William Cowper
March 20, 1799

NOTE:    Poem is supposedly based on an actual event of a sailor being swept overboard during a severe storm.    (An incident referred to in a book by Lord George Anson in 1748 )


Obscurest night involv'd the sky;

Th' Atlantic billows roar'd;

When such a destin'd wretch as I,

Wash'd headlong from on board,

Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,

His floating home for ever left.

No braver chief could Albion boast

Then he, with whom he went,

Nor ever ship left Albion's coast,

With warmer wishes sent.

He lov'd them both, but both in vain,

Nor him beheld, nor her again.

Nor long beneath the 'whelming brine,

Expert to swim, he lay;

Nor soon he felt his strength decline,

Or courage die away;

But wag'd with death a lasting strife,

Supported by despair of life.

He shouted: nor his friends had fail'd

To check the vessel's course,

But so the furious blast prevail'd,

That, pitiless perforce,

They left their out-cast mate behind,

And scudded still before the wind.

Some succour yet they could afford;

And, such as storms allow,

The cask, the coop, the floated cord

Delay'd not to bestow.

But he (they knew) nor ship, nor shore,

Whate'ver they gave, should visit more.

Nor, cruel as it seem'd could he

Their haste himself condemn,

Aware that flight, in such a sea,

Alone could rescue them;

Yet bitter felt it still to die

Deserted, and his friends so nigh.

He long survives, who lives an hour

In ocean, self-upheld:

And so long he, with unspent pow'r,

His destiny repell'd:

And ever, as the minutes flew,

Entreated help, or cry'd   "Adieu ! "

At length, his transient respite past,

His comrades, who before

Had heard his voice in ev'ry blast,

Could catch the sound no more.

For then, t by toil subdued, he drank

The stifling wave, and then he sank.

No poet wept him: but the page

Of narrative sincere,

That tells his name, his worth, his age,

Is wet with Anson's tear.

And tears by bards or heroes shed,

Alike immortalize the dead.

I therefore purpose not, or dream,

Descanting on his fate,

To give the melancholy theme

A more enduring date.

But misery still delights to trace

Its 'semblance in antoher's case.

No voice divine the storm allay'd,

No light propitious shone;

When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,

We perish'd, each alone;

But I beneath a rougher sea,

And whelm'd in deeper gulphs than he.