The Greenland Disaster – by House



Off to the cold and stormy North,
here all is seldom peace,
The blasts in wintertime descend,
The Storm King does not cease.
To there, off speeds the gallant ship
With brave men dead to fear
The day is fine, friends left behind,
Yet little do they care.

The icy fields at length they reach;
The day is clear, yet cold;
And coming night its shadow spreads
Over that band so bold.
Down, came the storm with giant force
Upon a frozen ocean;
They kneel to pray for coming day,
In heartfelt devotion.

Wearied all day from heavy toil,
Poor fare, and piercing cold;
With raging storm, no shelter made,
They suffered pains untold.
It was a dreadful night for all,
Each trusts to one another;
They try to cheer, yet in despair,
Some poor half-frozen brother.

And watching till the latest breath
Had left that frozen form;
Then turns a sad bewildered look
In deep and wild alarm;
Ah! mournful sight indeed to see,
It made the boldest shudder;
Those once so bold, benumbed with cold,
Fall beside another.

All night ring on the frosty air
Cries of helpless dying;
A drowning comrade not far off,
That same cry replying;
That pleading cry ascends to Heav’n
Just like incense of old;
Asks a blessing, rescues missing,
And stays the piercing cold.

Cease! ye fierce winds of heaven, cease;
And stay the piercing blast;
Haste! thou approaching morning, haste;
Your floods of daylight cast.
Bring comfort to the dying ones,
Assuage their dreadful pains,
And bring relief to stay their grief,
They cannot long remain.

The morning breaks with piercing shrieks;
Snow-clouds rent asunder;
A word goes round, ‘The ship in sight.”
Caught dying ears like thunder.
Rousing from their snow clad beds
Full their reason failing,
Falls back again, there to remain,
Efforts unavailing.

The strongest then renewed with hope
Wearily plods along;
The weak, too tired themselves to stir,
Come guarded by the strong.
In ones and twos they reach the ship,
Night casts its mantle o’er,
Ah such a night: such awful sight
They had not seen before.

How does it fare with those now out?
Not one alive can know
The sorrows and the sufferings
They had to undergo.
They stripped the dead to clothe themselves,
They prayed, they sang, they cried;
Till one by one they all succumb,
And lying down they died.

The third day when the storm had ceased,
What few survivors came,
Were so benumbed with piercing cold
That most were near insane.
Assisted then from ships near by
They searched the ice around,
Till twenty-five, not one alive,
Dead bodies had been found.

Yet, scarcely knowing who were gone,
The roll began to call,
The rescued and the missing ones
Make forty-eight in all.
Cast down with care and lonely grief,
All hands feels now so sad;
The time so brief, that brought the grief,
Where all, but now, were glad.

A floating tomb of human woe
She leaves that fatal spot;
They think of those now left behind
Which cannot be forgot.
She reaches port a ship of grief,
Gloomy, sad, and shockin’;
The Captain he, ’tis sad to see,
Could not be forgotten.

Why need we mourn for those now left
Beneath the angry wave;
They sleep as well beneath the sea
As others in their grave.
And on that dreadful judgment day
The sea will give its dead;
Those in the deep shall rise that sleep,
The word of God hath said.

As for their souls how can we tell;
For God would hear our cry,
If from our hearts forgiveness ask
Our hour before we die.
And those who died with hearts bowed down,
Were surely touched with grief
Their sins forgiv’n, they reach Heav’n
Much like the dying thief.

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, pp 55-56.

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