Poems in The Canadian Review (1825)

By Adam Hood Burwell



“They that in ships, with courage bold,
         O’er the swelling waves their trade pursue,
Do God’s amazing works behold,
         And in the deep his wonders view.”

Psalm cvii. V. 23. Brady and Tate    

Driven from my country by a fate unkind,
    I sought protection on a foreign soil,
Where, full five tedious, miserable years,
    I gave my strength to unremitting toil.

But firm I held the purpose of my soul,


    And bore misfortune with undaunted mind,
’Till that glad hour arrived when all my cares
    And toils I gave, exulting, to the wind.

With joyful heart I sought the gallant ship,
    That should convey me to my native shore —


The fav’ring breezes filled her swelling sails,
    And light she danced the bounding billows o’er. [Page 59]

’Twas Christmas eve —and near the destin’d port: —
    Each heart on board was fraught with joy and glee;
But fortune seem’d to wear her brightest smile,


    And hold the choicest of her gifts for me.

Rescu’d from iron-handed want I found
    Myself the lord of sudden wealth —once more
My parents long’d t’embrace their erring son: —
    Their son, more eager, sought his native shore.


Did filial duty and affection call?
    Love also call’d —and louder far than they: —
Dearer than parent, waited my return,
    And chode the lingering hours of my delay.

Theresa’s vows where fresh in my fond heart;


    Theresa’s image stood unrivalled there;
Propitious heaven seem’d hastening the glad hour
    That soon should give to her my earnest prayer.

’Twas eight at eve —majestic rode the ship
    Before the generous breeze, which smartly told;


The skies were veil’d with thick descending snow,
    And Ocean’s voice along the billows roll’d.

The struggling moonbeams thro’ the opening clouds
    By turns illum’d the dense and solemn shade,
Dispell’d black night, and round on every side


    The watery mountains capt with foam display’d.

I walk’d the deck t’enjoy the scene sublime;
    (My eyes refused the soothing balm of sleep)
I o’er the gunwale lean’d —my balance lost,
    Headlong I sunk into the briny deep!


Diverse the thoughts that darted thro’ my brain:
    The ship I fancied sunk, and all her crew;
A drowning wretch seem’d to invade my limbs: —
    I strove t’unlock the eager grasp he drew.

At length the surface gain’d, remembrance turn’d,


    With dread precision back upon my mind!
I felt the boundless deep to be my grave!
    I heard my dirge roll in the howling wind! [Page 60]

A cry of horror pass’d my lips —a cry
    That pierces yet by turns my frighted ears,


Like the mad shriek of deepest agony,
    That chills the vital flood of him who hears!

I gain’d the surface, but no ship was there —
    ’Twas gone forever! —all the little world
Of joy, so late my own was swept away,


    In one short moment form existence hurl’d!

I felt that God at once had thrust me down
    The dreary steep of misery and woe;
Had flung me headlong from the view of bliss,
    Where mine was all of happiness below.


Yes, I did feel the Almighty God
    Had done this fearful act! —the mad controul
Of wild, impotent rage, objectless wrath,
    Assail’d and took possession of my soul.

I gnash’d my teeth —I curs’d myself —my God! —


    With bitter tears and yells blasphemed his name —
Arraign’d his justice and denounced his laws,
    And burned with fury as with raging flame!

Poor, hapless worm! —where did those curses fall?
    Who heard those impious blasts of feeble breath?


The God of mercy heard —and he forgave
    The mad reproach, and saved my soul from death.

His tender mercy, tho’ I knew it  not,
    Was with me still, me miserable, blind;
His hand restrain’d the deep devouring flood,


    And ruled the dangers of the threat’ning wind.

But the winds roar’d and yell’d around my head,
    And smote my face with thick descending snow;
And the rude waves hurl’d at me all their force, 
    And howled, and raged, and toss’d me to and fro. [Page 61]


The ship was gone —and I was left alone
    To struggle, buffet, grasp, and sink, and die,
Unseen by man, unpitied, and I fear’d,
    Cast off by Him who rul’d my destiny.

I strove to pierce the thick surrounding gloom; —


    My glaring eyes seem’d leaping from their bed:
I strain’d my sight —no ship —nought could I see
    But crested billows thundering round my head!

With frantic soul I shouted and I shriek’d!
    I call’d —and call’d upon th’ unheeding crew


My late companions, ’till my voice was gone,
    Tho’ swift their flight across the wave I knew.

