ページの画像
PDF
ePub

THE PELICAN ISLAND.

A Poem in Nine Cantos.

PREFACE.

HE subject of "The Pelican Island” was suggested by

a passage in Captain Flinders's “Voyage to Terra Australis.” Describing one of those numerous gulfs

which indent the coast of New Holland, and are thickly spotted with small islands, he says: “Upon two of these we found many young pelicans unable to fly. Flocks of the old birds were sitting upon the beaches of the lagoon, and it appeared that the islands were their breeding-places; not only so, but, from the number of skeletons and bones there scattered, it should seem that for ages these had been selected for the closing scene of their existence. Certainly, none more likely to be free from disturbance of every kind could have been chosen, than these islets of a hidden lagoon of an uninhabited island [called by Captain F. 'Kangaroo Island,'] situate upon an unknown coast, near the antipodes of Europe ; nor can anything be more consonant to their feelings, if pelicans have any, than quietly to resign their breath, surrounded by their progeny, and in the same spot where they first drew it.”—Captain Flinders was particularly struck with the appearance of one of these islands, on the surface of which were scattered the relics of a great number of trees, prostrated by some tremendous storm, or, as he conjectured, self-ignited by the friction of dead branches in a strong wind. This factadopting the former hypothesis-suggested the catastrophe described at the close of the third Canto of the poem.

Having determined not to encumber his volume with notes, which might plausibly have been done to a great extent,-and believing that those readers who shall be sufficiently interested in the poem to desire further knowledge of the subjects progressively reviewed in it, may readily satisfy themselves from popular books of voyages and natural history,—the Author will merely offer, in this place, an illustration of the nature of coral reefs, extracted from Captain Basil Hall's “Voyage to the Island of Loo Choo, in the Chinese Sea."

“The examination of a coral reef during the different stages of one tide is particularly interesting. When the tide has left it for some time it becomes dry, and appears to be a compact rock, exceedingly hard and ragged; but as the tide rises, and the. waves begin to wash over it, the coral-worms protrude themselves from holes which before were invisible. These animals are of a great variety of shapes and sizes, and in such prodigious numbers a short time, the whole surface of the rock appears to be

alive and in motion. The most common worm is in the form of a star, with arms from four to six inches long, which are moved about with a rapid motion in all directions, probably to catch food. Others are so sluggish, that they may be mistaken for pieces of the rock; and are generally of a dark colour, and from four to five inches long and two or three round. When the coral is broken about high-water-mark, it is a solid hard stone; but if any part of it be detached at a spot which the tide reaches every day, it is found to be full of worms of different lengths and colour

some being as fine as a thread and several feet long, of a bright yellow and sometimes of a blue colour ; others resemble snails, and some are not unlike lobsters in shape, but soft, and not above two inches long.

“The growth of coral appears to cease when the worm is no longer exposed to the washing of the sea. Thus a reef rises in the form of a cauliflower, till its top has gained the level of the highest tides, above which the worm has no power to advance, and the reef of course no longer extends itself upwards. The other parts in succession reach the surface, and there stop, forming in time a level field with steep sides all round. The reef, however, continually increases, and, being prevented from growing higher, extends itself laterally in all directions. But the growth being as rapid at the upper edge as it is lower down, the steepness of the face of the reef is still preserved. These are the circumstances which render coral reefs so dangerous in navigation ; for, in the first place, they are seldom seen above the water; and, in the next, their sides are so steep, that a ship's bow may strike against the rock before any change of soundings has given warning of the danger.”

With these brief quotations to explain the two principal circumstances on which the poem is founded, the Author abandons his “Pelican Island” to the judgment of the public, having no hope to conciliate favour by apology or vindication, where he has painfully felt that both would be necessary if the success or failure of his work did not wholly depend on the manner in which it has been executed. He only requests the reader to bear in mind, that the narrative is supposed to be delivered, by the imaginary being who witnesses the series of events, after the whole has happened, and who therefore describes them in such language, and with such illustrations, as the knowledge which he then possessed enabled him to use—whether he be identified with the Author, or (if the latter will so far condescend) with the reader himself, as spectator, actor, thinker, in this masquerade of

“Truth severe by fairy-fiction drest."

THE PELICAN ISLAND.

CANTO 1.

METHOUGHT I lived through ages, and beheld
Their generations pass so swiftly by me,
That years were moments in their fight, and hours
The scenes of crowded centuries revealed;
While Time, Life, Death, the world's great actors, wrought
New and amazing changes :—these I sing.

Sky, sun, and sea were all the universe ;-
The sky, one blue interminable arch,
Without a breeze, a wing, a cloud : the sun
Sole in the firmament, but in thc deep
Redoubled; where the circle of the sea,
Invisible with calmness, seemed to lie
Within the hollow of a lower heaven.

I was a Spirit in the midst of these,
All eye, ear, thought: existence was enjoyment;
Light was an element of life, and air
The clothing of my incorporeal form,-
A form impalpable to mortal touch,
And volatile as fragrance from the flower,
Or music the woodlands. What the soul
Can make itself at pleasure, that I was;
A child in feeling and imagination,
Learning new lessons still, as Nature wrought
Her wonders in my presence. All I saw
(Like Adam when he walked in Paradise)
I knew and named by secret intuition.
Actor, spectator, sufferer-each in turn,
I ranged, explored, reflected. Now I sailed,
And now I soared; anon expanding, seemed
Diffused into immensity, yet bound
Within a space too narrow for desire;
The mind, the mind, perpetual themes must iask,
Perpetual power impel, and hope allure.
I and the silent sun were here alone,
But not companions: high and bright he held
His course; I gazed with admiration on him,-

There all communion ended; and I sighed,
In loneliness unutterable sighed,
To feel myself a wanderer without aim,
An exile amidst splendid desolation,
A prisoner with infinity surrounded.

The sun descended, dipped, and disappeared;
Then sky and sea were all the universe,
And I the only being in existence!
So thought I, and the thought, like ice and fire,
Went freezing, burning, withering, thrilling through me;
Annihilation then had been deliverance,
While that eternity of solitude
Lay on my heart, hard struggling to break free,
As from a dream when mountains

press

the sleeper, Darkness, meanwhile, disguised in twilight, crept O'er air and ocean ; drearier gloom involved My fainting senses, till a sudden ray Of pensile lustre sparkled from the west; I flew to meet it, but drew never nearer, While, vanishing and reappearing oft, At length it trembled out into a star. My soul revived, and could I then have wept (Methought I did) with tears of fond delight, How had I hailed the gentle apparition, As second life to me; so sweetly welcome The faintest semblance of society, Though but a point to rest the eye upon, To him who hath been utterly bereaved ! -Star after star, from some unseen abyss, Came through the sky, like thoughts into the mind, We know not whence; till all the firmament Was thronged with constellations, and the sea Strown with their images. Amidst a sphere Of twinkling lights, like living eyes, that looked At once on me from every side, I stood, (Motion and rest with me were mere volition,) Myself perhaps a star among the rest! But here again I found no fellowship; Sight could not reach, nor keenest thought conceive, Their nature or their offices. To me They were but what they seemed, and yet I felt They must be more; the mind hath no horizon, It looks beyond the eye, and seeks for mind In all it sees, or all it sees o’erruling.

Low in the east, ere long, the morning dawn Shot upward, onward, and around the pole,

« 前へ次へ »