Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, OFF BARNEGAT, by ETHEL LYNN BEERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

OFF BARNEGAT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Sunset, athwart the winter sea
Last Line: "that faith-song still, ""sweet by and by!"
Alternate Author Name(s): Eliot, Ethelinda; Lynn, Ethel
Subject(s): Barnegat Bay, New Jersey

Sunset, athwart the winter sea,
Kissed keel, and sail, and tall masts three
Of a schooner nearing Barnegat.
The captain's wife in the cabin sat,
With warm arms round her baby fair,
And cheek bent o'er its yellow hair.
Fearless alike of wind and sea,
She rocked and sang contentedly,
Or stooped the baby brow to kiss
And wondered idly if 'twould miss
Her clasp if aught should part them now,
Then kissed again from baby's brow
The thought, and sang the lullaby
That held her dream of harbor nigh.
The captain wiped his dimming glass
From mist, and said, "God bless the lass!"
The list'ning sailors lightly stepped,
Or one by one to hear her crept,
As though, some way, the sweet air drew
Their better selves above the blue,
And home and God seemed strangely nigh
As still she sang "Sweet by and by."

Ere midnight passed or morning broke,
Ere little child or mother woke,
Came crash and cry -- came falling spar.
The Tolck was stranded on the bar!
Hoarse voices shouted; swinging low
Great sails, ice-mailed, flapped to and fro;
White faces showed when through the night
Shone rocket's flash and Coston-light,
And strong men shuddered as the sea
Broke o'er the stern relentlessly.
"Men, save yourselves!" the captain said;
"My place is here, alive or dead.
Save wife and child!" Strong helpers drew
Mother and child the stairway through --
Lashed to the mast with tender care
The captain's wife. Pale, calm, and fair,
She wrapped her child in scarf and shawl,
Then whispered to the first mate tall,
"Save her for me, Ben. I will bide
Through peril at the captain's side."

Across the sullen ocean's roar
Came voices nearer on the shore,
Till in the morning's early light
They saw, beyond the breakers white,
A score of men with helpful hands
Dragging in haste along the sands
Life-car and buoy, line and gun.
Up through the air the life-line spun,
And fell -- six fathoms short! Once more
It flew; it linked the ship to shore!
Along the rope, to strong rings tied,
The life-car gained the schooner's side;
The mate made ready for his care
The baby safe ashore to bear.
The mother's lips moaned out, "Good-bye!
You'll save her, Ben?" A hoarse "Ay! ay!"
Through roar of surf and deep sea-moan
Came floating back to watcher lone.
Too cold her hands to fold in prayer,
Her eyes yet watched the canvas chair,
Up rising now, now lost to sight,
Till safely through the breakers white
It reached the welcome waiting shore.
Three ringing cheers the salt air bore,
And waiting arms the salvage fair
Took safely from the tall mate's care,
Whilst from the ship, like faintest sigh,
There echoed still "Sweet by and by."

With dawning wild winds rougher grew;
No boat could live that white surf through.
The captain bid his men at last
Lash him as well against the mast,
So he might hold the figure frail
Better against the icy gale --
Wrapped his wide cloak to shield from harm
The fair head drooping on his arm,
And whispered softly, "You and I
Will reach port soon!" Her glazing eye
Turned shoreward first, then glanced aloft,
Whilst trembled still that echo soft,
Until, with head low on his breast,
The song came to an endless rest.
Thus morning found them, white and chill,
Beyond the touch of human ill,
Safe on the Frost-king's stalwart arm.
From heartache sore or body's harm.

. . . . . .

Now, when dark winter's icy breath
Brings solemn tales of wreck and death,
Whilst watching through the midnight dark
For homeward step and lantern's spark,
In fishing-cabins old wives tell
Again the tale all know so well.
Just when the drift-wood fire burns low,
And loitering neighbors turn to go,
They stop and listen by the door
And hear, they say, though wild seas roar,
Clearly and softly, floating nigh,
That faith-song still, "Sweet by and by!"

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