Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ABIGAIL BECKER, by AMANDA THEODOSIA JONES



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ABIGAIL BECKER, by            
First Line: The wind, the wind where erie plunged
Last Line: "more than I ought to do!"
Subject(s): Disasters; Shipwrecks


THE wind, the wind where Erie plunged
Sou'west, blew, blew from land to land.
The wandering schooner dipped and lunged, —
Long Point was close at hand.

Long Point — a swampy island-slant,
Where, busy in their grassy homes,
Woodcock and snipe the hollows haunt
And muskrats build their domes.

Where gulls and eagles rest at need;
Where, either side, by lake or sound,
Kingfishers, cranes, and divers feed,
And mallard ducks abound.

The lowering night shut out the sight:
Careened the vessel, pitched and veered;
Raved, raved the wind with main and might, —
The sunken reef she neared.

She pounded over, lurched and sank:
Between two sand-bars settling fast
Her leaky hull the waters drank,
And she had sailed her last.

Into her rigging, quick as thought,
Captain and mate and sailors sprung,
Clambered for life, some vantage caught,
And there all night they swung.

And it was cold, oh, it was cold!
The pinching cold was like a vise;
Spoondrift flew freezing, — fold on fold
It coated them with ice.

Now when the dawn began to break,
Light up the sand-path drenched and brown,
To fill her bucket from the lake
Came Mother Becker down.

From where her cabin crowned the bank
Came Abigail Becker, tall and strong.
She dipped and lo! a broken plank
Rode rocking close along.

She poised her glass with anxious ken:
The schooner's top she spied from far;
And there she counted seven men
That clung to mast and spar.

And oh, the gale! the rout and roar!
The blinding drift, the mounting wave!
A good half-mile from wreck to shore
With seven men to save!

Sped Mother Becker: "Children! wake!
"A ship's gone down! they're needing me!
Your father's off on shore! the lake
Is just a raging sea!

"Get wood, cook fish, make ready all!"
She snatched her stores, she fled with haste,
In cotton gown and tattered shawl,
Barefoot across the waste.

Through sinking sands, through quaggy lands,
And nearer, nearer, full in view,
Went shouting through her hollowed hands:
"Courage! we'll get you through!"

Ran to and fro, made cheery signs,
Her bonfire lighted, steeped her tea,
Brought driftwood, watched Canadian lines
Her husband's boat to see.

Cold, cold it was, oh, it was cold!
The bitter cold made watching vain:
With ice the channel laboring rolled, —
No skiff could stand the strain.

On all that isle, from outer swell
To strait, between the landings shut,
Was never place where man might dwell
Save trapper Becker's hut.

And it was twelve and one and two
And it was three o'clock and more:
She called: "Come on! there's nought to do
But leap! and swim ashore!"

Blew, blew the gale; they did not hear.
She waded in the shallow sea,
She waved her hands, made signals clear:
"Swim, swim! and trust to me!"

"My men," the captain cried, "I'll try:
"The woman's judgment may be right;
For swim or sink, seven men must die
If here we swing to-night."

Far out he marked the gathering surge;
Across the bar he watched it pour;
Let go and on its topmost verge
Came riding in to shore.

It struck the breaker's foamy track:
Majestic wave on wave up-hurled,
Went grandly toppling, tumbling back
As loath to flood the world!

There blindly whirling, shorn of strength,
The captain drifted, sure to drown;
Dragged seaward half a cable's length,
Like sinking lead went down.

Ah, well for him that on the strand
Had Mother Becker waited long!
And well for him her grasping hand
And grappling arm were strong!

And well for him that wind and sun
And daily toil for scanty gains
Had made such daring blood to run
Within such generous veins.

For what to do but plunge and swim?
Out on the sinking billow cast,
She toiled, she dived, she groped for him,
She found and clutched him fast.

She climbed the reef, she brought him up,
She laid him, gasping, on the sands,
Built high the fire and filled the cup, —
Stood up and waved her hands!

Oh, life is dear! The mate leaped in:
"I know," the captain said, "right well,
"Not twice can any woman win
A soul from yonder hell!"

"I'll start and meet him in the wave."
"Keep back!" she bade. "What strength have you?"
"And I shall have you both to save, —
Must work to pull you through!"

But out he went. Up shallow sweeps
Raced the long white-caps, comb on comb:
The wind, the wind that lashed the deeps,
Far, far it blew the foam.

The frozen foam went scudding by, —
Before the wind, a seething throng,
The waves, the waves came towering high!
They flung the mate along.

The waves came towering high and white,
They burst in clouds of flying spray;
There mate and captain sank from sight
And clinching, rolled away.

O, Mother Becker, seas are dread,
Their treacherous paths are deep and blind!
But widows twain shall mourn their dead
If thou art slow to find!

She sought them near, she sought them far;
Three fathoms down she gripped them tight:
With both together, up the bar
She staggered into sight.

Beside the fire her burdens fell:
She paused the cheering draught to pour,
Then waved her hands: "All's well! all's well!
"Come on! Swim! swim ashore!"

Sure life is dear and men are brave:
They came, they dropped from mast and spar;
And who but she could breast the wave
And dive beyond the bar!

Dark grew the sky from East to West
And darker, darker grew the world:
Each man from off the breaker's crest
To gloomier deeps was hurled.

And still the gale went shrieking on;
And still the wrecking fury grew,
And still the woman, worn and wan
Those gates of death went through! —

As Christ were walking on the waves
And heavenly radiance shone about,
All fearless trod that gulf of graves
And bore the sailors out!

Down came the night, but far and bright,
Despite the wind and flying foam,
The bonfire flamed to give them light
To trapper Becker's home!

Oh, safety after wreck is sweet,
And sweet is rest in hut or hall!
One story Life and Death repeat: —
God's mercy over all!

. . . . . . . .

Next day men heard, put out from shore,
Crossed channel-ice, burst in to find
Seven gallant fellows sick and sore,
A tender nurse and kind;

Shook hands, wept, laughed, were crazy glad!
Cried: "Never yet on land or sea
"Poor, dying, drowning sailors had
A better friend than she!

"Billows may tumble, winds may roar,
Strong hands the wrecked from death may snatch,
But never, never, nevermore
This deed shall mortal match!"

Dear Mother Becker dropped her head;
She blushed as girls when lovers woo:
"I have not done a thing," she said,
"More than I ought to do!"





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