Elegy on Captain Cook

by Anna Seward

London, 1780

1 Sorrowing, the Nine beneath yon blasted yew
2 Shed the bright drops of Pity's holy dew;
3 Mute are their tuneful tongues, extinct their fires;
4 Yet not in silence sleep their silver lyres ;
5 To the bleak gale they vibrate sad and slow,
6 In deep accordance to a Nation's woe.

7 Ye, who ere-while for Cook 's illustrious brow
8 Pluck'd the green laurel , and the oaken bough ,
9 Hung the gay garlands on the trophied oars ,
10 And pour'd his fame along a thousand shores,
11 Strike the slow death-bell !---weave the sacred verse ,
12 And strew the cypress o'er his honor'd hearse ;
13 In sad procession wander round the shrine ,
14 And weep him mortal , whom ye sung divine !

15 Say first, what Pow'r inspir'd his dauntless breast
16 With scorn of danger, and inglorious rest,
17 To quit imperial London's gorgeous plains,
18 Where, rob'd in thousand tints, bright Pleasure reigns;
19 In cups of summer-ice her nectar pours,
20 And twines, 'mid wint'ry snows, her roseate bow'rs ?

21 Where Beauty moves with undulating grace,
22 Calls the sweet blush to wanton o'er her face,
23 On each fond Youth her soft artillery tries,
24 Aims her light smile, and rolls her frolic eyes?

25 What Power inspir'd his dauntless breast to brave
26 The scorch'd Equator, and th' Antarctic wave?
27 Climes, where fierce Suns in cloudless ardors shine,
28 And pour the dazzling deluge round the Line;
29 The realms of frost, where icy mountains rise,
30 'Mid the pale summer of the polar skies?---
31 It was Humanity !---on coasts unknown,
32 The shiv'ring natives of the frozen zone,
33 And the swart Indian, as he faintly strays
34 "Where Cancer reddens in the solar blaze,"
35 She bade him seek;---on each inclement shore
36 Plant the rich seeds of her exhaustless store;
37 Unite the savage hearts, and hostile hands,
38 In the firm compact of her gentle bands ;
39 Strew her soft comforts o'er the barren plain ,
40 Sing her sweet lays , and consecrate her fane .

41 It was Humanity !---O Nymph divine!
42 I see thy light step print the burning Line!
43 There thy bright eye the dubious pilot guides,
44 The faint oar struggling with the scalding tides .---
45 On as thou lead'st the bold, the glorious prow ,
46 Mild, and more mild, the sloping sun-beams glow;
47 Now weak and pale the lessen'd lustres play,
48 As round th' horizon rolls the timid day;

49 Barb'd with the sleeted snow, the driving hail
50 Rush the fierce arrows of the polar gale;
51 And thro' the dim, unvaried, ling'ring hours,
52 Wide o'er the waves incumbent horror low'rs.
53 From the rude summit of yon frozen steep,
54 Contrasting Glory gilds the dreary deep !
55 Lo!---deck'd with vermeil youth and beamy grace,
56 Hope in her step, and gladness in her face,
57 Light on the icy rock, with outstretch'd hands,
58 The Goddess of the new Columbus stands.
59 Round her bright head the plumy Peterels [1] Peterels Soar--- The peterel is a bird found in the frozen seas; its neck and tail are white, and its wings of a bright blue. soar,
60 Blue as her robe, that sweeps the frozen shore;
61 Glows her soft cheek, as vernal mornings fair,
62 And warm as summer-suns her golden hair;
63 O'er the hoar waste her radiant glances stream,
64 And courage kindles in their magic beam.
65 She points the ship it's mazy path, to thread
66 The floating fragments [2] The floating fragments--- "In the course of the last twenty-four hours, we passed through several fields of broken ice; they were in general narrow, but of considerable extent. In one part the pieces of ice were so close, that the ship had much difficulty to thread them. " of the frozen bed .

