The Wreck of the Hesperus

Melody - John L. Hatton

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882

It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sail'd in the wint'ry sea,
And the skipper had ta'en his little daughter
To bear him company.

Blue were her eyes, as the fairy flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds
That open in the month of May.

The skipper he stood beside the helm,
With his pipe in his mouth,
And watch'd hov, the veering flaw did blow
The smoke now west, now south.

Then up and spoke an old sailor,
Had sailed the Spanish Main,
"I pray thee, put into yonder port,
For I fear a hurricane.

Last night the moon had a golden ring,
But tonight no moon we see."
The skipper he blew a whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laugh'd he.

Down came the storm, and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shudder'd and paus'd like a frighted steed,
Then leap'd her cable's length.

"Come hither! come hither! my little daughter,
And do not tremble so,
For I can weather the roughest gale
That ever the wind did blow."

"Dear father! I hear the church bell ring,
Oh say what may it be?"
" 'Tis a fog bell on a rock-bound coast,
We must steer for the open sea."
  "Dear father! I see a gleaming light
O say what may it be?"
But the father answer'd never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.

Lash'd to the helm all stiff and stark,
With his pale face to the skies;
The lantern gleam'd thro' the falling snow
On his fix'd and glassy eyes.

Then the maiden clasp'd her hands, and pray'd
That saved she might be;
And she thought of Him who still'd the waves
On the lake of Galilee.

But fast thro' the midnight dark and drear,
Thro' the whistling sleet and snow,
Like a sheeted ghost, the bark swept on
To the reef of 'Norman's Woe'.

Her rattling shrouds, all sheath'd in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass she stove and sank,
Ho! Ho! the breakers roar'd!

At daybreak on the bleak sea beach
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair
Float by on a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And her streaming hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the waves did fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Oh! save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of 'Norman's Woe'.

A few of the "actual stories" regarding the origin of this poem.
After the horrific wrecking of the schooner Hesperus on the reef of Norman's Woe, off Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1839, Longfellow was inspired to write one of his best-known poems. One of the bodies washed ashore was, in fact, lashed to a spar. This gave the poet his theme.
The real Hesperus was docked when it was hit by such strong winds that it sailed across the street into the third story of a building. Longfellow had read about the 20 odd shipwrecks from this storm but couldn't get the picture of a woman tied to a mast washed up on shore out of his head. This prompted him to write the poem although he changed the victim from a 45 year old woman to a young girl.
The actual Hesperus was a 3-mast coastal schooner docked at Boston's Long Wharf at the time of the hurricane. The wreck from which the morbid details were obtained was actually the brig Favorite, wrecked on the Norman's Woe rocks just outside of Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts. The Favorite was indeed a total loss with all on board, including a female.
Apparently, there was a ship named "Herperus." But that's not the one that Longfellow immortalized. His poem is "The Wreck of the Hesperus" (note the "s" in the middle, not the "r").
The Great Blizzards of 1839 inspired the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write The Wreck of the Hesperus
On December 17, 1839 a disastrous storm hit the Atlantic coast, from Boston to Gloucester harbor. Seventeen schooners were wrecked and 40 lives were lost. Unable to sleep after reading the news in the Boston Post, Longfellow sat up one night long after midnight and composed the poem effortlessly.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, based his ballad, "The Wreck of the Hesperus," on the destruction of the Helen Eliza, which crashed off Peaks Island's shore in 1869.

John Liptrot Hatton was mostly self-taught as a musician. He enjoyed an enormous popularity during the nineteenth century for his ballads which are often of the highest quality. He also produced two cathedral services, eight anthems, a mass, an operetta and two operas. He was also well known as a performer, mostly of his own songs, which he interpreted in such a way that he invariably had the audience at his feet. A good performance of 'The Wreck of the Hesperus' can still be a very moving experience today, nearly 200 years after it was first heard.

| Deutsche Volkslieder | Ahnenforschung | Ferienaufenthalt | Folksongs | Hymns | Genealogy | Pacific Holiday | HOME PAGE | SEARCH | Email |