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CHRISTMAS AT SEA

THE

HE sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked

hand; The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce

could stand; The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea; And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things

a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day; But 't was only with the peep of light we saw how ill

we lay. We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout, And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go

about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head

and the North; All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further 10

forth; All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread, For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide

race roared; But every tack we made we brought the North Head

close aboard: So 's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers

running high, And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against

his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean

foam; The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long

shore home; The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed

out; 20 And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went

about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty

jovial cheer; For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in

the year) This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn, And the house above the coastguard's was the house

where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there, My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair; And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves, Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the

shelves.

CHRISTMAS AT SEA

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was

of me,

Of the shadow on the household and the son that went 30

to sea; And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way, To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christ

mas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall. “All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain

call. “By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate, Jackson, cried.

“It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new

and good, And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she

understood. As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the

night, We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the 40

light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board

but me,

As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to

sea; But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the

cold, Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

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