67 While o'er the deep , in many a dreadful form,
68 The giant Danger howls along the storm,
69 Furling the iron sails [3] Furling the iron sails.---" Our sails and rigging were so frozen, that they seemed plates of iron. " with numbed hands,
70 Firm on the deck the great Adventurer stands;
71 Round glitt'ring mountains hears the billows rave,
72 And the vast ruin [4] And the vast ruin.---The breaking of one of these immense mountains of ice, and the prodigious noise it made, is particularly described in Cook's second voyage to the south Pole . thunder on the wave.---
73 Appall'd he hears!---but checks the rising sigh,
74 And turns on his firm band a glist'ning eye.---
75 Not for himself the sighs unbidden break,
76 Amid the terrors of the icy wreck ;
77 Not for himself starts the impassion'd tear,
78 Congealing as it falls;---nor pain, nor fear,
79 Nor Death's dread darts, impede the great design,
80 Till Nature [5] Till Nature, &c.---"After running four leagues this course, with the ice on our starboard side, we found ourselves quite embay'd, the ice extending from north-north-east, round by the west and south, to east, in one compact body; the weather was tolerably clear, yet we could see no end to it." draws the circumscribing line.
81 Huge rocks of ice th' arrested ship embay,
82 And bar the gallant Wanderer's dangerous way.---
83 His eye regretful marks the Goddess turn
84 Th' assiduous prow from its relentless bourn .

85 And now antarctic Zealand's drear domain
86 Frowns, and o'erhangs th' inhospitable main.
87 On it's chill beach this dove of human-kind
88 For his long-wand'ring foot short rest shall find,
89 Bear to the coast the olive-branch [6] "The olive branch.---"" To carry a green branch in the hand on landing, is a pacific signal, universally understood by all the islanders in the South Seas." in vain,
90 And quit on wearied wing the hostile plain .---
91 With jealous low'r the frowning natives view
92 The stately vessel , and th' advent'rous crew;
93 Nor fear the brave, nor emulate the good,
94 But scowl with savage thirst of human blood!

95 And yet there were, who in this iron clime
96 Soar'd o'er the herd on Virtue's wing sublime;
97 Rever'd the stranger-guest, and smiling strove
98 To soothe his stay with hospitable love;
99 Fann'd in full confidence the friendly flame,
100 Join'd plighted hands, and name exchang'd [7] And name exchang'd.--- The exchange of names is a pledge of amity among these islanders, and was frequently proposed by them to Captain Cook and his people; so also is the joining noses. for name.

101 To these the Hero leads his living store , [8] His living store.--- Captain Cook left various kinds of animals upon this coast, together with garden-seeds ,&c. The Zealanders had hitherto subsisted upon fish , and such coarse vegetables as their climate produced; and this want of better provision, it is supposed, induced them to the horrid practice of eating human flesh .
102 And pours new wonders on th' uncultur'd shore
103 The silky fleece , fair fruit , and golden grain ;
104 And future herds and harvests bless the plain.
105 O'er the green soil his Kids exulting play,
106 And sounds his clarion loud the Bird of day ;
107 The downy Goose her ruffled bosom laves,
108 Trims her white wing, and wantons in the waves ;
109 Stern moves the Bull along th' affrighted shores,
110 And countless nations tremble as he roars.
111 So when the Daughter of eternal Jove ,
112 And Ocean's God , to bless their Athens strove,
113 The massy trident with gigantic force
114 Cleaves the firm earth---and gives the stately Horse ;
115 He paws the ground, impatient of the rein,
116 Shakes his high front, and thunders o'er the plain .
117 Then Wisdom's Goddess plants the embryon seed ,
118 And bids new foliage shade the sultry mead ;
119 'Mid the pale green the tawny olives shine,
120 And famish'd thousands bless the hand divine .

121 Now the warm solstice o'er the shining bay,
122 Darts from the north its mild meridian ray;
123 Again the Chief invokes the rising Gale,
124 And spreads again in desart seas the sail;
125 O'er dangerous shoals his steady steerage keeps,
126 O'er walls of coral ,[9] Walls of coral.--- The coral rocks are described as rising perpendicularly from the greatest depths of the ocean, insomuch that the sounding-line could not reach their bottom; and yet they were but just covered with water.--These rocks are now found to be fabricated by sea-insects . ambush'd in the deeps ;
127 Strong Labour's hands the crackling cordage twine,
128 And sleepless Patience [10] And sleepless Patience.--- "We had now passed several months with a man constantly in the chains heaving the lead ." heaves the sounding-line .

