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The Whale

by Isaac McLellan

(Cetacea)

Sailing across the lonely seas,
Sailing across the Okotsh Sound,
The tempest-beaten ship roll'd on,
On distant voyagings bound,
For months the ship had swept the deep;
Long since had faded the lamps of home,
Long since the headlands had grown dim,
The lighthouse vanish'd o'er the foam;
For seasons 'neath the Southern Cross,
Through seas Antarctic they'd been borne,
Far down Magellan's stormy Strait,
And stony barriers of Cape Horn.
And now the Northern tides they sought,
Where glaciers lin'd the barren shore,
Where icebergs lift their crystal peaks,
And frosty tides chafe evermore.

They sail'd, sail'd on, day after day,
And yet no "spout" arous'd the crews;
The "lookout" in the "crow's-nest" gave
No warning cry—no joyful news.
For months no flash of mighty "flukes,"
No lashing of the forked tail,
Were seen across the watery space,—
No joyful gambols of the whale.
The captain restless paced the deck,
The crew in forecastle would sleep;
The furnace fires were all unlit,
And life was dreary o'er the deep;
Only the porpoise school would rise,
The great shark flash across the main,
The dolphin whirl athwart the bow,
The sword-fish-cleave the billowy plain.

But sudden, from the black mast-head,
A welcome salutation rose:
"Sharp on the starboard beam she spouts,"
"Broad on the larboard bow she blows!"
And instant on that idle deck
Was shout of men and tramp of feet;
Harpoon and lance from rack were torn,
And eyes would flash and hearts would beat.
"Down with the boats!" the captain spoke;
"Down boats! and tumble in, my men!"
And quick the sturdy oars were out,
The oarsmen straining to the stroke;
With steady pull they manful swept,
Harpooner poising at the prow,
The helmsman cheering at the stern,
The sharp stem cleaving like a plow.

Right soon beside that dusky bulk,
The huge leviathan of the deep,
That little weather-beaten boat
In swift, heroic charge did sweep.
Then harpoon, with gigantic strength,
Prone on that living wall was cast;
"Stern all!" the cry; "Back oars, my men!"
And backing oars made frantic haste.
Then with a plunge (while spots of blood
Redden'd the wave) sank down the whale,
Cleaving the billows with his head,
Lashing the foam with flourish'd tail.
Then swift across the whale-boat's prow
Whistled the smoking, flying line;
While thousand fathoms deep the prey
Dropt in abysses of the brine,
But quick the monstrous bulk arose,
Like balloon springing up in air;
And quick the deadly lance was thrust,
And the great prize roll'd helpless there.