My vocal power to act at length refus’d;
    I tried to call —I gasp’d, and strove again! —
The waves still beat me with their stunning blows,


    And forced me drifting o’er the boiling main.

Then thought I, ’tis a dream —I shall awake: —
    The sweet delusion cheer’d my dying heart;
I strove to shriek, and break the direful spell,
    And bid the demon of the night depart.


But soon, the cheating vision fled and left
    Me undeceived to what I fear’d to know:
But oh! the transit from this dream of hope
    To the dread certainty of all my woe!

I felt within me all that could be hell —


    I felt in it the hideous fear of death!
That fear how passing dreadful! —all my soul,
    Sworn with despair, hung on one trembling breath!

The dreams of terror that so oft before
    Had led me fainting thro’ the threatening tide,


What were they now? —All fancy framed, and more
    Than fancy knows assail’d on every side. [Page 62]

I felt as if all human misery
    Was crammed together in one little part;
That this dread load —great God! —was wholly mine,


    And lay concentr’d in my single heart!

The thoughts of danger so engross’d my mind,
    So bound my faculties and rul’d my will,
I was unconscious how I braved the tide,
    Altho’ exerting all my power and my skill.


While thus contending with the stormy deep,
    Some substance struck me —not the yielding wave —
I grasp’d with all the energy of joy,
    And felt delivered from my watery grave!

The crew had seen me sink into the waves; —


    They did their utmost to preserve my life;
They cast out bouyants —and a hen-coop found
    Me struggling —labouring in the mortal strife.

The tales of sailors rescued from the deep,
    From equal dangers, rush’d across my mind;


A beam of hope illum’d my sinking soul;
    Might I not then their equal fortune find?

No longer void of all support upon
    The weltering world of watery dark I lay:
My friends were mindful —still I might then


    Be safe on board before returning day.

The thought infus’d new courage in my breast;
    I look’d around to see the gallant ship;
I sought the gleaming of her snow-white sails —
    Her rushing prow that cut the yielding deep.


But this was all a momentary joy —
    How could the curb the fleetness of her flight?
How could they find a floating spec like me
    Lost in the gloomy chaos of the night? [Page 63]

A flash of lightning rent the veil of night —


    A peal of thunder burst athwart the gloom; —
Another followed, and another still —
    Yet still they left me to my direful doom!

It was my friends. —Ah wherefore? —every gun
    But told how swift they cut the foaming tide; —


But told how hard the unrelenting fate,
    Which the last prospect of relief denied!

Yet still they fired; —but each succeeding shot
    More faintly broke on my tormented ear,
I cursed the sound that, scarcely rising o’er


    The rumbling billows, mock’d my deep despair!

I cursed the heartless and unfeeling crew
    That left me on the boundless deep to die,
Where was the friendship I had heard express’d?
    Where was the proof of their humanity?


Why did they not send all their boats abroad
    And scour the bosom of the neighbouring sea?
Why did they fail of one expedient ’till
    Success had crowned them and they rescued me?

I blamed them, blest, and curs’d by turns until


    My soul exhausted sunk to apathy:
Yet clung I to the wretched wood that held
    Me back, despairing, from eternity.

As yet no thought of my beloved friends,
    Of home, —had flash’d across my frantic mind,


Which had not stray’d beyond the fatal ship
    That left me to the raging waves and wind.

But now ’twas gone —and home, with all her joys,
    Fell like a sight of heaven upon my soul! —
Me heart was ravish’d with a thrill of bliss!


    I felt soft transports thro’ my bosom roll! [Page 64]

But ah, how transient the delusive dream!
    How quick the phantom fled, and all her train! —
A furious billow burst around and call’d
    Me back to life and misery again!


The strong conviction that I there must make
    The deep my grave, recoil’d on my poor heart; —
I who had prospects of the brightest hue; —
    How vain to me! —life, and I must part!

Heavens! what a war of passion shook my soul!


    Had I for this my plighted vows maintain’d; —
My heart o’erflowing tenderness and love
    For her betroth’d, pure lofty, and unstain’d?

Had God preserv’d my life thro’ plagues and death,
    Thro’ earthquake, famine, war, and dangers past,


To be the sport of the careering storm,
    And thus to kill me in his rage at last?

My grey-hair’d parents —who shall tell the tale
    That turns your mansions to the house of woe?
What speechless grief will swell your aged hearts,


    When all the horrors of my fate you know!

