Died on the Ice Fields


The white, rugged ice-floe came gliding along
On the ocean, with seals scattered o’er,
And the eyes of the fisher-folk sparkled with joy
As it pressed closer still to the shore.

There was sharp’ning of sheath knives and seizing of “bats,”
There was gathering of “tow-lines” in haste;
And the heart of the youth in his teens swelled with pride
As he buckled a belt round his waist.

With heart light as air they pushed out o’er the ice,
There their “bats” raised a torrent of blows
On the harps, while the keen, glittering sheath knives soon gave
Them the “sculp” they required for their “tows.”

In the midst of the bustle the fickle wind changed,
And the ice ‘gan to move from the land;
There was slipping of “tows,” there was running for life,
‘Mong the men of that brave little band.

Richard Parsons, of Flat Rock, and his eldest son
(The younger had gone home before)
Were speeding along when the weary boy cried;
“I am tired; I can travel no more.”

His garments, brine drenched, were now stiff with the frost,
His limbs had grown helpless and numb;
And the father with anguish untold was o’whelm’d
Lest the boy should ‘ere morning succumb.

His own clothing straightway he tore from his back,
And in it did quickly enfold
The shivering form of his perishing boy,
In an effort to keep out the cold.

Then clasping him close in a frantic embrace,
Thro’ that dark night he did strive,
By breathing his own warm breath o’er his face,
To keep his chilled off-spring alive.

He reck’ed not of hunger, of cold or fatigue,
With his son on the brink of the grave;
And when found in the morning his pulse was as weak
As the boy he had laboured to save.

Kind hands bore them shoreward, and still on the way
Another sad sight their eyes met,
The form of the younger boy, thought to be safe,
On the ice lying silent in death.

Vain, vain, is the effort in words to portray
The depths of that fond parent’s love;
It can only be judged and rewarded one day
By an all-seeing Father above.

Source: Ryan, Shannon, and Larry Small. 1978. Haulin’ Rope & Gaff: Songs and Poetry in the History of the Newfoundland Seal Fishery. St. John’s, NL: Breakwater Books, 39.