Portrait of Henry Timrod

Henry Timrod

Dec 8, 1828 - Oct 6, 1867


The Arctic Voyager

by Henry Timrod

Shall I desist, twice baffled? Once by land,
And once by sea, I fought and strove with storms,
All shades of danger, tides and weary calms,
Head-currents, cold and famine, savage beasts,
And men more savage; all the while my face
Looked northward toward the pole; if mortal strength
Could have sustained me, I had never turned
Back till I saw the star which never sets
Freeze in the Arctic zenith. That I failed
To solve the mysteries of the ice-bound world,
Was not because I faltered in the quest.
Witness those pathless forests which conceal
The bones of perished comrades, that long march,
Blood-tracked o'er flint and snow, and one dread night,
By Athabasca, when a cherished life
Flowed, to give life to others. This, and worse,
I suffered, -- let it pass -- it has not tamed
My spirit nor the faith which was my strength.
Despite of waning years, despite the world
Which doubts, the few who dare, I purpose now --
A purpose long and thoughtfully revolved,
Through all its grounds of reasonable hope --
To seek beyond the ice which guards the Pole,
A sea of open water; for I hold,
Not without proofs, that such a sea exists,
And may be reached, though since this earth was made,
No keel hath ploughed it, and to mortal ear,
No wind hath told its secrets . . . With this tide,
I sail; if all be well, this very moon
Shall see my ship beyond the southern Cape
Of Greenland, and far up the bay through which,
With diamond spire and gorgeous pinnacle,
The fleets of Winter pass to warmer seas.
Whether, my hardy shipmates! we shall reach
Our bourne, and come with tales of wonder back,
Or whether we shall lose the precious time,
Locked in thick ice, or whether some strange fate
Shall end us all, I know not; but I know
A lofty hope, if earnestly pursued,
Is its own crown, and never in this life
Is labor fruitless. What must be, must be;
I shall not count the chances -- sure that all
A prudent foresight asks, we shall not want,
And all that bold and patient hearts can do,
Ye will not leave undone. The rest is God's!


Copyright 1860
Ticknor And Fields, Boston