Henry Van Dyke

Here you will find the Long Poem Hudson's Last Voyage of poet Henry Van Dyke

Hudson's Last Voyage

June 22, 1611 


One sail in sight upon the lonely sea
And only one, God knows! For never ship 
But mine broke through the icy gates that guard 
These waters, greater grown than any since
We left the shores of England. We were first, 
My men, to battle in between the bergs
And floes to these wide waves. This gulf is mine; 
I name it! and that flying sail is mine!
And there, hull-down below that flying sail,
The ship that staggers home is mine, mine, mine!
My ship Discoverie!
The sullen dogs
Of mutineers, the bitches' whelps that snatched
Their food and bit the hand that nourished them, 
Have stolen her. You ingrate Henry Greene, 
I picked you from the gutter of Houndsditch, 
And paid your debts, and kept you in my house, 
And brought you here to make a man of you! 
You Robert Juet, ancient, crafty man, 
Toothless and tremulous, how many times
Have I employed you as a master's mate
To give you bread? And you Abacuck Prickett, 
You sailor-clerk, you salted puritan, 
You knew the plot and silently agreed, 
Salving your conscience with a pious lie!
Yes, all of you -- hounds, rebels, thieves! Bring back
My ship!
Too late, -- I rave, -- they cannot hear 
My voice: and if they heard, a drunken laugh 
Would be their answer; for their minds have caught
The fatal firmness of the fool's resolve, 
That looks like courage but is only fear. 
They'll blunder on, and lose my ship, and drown, --
Or blunder home to England and be hanged. 
Their skeletons will rattle in the chains
Of some tall gibbet on the Channel cliffs, 
While passing mariners look up and say: 
"Those are the rotten bones of Hudson's men 
"Who left their captain in the frozen North!" 

O God of justice, why hast Thou ordained
Plans of the wise and actions of the brave
Dependent on the aid of fools and cowards?
Look, -- there she goes, -- her topsails in the sun 
Gleam from the ragged ocean edge, and drop 
Clean out of sight! So let the traitors go
Clean out of mind! We'll think of braver things! 
Come closer in the boat, my friends. John King, 
You take the tiller, keep her head nor'west.
You Philip Staffe, the only one who chose
Freely to share our little shallop's fate,
Rather than travel in the hell-bound ship, --
Too good an English seaman to desert
These crippled comrades, -- try to make them rest 
More easy on the thwarts. And John, my son, 
My little shipmate, come and lean your head 
Against your father's knee. Do you recall
That April morn in Ethelburga's church,
Five years ago, when side by side we kneeled
To take the sacrament with all our men,
Before the Hopewell left St. Catherine's docks 
On our first voyage? It was then I vowed
My sailor-soul and years to search the sea
Until we found the water-path that leads
From Europe into Asia.
I believe
That God has poured the ocean round His world, 
Not to divide, but to unite the lands.
And all the English captains that have dared 
In little ships to plough uncharted waves, --
Davis and Drake, Hawkins and Frobisher, 
Raleigh and Gilbert, -- all the other names, --
Are written in the chivalry of God
As men who served His purpose. I would claim 
A place among that knighthood of the sea;
And I have earned it, though my quest should fail!
For, mark me well, the honour of our life 
Derives from this: to have a certain aim 
Before us always, which our will must seek 
Amid the peril of uncertain ways.
Then, though we miss the goal, our search is crowned
With courage, and we find along our path
A rich reward of unexpected things.
Press towards the aim: take fortune as it fares! 

I know not why, but something in my heart 
Has always whispered, "Westward seek your goal!"
Three times they sent me east, but still I turned 
The bowsprit west, and felt among the floes 
Of ruttling ice along the Gröneland coast,
And down the rugged shore of Newfoundland, 
And past the rocky capes and wooded bays 
Where Gosnold sailed, -- like one who feels his way
With outstretched hand across a darkened room, --
I groped among the inlets and the isles,
To find the passage to the Land of Spice.
I have not found it yet, -- but I have found 
Things worth the finding!
Son, have you forgot 
Those mellow autumn days, two years ago, 
When first we sent our little ship Half-Moon, -- 
The flag of Holland floating at her peak, --
Across a sandy bar, and sounded in 
Among the channels, to a goodly bay 
Where all the navies of the world could ride? 
A fertile island that the redmen called 
Manhattan, lay above the bay: the land 
Around was bountiful and friendly fair. 
But never land was fair enough to hold 
The seaman from the calling of the sea. 
And so we bore to westward of