Then tries each cliff and cove and jut that bounds

The isles; then home from many weary rounds.

They ask him why he wanders so,

From day to day, the uneven strand?

“I wish, I wish that I might go!

But I would go by land;

And there’s no way that I can find—I’ve tried

All day and night!”—He seaward looked, and sighed.

It brought the tear to many an eye

That once his eye had made to quail.

“Lee, go with us; our sloop is nigh;

Come! help us hoist her sail.”

He shook.—“You know the Spirit Horse I ride!

He’ll let me on the sea with none beside!”

He views the ships that come and go,

Looking so like to living things.

O! ’tis a proud and gallant show

Of bright and broad-spread wings,

Making it light around them, as they keep

Their course right onward through the unsounded deep.

And where the far-off sand-bars lift

Their backs in long and narrow line,

The breakers shout, and leap, and shift,

And send the sparkling brine

Into the air, then rush to mimic strife:

Glad creatures of the sea, and full of life!—

But not to Lee. He sits alone;

No fellowship nor joy for him.

Borne down by woe, he makes no moan,

Though tears will sometimes dim

That asking eye—oh, how his worn thoughts crave—

Not joy again, but rest within the grave.


To-night the charmèd number’s told.

“Twice have I come for thee,” it said.

“Once more, and none shall thee behold.

Come! live one, to the dead!”—

So hears his soul, and fears the coming night;

Yet sick and weary of the soft calm light.

Again he sits within that room;

All day he leans at that still board;

None to bring comfort to his gloom,

Or speak a friendly word.

Weakened with fear, lone, haunted by remorse,

Poor shattered wretch, there waits he that pale Horse.

Not long he waits. Where now are gone

Peak, citadel, and tower, that stood

Beautiful, while the west sun shone

And bathed them in his flood

Of airy glory!—Sudden darkness fell;

And down they went,—peak, tower, citadel.

The darkness, like a dome of stone,

Ceils up the heavens. ’Tis hush as death—

All but the ocean’s dull low moan.

How hard Lee draws his breath!

He shudders as he feels the working Power.

Arouse thee, Lee! up! man thee for thine hour!

’Tis close at hand; for there, once more,

The burning ship. Wide sheets of flame

And shafted fire she showed before;—

Twice thus she hither came;—

But now she rolls a naked hulk, and throws

A wasting light; then, settling, down she goes.

And where she sank, up slowly came

The Spectre Horse from out the sea.

And there he stands! His pale sides flame.

He’ll meet thee shortly, Lee.

He treads the waters as a solid floor:

He’s moving on. Lee waits him at the door.

They’re met. “I know thou com’st for me,”

Lee’s spirit to the Spectre said;

“I know that I must go with thee—

Take me not to the dead.

It was not I alone that did the deed!”

Dreadful the eye of that still, spectral Steed!

Lee cannot turn. There is a force

In that fixed eye which holds him fast.

How still they stand!—the man and horse.

“Thine hour is almost past.”

“Oh, spare me,” cries the wretch, “thou fearful one!”

“My time is full—I must not go alone.”

“I’m weak and faint. Oh let me stay!”

“Nay, murderer, rest nor stay for thee!”

The horse and man are on their way;

He bears him to the sea.

Hark! how the Spectre breathes through this still night!

See, from his nostrils streams a deathly light!

He’s on the beach, but stops not there;

He’s on the sea! that dreadful horse!

Lee flings and writhes in wild despair!

In vain! The spirit-corse

Holds him by fearful spell; he cannot leap.

Within that horrid light he rides the deep.

It lights the sea around their track—

The curling comb, and dark steel wave:

There yet sits Lee the Spectre’s back—

Gone! gone! and none to save!

They’re seen no more; the night has shut them in.

May Heaven have pity on thee, man of sin!

The earth has washed away its stain;

The sealed-up sky is breaking forth,

Mustering its glorious hosts again,

From the far south and north;

The climbing moon plays on the rippling sea.—

Oh, whither on its waters rideth Lee?