"It Was The Schooner Hesperus, That Sailed The Wintry Sea"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This narrative poem is written in the form of the traditional English and Scottish ballads. Longfellow wrote the poem after reading accounts of "shipwrecks horrible on the coast," including the wreck of a schooner called Hesperus. In the poem, the skipper of the Hesperus takes his daughter along on a wintry voyage. An old sailor, echoing "Sir Patrick Spens," predicts a hurricane. But the skipper laughs at this wise advice. The storm arrives and smites the vessel. The captain wraps his daughter "in his seaman's coat" and binds her to the mast. Father and daughter exchange a colloquy until the father freezes to death. The girl prays "That savéd she might be;/ And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave,/ On the Lake of Galilee." But the ship crashes on the reef of Norman's Woe. In the morning, a fisherman finds "the form of a maiden fair,/ Lashed close to a drifting mast," with the salty water "frozen on her breast" and her hair floating on the billows like seaweed. The poet gives his ballad a traditionally pious ending: "Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,/ In the midnight and the snow!/ Christ save us all from a death like this,/ On the reef of Norman's Woe!" The opening stanzas are ironically placid:

It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken 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 ope in the month of May.