O my Theresa! —can thy widowed soul
    Sustain the shock stern fate for thee prepares?
What kindred breast shall soothe thy frenzied mind —
    What pitying hand wipe off thy bitter tears?


Thus thro’ that unimaginable night! —
    Oftimes sensation, feeling, all were fled:
Then racking pains would shake my feeble frame; —
    Then wished I to be numbered with the dead.

Yet life was sweet —and in my weakened state,


    I must have sunk from my frail barque at last,
Had I not, though unconscious when or how,
    With some loose cordage bound my body fast. [Page 65]

Tho’ awful thoughts of the eternal world,
    In prospect near, ran thro’ my shattered mind;


Yet nought in clear perspicious view appeared;
    Its images were loose and undefin’d.

The hope of future bliss or fear of pain
    Share not my thoughts: —’twas parting with this life: —
’Twas being so torn from sublunary joys


    That roused my passions in the dreadful strife.

Once I had yielded all my hopes to death;
    Had thrown myself at the Redeemer’s feet;
But hovering sea-birds screamed above my head,
    And hope of life resumed her wonted seat.


O for your wings, ye envied tribes of air!
    How would I soar and leave the watery grave! —
But mine are broken; —like a wounded bird
    Weltering I lie upon the boundless wave!

At length remembering in my vest there lay


    An opiate formed to lull each madd’ning care —
With joy I seized the intoxicating draught,
    And to the dregs drank up the Lethian snare.

A strange delirium, wild, extatic, soon
    Invaded all my powers —I felt the charm


Of glorious pleasure, dancing o’er the waves,
    I scorn’d their tumult, for I fear’d no harm.

A moment more and all was changed: I thought
    Myself at ease aboard some gallant ship:
Then by a mutinous, rebellious crew


    Insulted, fettered, cast into the deep.

Their bursting peals of laughter shook my frame: —
    I sung huzza’d, with mad enjoyment wild: —
Now shivering sickness seized upon my limbs;
    Then left me poor, exhausted, faint, despoil’d. [Page 66]


But short these flashes of reality;
    The high delirium all absorb’d my soul:
My own identity no more was mine:
    I felt absolved from all terrene controul.

Reckless of the contending elements


    I floundered onward thro’ the gloomy night;
Reckless of pain, of danger I enjoyed
    The full supremacy of mad delight.

Methought I heard the voice of heaven descend
    In all the glory of celestial song:


It seemed to melt down from the stormy clouds,
    Rise from the deep, and flow the winds along.

It spoke of grandeur more than human thought
    Could e’er conceive; it swell’d with heavenly fire:
Immortal beings seemed to strike their harps


    And wield the magic of their living lyre!

My soul was ravish’d with th’ angelic strains!
    I sunk beneath an extasy of bliss! —
Avaunt, ye life destroying, murderous pains! —
    O for a long eternity like this!


I saw a white gleam thro’ the falling snow:
    A rushing noise came with the music’s sound:
The glorious phantom of a ship passed by,
    With all the pomp of naval grandeur crown’d.

Her snow-white sails were swoln before the wind:


    A thousand lamps poured round their dazzling light:
Her decks were gladdened with festivity,
    And her long streamers floated on the night.

And I repin’d not as she rush’d along: —
    My soul was changed; —’twas foreign quite to me;


And yet she seemed some beauteous creature born,
    The wondrous offspring of the briny sea. [Page 67]

Yes, as she passed me I regretted not;
    Fear was no more an inmate of my breast:
The past and future were alike forgot:


    The world within me had retired to rest,

Self, care, and pain had left my spirit free:
    A new existence all my wants confin’d:
I seem’d a portion of the storm and sea,
    With them in firm, eternal wedlock join’d.


A glorious grandeur far above all thought,
    A height of state unspeakable was mine:
Mortality had sunk beneath my feet:
    I felt a brightened being half divine.

At length the high excitement ’gan to fail;


    Returning reason glimmer’d on my mind,
Pain, pleasure, land, sea, storm, calm, laughter, tears,
    Rose round me all in strange confusion join’d.

I thought my best beloved Theresa near,
    Now like an angel soothing all my grief;


Now wretched, miserable, like myself,
    Outcast forlorn, imploring kind relief!

And now she lay upon my panting breast,
    Cold, shivering, drenched, despairing, and insane,
With imprecations on her faltering tongue,


    And racked with all the agony of pain!

