Haunted By Tigers

NATHAN BEANS and William Lambert were two wild New England boys,
Known from infancy to revel only in forbidden joys.
Many a mother of Nantucket bristled when she heard them come,
With a horrid skulking whistle, tempting her good lad from home.
But for all maternal bristling little did they seem to care,
And they loved each other dearly, did this good-for-nothing pair.

So they lived till eighteen summers found them in the same repute,—
They had well-developed muscles, and loose characters to boot.
Then they did what wild Nantucket boys have never failed to do,—
Went and filled two oily bunks among a whaler's oily crew.
And the mothers,—ah! they raised their hands and blessed the lucky day,
While Nantucket waved its handkerchief to see them sail away.

On a four years' cruise they started in the brave old 'Patience Parr,'
And were soon initiated in the mysteries of tar.
There they found the truth that whalers' tales are unsubstantial wiles,—
They were sick and sore and sorry ere they passed the Western Isles;
And their captain, old-man Sculpin, gave their fancies little scope,
For he argued with a marlinspike and reasoned with a rope.
But they stuck together bravely, they were Ishmaels with the crew:
Nathan's voice was never raised but Bill's support was uttered too;
And whenever Beans was floored by Sculpin's cruel marlinspike,
Down beside him went poor Lambert, for his hand was clenched to strike.
So they passed two years in cruising, till one breathless burning day
The old 'Patience Parr' in Sunda Straits with flapping canvas lay.
On her starboard side Sumatra's woods were dark beneath the glare,
And on her port stretched Java, slumbering in the yellow air,—
Slumbering as the jaguar slumbers, as the tropic ocean sleeps,
Smooth and smiling on its surface with a devil in its deeps.
So swooned Java's moveless forest, but the jungle round its root
Knew the rustling anaconda and the tiger's padded foot.
There in Nature's rankest garden, Nature's worst alone is rife,
And a glorious land is wild-beast ruled for want of human life.
Scarce a harmless thing moved on it, not a living soul was near
From the frowning rocks of Java Head right northward to Anjier.
Crestless swells, like wind-raised canvas, made the whaler rise and dip,
Else she lay upon the water like a paralytic ship;

And beneath a topsail awning lay the lazy, languid crew,
Drinking in the precious coolness of the shadow,—all save two:
Two poor Ishmaels,—they were absent, Heaven help them!— roughly tied
'Neath the blistering cruel sun-glare in the fore-chains, side by side.
Side by side as it was always, each one with a word of cheer
For the other, and for his sake bravely choking back the tear.
Side by side, their pain or pastime never yet seemed good for one;
But whenever pain came, each in secret wished the other gone.

You who stop at home and saunter o'er your flower scattered path,
With life's corners velvet cushioned, have you seen a tyrant's wrath? —
Wrath, the rude and reckless demon, not the drawing-room display
Of an anger led by social lightning-rods upon its way.
Ah! my friends, wrath's raw materials on the land may sometimes be,
But the manufactured article is only found at sea.

And the wrath of old-man Sculpin was of texture Number One:
Never absent,—when the man smiled it was hidden, but not gone.
Old church-members of Nantucket knew him for a shining lamp,
But his chronic Christian spirit was of pharisaic stamp.
When ashore, he prayed aloud of how he'd sinned and been forgiven,—
How his evil ways had brought him 'thin an ace of losing heaven;

Thank the Lord! his eyes were opened, and so on; but when the ship
Was just ready for a voyage, you could see old Sculpin's lip
Have a sort of nervous tremble, like a carter's long-leashed whip
Ere it cracks; and so the skipper's lip was trembling for an oath
At the watch on deck for idleness, the watch below for sloth,
For the leash of his anathemas was long enough for both.

Well, ' twas burning noon off Java: Beans and Lambert in the chains
Sank their heads, and all was silent but the voices of their pains.
Night came ere their bonds were loosened; then the boys sank down and slept,
And the dew in place of loved ones on their wounded bodies wept.

All was still within the whaler,—on the sea no fanning breeze,
And the moon alone was moving over Java's gloomy trees.
Midnight came,—one sleeper's waking glance went out the moon to meet:
Nathan rose, and turned from Lambert, who still slumbered at his feet.
Out toward Java went his vision, as if something in the air <
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on April 24, 2023

4:08 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic octameter
Characters 4,558
Words 812
Stanzas 9
Stanza Lengths 6, 6, 24, 8, 6, 6, 6, 4, 5

John Boyle O'Reilly

John Boyle O'Reilly was an Irish-born poet, journalist and fiction writer. more…

All John Boyle O'Reilly poems | John Boyle O'Reilly Books

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