Verse > Anthologies > Louis Untermeyer, ed. > Modern British Poetry
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Louis Untermeyer, ed. (1885–1977). Modern British Poetry.  1920.
 
John Masefield. 1878–
 
99. Rounding the Horn
(From "Dauber")
 
THEN came the cry of "Call all hands on deck!" 
The Dauber knew its meaning; it was come: 
Cape Horn, that tramples beauty into wreck, 
And crumples steel and smites the strong man dumb. 
Down clattered flying kites and staysails; some         5
Sang out in quick, high calls: the fair-leads skirled, 
And from the south-west came the end of the world... 
  
"Lay out!" the Bosun yelled. The Dauber laid 
Out on the yard, gripping the yard, and feeling 
Sick at the mighty space of air displayed  10
Below his feet, where mewing birds were wheeling. 
A giddy fear was on him; he was reeling. 
He bit his lip half through, clutching the jack. 
A cold sweat glued the shirt upon his back. 
  
The yard was shaking, for a brace was loose.  15
He felt that he would fall; he clutched, he bent, 
Clammy with natural terror to the shoes 
While idiotic promptings came and went. 
Snow fluttered on a wind-flaw and was spent; 
He saw the water darken. Someone yelled,  20
"Frap it; don't stay to furl! Hold on!" He held. 
  
Darkness came down—half darkness—in a whirl; 
The sky went out, the waters disappeared. 
He felt a shocking pressure of blowing hurl 
The ship upon her side. The darkness speared  25
At her with wind; she staggered, she careered; 
Then down she lay. The Dauber felt her go, 
He saw her yard tilt downwards. Then the snow 
  
Whirled all about—dense, multitudinous, cold— 
Mixed with the wind's one devilish thrust and shriek,  30
Which whiffled out men's tears, defeated, took hold, 
Flattening the flying drift against the cheek. 
The yards buckled and bent, man could not speak. 
The ship lay on her broadside; the wind's sound 
Had devilish malice at having got her downed.  35
    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
How long the gale had blown he could not tell,
 
Only the world had changed, his life had died. 
A moment now was everlasting hell. 
Nature an onslaught from the weather side, 
A withering rush of death, a frost that cried,  40
Shrieked, till he withered at the heart; a hail 
Plastered his oilskins with an icy mail.... 
  
"Up!" yelled the Bosun; "up and clear the wreck!" 
The Dauber followed where he led; below 
He caught one giddy glimpsing of the deck  45
Filled with white water, as though heaped with snow. 
He saw the streamers of the rigging blow 
Straight out like pennons from the splintered mast, 
Then, all sense dimmed, all was an icy blast. 
  
Roaring from nether hell and filled with ice,  50
Roaring and crashing on the jerking stage, 
An utter bridle given to utter vice, 
Limitless power mad with endless rage 
Withering the soul; a minute seemed an age. 
He clutched and hacked at ropes, at rags of sail,  55
Thinking that comfort was a fairy tale, 
  
Told long ago—long, long ago—long since 
Heard of in other lives—imagined, dreamed— 
There where the basest beggar was a prince. 
To him in torment where the tempest screamed,  60
Comfort and warmth and ease no longer seemed 
Things that a man could know; soul, body, brain, 
Knew nothing but the wind, the cold, the pain. 
 
 
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