And then a voice call’d from below the waves: —
    “Is thy Theresa now no more thy care?
“Hast thou forgotten all thy vows of love? —
    “Where is Theresa, tell me, spirit, where?” —


Then looking down I saw a snow white shroud
    Come slowly upward from the vast beneath —
I knew the tenant of the winding sheet;
    ’Twas poor Theresa, cold in silent death! [Page 68]

I grasp’d to embrace the body as it rose;


    Its blue swoln features, by sea-monsters torn,
Smote on my face; — I started back aghast;
    Then down declining soon it sunk forlorn.

But now the wondrous extacy was gone! —
    I woke —but what a wretched thing was I! —


My soul was prostrate as a withered weed,
    And hung in heartless, drear despondency!

The day returned; the raging storm had ceas’d;
    But succour came not with the returning day, —
I saw the dread reality of all! —


    Hopeless, despairing, on the flood I lay!

The storm had ceas’d —but yet no sight of land: —
    Black angry clouds verged the horizon round:
Some, charged with thunder, rolled the distant peal,
    And mountain billows echoed back the sound.


Some seem’d gigantic cliffs of glowing fire,
    All here and there besmear’d with flowing blood —
It was a wrathful and despairing sky,
    Fit canopy to the rebellious flood.

The sun look’d forth, but beamed no ray of joy —


    What was his light to such a wretch as I?
He seem’d indeed a dull, cold, brazen orb,
    Fit lamp to light that ocean and that sky.

Three ships appear’d far off —for hours they lay
    Along the deep, and mock’d my longing sight;


Then rushing on the wings of prosperous gales,
    In stormy distance hid their rapid flight.

The screaming sea-birds saw me prostrate lie;
    Around me oft their circling squadrons drew:
They hovered o’er me pitying —then away


    In all their strength and happiness they flew. [Page 69]

I felt that now was my departure nigh;
    A calm came o’er me —’twas the calm of death;
I pray’d with deep devotion for my sins,
    And nam’d my friends with my expiring breath.


I heard an obtuse ringing in my ears:
    I seem’d to mingle with the sounding wave.
The briny deep wave closing o’er my head
    To hide my body in a watery grave.

A sense of sinking down —and down succeeds;


    I thought ’twas death —I thought without a dread
Down, down to an unfathomable depth,
    The eternal future, being of the dead —

From this insensibility I woke,
    Rack’d by intense, excruciating pain:


Impenetrable darkness veil’d me round —
    I shrieked with agony —and shriek’d again!

I heard a voice cry, “Praise the lord!” —then saw
    Wan, glimmering lights move quickly to and fro:
I dismal whispering heard, and then beheld


    Pale, silent, gloomy spectres come and go.

Ten thousand thunders mingled on my head:
    Contending floods encircled me around,
Was this the world of spirits? —was it death,
    Or hell’s dark prison in the deeps profound?


But oh, my friend! my tongue can ne’er recount
    The pains of my return to life, nor tell
The deep, the humbling, melting gratitude,
    That o’er my mind, and soul, and spirit fell!

Within the cabin of a ship I lay —


    A kind attendant watch’d my fluttering breath,
The hand of God was here! —to him the praise: —
    His mercy snatch’d me from the jaws of death. [Page 70]

’Tis now the hour of rest, —Adieu! my friend,
    I haste to cast myself before the throne


Of him who saved me from the stormy deep, —
    Who yet, I trust, will keep me for his own.


ERIEUS [Page 71]


* [The poet’s own note]: “The substance of this poem is a narrative extracted from Blackwood’s Magazine, entitled, “Remarkable Preservation from Death at Sea.” Being particularly struck with the singularity of the piece, and the glowing description of the sufferings the narrator endured, the author laid it by, determined to attempt the paraphrase of it at a convenient time. To suit the plan adopted he has taken some liberty with some parts of it, omitting a few sentiments,—or rather a few fragments of the narrative, —and varying or supplying where he deemed it expedient: —but the alterations are not such as to affect the story. There is a similarity in some places which borders on repetition; and which from the nature of the circumstances recorded, could not well be avoided. The original is said to be translated from the German.”

This poem appeared in The Canadian Review and Literary and Historical Journal (Montreal), III, (March, 1825), 209-218. The article mentioned appeared in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, II, (February, 1818), 490. John Wilson (“Christopher North”) acknowledged that he was the author of the article (see Blackwood’s, XXVII, (June?, 1830), 906. [back]