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Sable Island

Joseph Howe 1804 (Halifax, Nova Scotia) – 1873 (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

Dark Isle of Mourning--aptly art thou named,
  For thou hast been the cause of many a tear;
  For deeds of treacherous strife too justly famed,
  The Atlantic's charnel--desolate and drear;
  A thing none love--though wand'ring thousands fear--
  If for a moment rests the Muse's wing
  Where through the waves thy sandy wastes appear,
  'Tis that she may one strain of horror sing,
  Wild as the dashing waves that tempests o'er thee fling.

  The winds have been thy minstrels--the rent shrouds
  Of hapless barks, twanging at dead of night,
  Thy fav'rite harp strings--the shriek of crowds
  Clinging around them feebly in their fright,
  The song in which thou long hast had delight,
  Dark child of ocean, at thy feasts of blood;
  When mangled forms, shown by Heaven's lurid light,
  Rose to thy lip upon the swelling flood,
  While Death, with horrid front, beside thee gloating stood.

  As lurks the hungry tiger for his prey,
  Low crouch'd to earth with well dissembled mien,
  Peace in his eye--the savage wish to slay
  Rankling around his heart--so thou art seen
  Stretch'd harmlessly on ocean's breast of green,
  When winds are hush'd, and sleeps the placid wave
  Beneath the evening ray--whose glittering sheen
  Gilds the soft swells thy arid folds that lave,
  Unconscious that they cling around a yawning grave.

  The fascination of the Siren's song,
  The shadow of the fatal Upas tree;
  The Serpent's eye that lures the bird along
  To certain doom--less deadly are than thee
  Even in thy hours of calm serenity,
  When on thy sands the lazy seals repose,
  And steeds, unbridled, sporting carelessly,
  Crop the rank grass that on thy bosom grows,
  While round the timid hare his glance of caution throws.

  But when thy aspect changes--when the storm
  Sweeps o'er the wide Atlantic's heaving breast;
  When, hurrying on in many a giant form,
  The broken waters by the winds are prest--
  Roaring like fiends of hell which know no rest,
  And guided by the lightning's fitful flash;
  Who dares look on thee then--in terror drest,
  As on thy length'ning beach the billows dash,
  Shaking the heavens themselves with one long deaf'ning crash.

  The winds are but thy blood-hounds, that do force
  The prey into thy toils; th' insidious stream
  That steadily pursues its noiseless course,
  Warmed by the glow of many a tropic beam,
  To seas where northern blasts more rudely scream
  Is thy perpetual Almoner, and brings
  All that to man doth rich and lovely seem,
  Earth's glorious gifts,--its fair and holy things,
  And round thy dreary shores its spoils profusely flings.

  The stateliest stems the Northern forest yields,
  The richest produce of each Southern shore,
  The gathered harvests of a thousand fields,
  Earn'd by man's sweat--or paid for by his gore.
  The splendid robes the cavern'd Monsters wore,
  The gold that sparkled in Potosi's mine,
  The perfumed spice the Eastern islands bore,
  The gems whose rays like morning's sunbeams shine,
  All--all--insatiate Isle--these treasures all are thine.

  But what are these, compared with the rich spoils
  Of human hearts, with fond affections stored:
  Of manly forms, o'ertaken by thy toils--
  Of glorious spirits, 'mid thy sands outpoured.
  Thousands who've braved War's desolating sword,
  Who've walk'd through earth's worst perils undismayed,
  Now swell the treasures of thy ample hoard;
  Deep in thy vaults their whitening bones are laid,
  While many a burning tear is to their mem'ries paid.

  And oft--as though you sought to mock man's eye--
  Thy shifting sands their treasured spoils disclose:
  There may we some long-missing wreck descry,
  Some broken mast, that once so proudly rose
  Above the peopled deck; some toy, that shows
  The fate of her upon whose breast it hung,
  But who now sleeps in undisturbed repose,
  Where by the waves her beauteous form was flung,
  May peace be with her manes--the lovely and the young.

  Why does the Father, at the dawn of day,
  Fly from his feverish couch and horrid dreams,
  And up the mountain side pursue his way,
  And turn to gaze upon the sea, which seems
  Blent with the heavens--until the gorgeous beams
  Of the bright sun each cloud and wave reveal?
  Whence comes the tear that o'er that pale cheek streams--
  As, tired with gazing, on the earth he kneels,
  And pours in prayer to God the anguish that he feels?

  Why does
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:44 min read

Joseph Howe

Joseph Howe was a Nova Scotian journalist, politician, public servant, and a poet. more…

All Joseph Howe poems | Joseph Howe Books

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