129 On a lone beach a rock-built temple [11] A rock-built temple.---"On one part of this isle there was a solitary rock, rising on the coast with arched cavities, like a majestic temple." stands,
130 Stupendous pile! unwrought by mortal hands;
131 Sublime the ponderous turrets rise in air,
132 And the wide roof basaltic columns bear;
133 Thro' the long aisles the murm'ring tempests blow,
134 And Ocean chides his dashing waves below.
135 From this fair fane, along the silver sands,
136 Two sister-virgins wave their snowy hands ;
137 First gentle Flora [12] First gentle Flora.--- Flora is the Goddess of modern Botany , and Fauna of modern Zoology : hence the pupils of Linnæus call their books Flora Angelica—Fauna Danica , &c.--"The Flora of one of these islands contain'd thirty new plants ." --round her smiling brow
138 Leaves of new forms , and flow'rs uncultur'd glow;
139 Thin folds of vegetable silk ,[13] Vegetable silk.---In New-Zealand is a flag of which the natives make their nets and cordage . The fibres of this vegetable are longer and stronger than our hemp and flax ; and some, manufactured in London, is as white and glossy as fine silk . This valuable vegetable will probably grow in our climate. behind,
140 Shade her white neck, and wanton in the wind;
141 Strange sweets , where'er she turns, perfume the glades ,
142 And fruits unnam'd adorn the bending shades .

143 ---Next Fauna treads, in youthful beauty's pride,
144 A playful Kangroo [14] A playful Kangroo .-- The kangroo is an animal peculiar to those climates. It is perpetually jumping along on its hind legs, its fore legs being too short to be used in the manner of quadrupeds. bounding by her side;
145 Around the Nymph her beauteous Pois [15] Beauteous Pois.--" The poi-bird, common in those countries, has feathers of a fine mazarine blue, except those of the neck, which are of a beautiful silver grey; and two or three short white ones, which are in the pinion-joint of the wing. Under its throat hand two little tufts of curled white feathers , called its poies, which, being the Otaheitean word for ear-rings , occasioned our giving that name to the bird ; which is not more remarkable for the beauty of its plumage, than for the exquisite melody of its note." display
146 Their varied plumes, and trill the dulcet lay;
147 A Giant-bat [16] A Giant-bat.-- The bats which Captain Cook saw in some of these countries were of incredible dimensions, measuring three feet and a half in breadth, when their wings were extended. , with leathern wings outspread,
148 Umbrella light, hangs quiv'ring o'er her head.
149 As o'er the cliff her graceful steps she bends,
150 On glitt'ring wing her insect -train attends.
151 With diamond-eye her scaly tribes survey
152 Their Goddess-nymph , and gambol in the spray.
153 With earnest gaze the still, enamour'd crew
154 Mark the fair forms; and, as they pass, pursue;
155 But round the steepy rocks , and dangerous strand,
156 Rolls the white surf[17] Rolls the white surf.--"As we passed this island, many of its trees had an unusual appearance, and the richness of the vegetation much invited our naturalists to land, but their earnest wishes were in vain, from the dangerous reefs and the violence of the surfs ." , and shipwreck guards the land .
157 So, when of old, Sicilian shores along,
158 Enchanting Syrens trill'd th' alluring song,
159 Bound to the mast the charm'd Ulysses hears,
160 And drinks the sweet tones with insatiate ears;
161 Strains the strong cords , upbraids the prosp'rous gale,
162 And sighs, as Wisdom spreads the flying sail .

163 Now leads Humanity the destin'd way,
164 Where all the Loves in Otaheite stray.
165 To bid the Arts disclose their wond'rous pow'rs,
166 To bid the Virtues consecrate the bow'rs,
167 She gives her Hero to its blooming plain.---
168 Nor has he wander'd, has he bled in vain!
169 His lips persuasive charm th' uncultur'd youth,
170 Teach Wisdom's lore, and point the path of Truth.
171 See! chasten'd love [18] Chastn'd love.--- Captain Cook observes, in his second voyage, that the women of Otaheite were grown more modest, and that the barbarous practice of destroying their children was lessened. in softer glances flows,
172 See! with new fires parental duty glows.
173 Thou smiling Eden of the southern wave,
174 Could not, alas! thy grateful wishes save
175 That angel-goodness, which had bless'd thy plain?---
176 Ah! vain thy gratitude, thy wishes vain!
177 On a far distant, and remorseless shore,
178 Where human fiends their dire libations pour;
179 Where treachery , hov'ring o'er the blasted heath,
180 Poises with ghastly smile the darts of death ,
181 Pierc'd by their venom'd points , your favorite bleeds,
182 And on his limbs the lust of hunger feeds !

183 Thus when, of old, the Muse-born Orpheus bore
184 Fair Arts and Virtues to the Thracian shore;
185 Struck with sweet energy the warbling wire,
186 And pour'd persuasion from th' immortal lyre ;
187 As soften'd brutes, the waving woods among,
188 Bow'd their meek heads, and listen'd to the song;
189 Near, and more near, with rage and tumult loud,
190 Round the bold bard th' inebriate maniacs crowd.---
191 Red on th' ungrateful soil his life-blood swims,
192 And Fiends and Furies tear his quiv'ring limbs!
193 Gay Eden of the south, thy tribute pay,
194 And raise, in pomp of woe, thy Cook's Morai ! [19] Morai.--- The Morai is a kind of funeral altar , which the people of Otaheite raise to the memory of their deceased friends. They bring to it a daily tribute of fruits, flowers, and the plumage of birds . The chief mourner wanders around it in a state of apparent distraction, shrieking furiously, and striking at intervals a shark's tooth into her head. All people fly her, as she aims at wounding not only herself, but others.
195 Bid mild Omiah bring his choicest stores,
196 The juicy fruits , and the luxuriant flow'rs ;
197 Bring the bright plumes , that drink the torrid ray,
198 And strew each lavish spoil on Cook's Morai !

199 Come, Oberea, hapless fair-one! come,
200 With piercing shrieks bewail thy Hero's doom! ---
201 She comes!---she gazes round with dire survey!---
202 Oh! fly the mourner on her frantic way.
203 See! see! the pointed ivory wounds that head ,
204 Where late the Loves impurpled roses spread;
205 Now stain'd with gore, her raven-tresses flow,
206 In ruthless negligence of mad'ning woe;
207 Loud she laments!---and long the Nymph shall stray
208 With wild unequal step round Cook's Morai !
209 But ah!---aloft on Albion's rocky steep,
210 That frowns incumbent o'er the boiling deep ,
211 Solicitous, and sad, a softer form
212 Eyes the lone flood, and deprecates the storm.---
213 Ill-fated matron!---for, alas! in vain
214 Thy eager glances wander o'er the main!---
215 'Tis the vex'd billows, that insurgent rave,
216 Their white foam silvers yonder distant wave,
217 'Tis not his sails !---thy husband comes no more!
218 His bones now whiten an accursed shore!---

219 Retire,---for hark! the sea-gull shrieking soars,
220 The lurid atmosphere portentous low'rs;
221 Night's sullen spirit groans in ev'ry gale,
222 And o'er the waters draws the darkling veil,
223 Sighs in thy hair, and chills thy throbbing breast---
224 Go, wretched mourner!---weep thy griefs to rest!
225 Yet, tho' through life is lost each fond delight,
226 Tho' set thy earthly sun in dreary night,
227 Oh! raise thy thoughts to yonder starry plain ,
228 And own thy sorrow selfish, weak, and vain;
229 Since, while Britannia, to his virtues just,
230 Twines the bright wreath , and rears th' immortal bust ;
231 While on each wind of heav'n his fame shall rise,
232 In endless incense to the smiling skies;
233 The attendant Power , that bade his sails expand,
234 And waft her blessings to each barren land,
235 Now raptur'd bears him to th' immortal plains ,
236 Where Mercy hails him with congenial strains;
237 Where soars, on Joy's white plume , his spirit free,
238 And angels choir him, while he waits for Thee .