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Mark Twain

(November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910 / Florida, Missouri)

The Aged Pilot Man


On the Erie Canal, it was,
All on a summer's day,
I sailed forth with my parents
Far away to Albany.

From out the clouds at noon that day
There came a dreadful storm,
That piled the billows high about,
And filled us with alarm.

A man came rushing from a house,
Saying, [1]'Snub up your boat I pray,
Snub up your boat, snub up, alas,
Snub up while yet you may.'

Our captain cast one glance astern,
Then forward glanced he,
And said, 'My wife and little ones
I never more shall see.'

Said Dollinger the pilot man,
In noble words, but few,-
'Fear not, but lean on Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through.'

The boat drove on, the frightened mules
Tore through the rain and wind,
And bravely still, in danger's post,
The whip-boy strode behind.

'Come 'board, come 'board,' the captain cried,
'Nor tempt so wild a storm;'
But still the raging mules advanced,
And still the boy strode on.

Then said the captain to us all,
'Alas, 'tis plain to me,
The greater danger is not there,
But here upon the sea.

So let us strive, while life remains,
To save all souls on board,
And then if die at last we must,
Let . . . . I cannot speak the word!'

Said Dollinger the pilot man,
Tow'ring above the crew,
'Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through.'

'Low bridge! low bridge!' all heads went down,
The laboring bark sped on;
A mill we passed, we passed church,
Hamlets, and fields of corn;
And all the world came out to see,
And chased along the shore
Crying, 'Alas, alas, the sheeted rain,
The wind, the tempest's roar!
Alas, the gallant ship and crew,
Can nothing help them more?'

And from our deck sad eyes looked out
Across the stormy scene:
The tossing wake of billows aft,
The bending forests green,
The chickens sheltered under carts
In lee of barn the cows,
The skurrying swine with straw in mouth,
The wild spray from our bows!

'She balances!
She wavers!
Now let her go about!
If she misses stays and broaches to,
We're all'-then with a shout,]
'Huray! huray!
Avast! belay!
Take in more sail!
Lord, what a gale!
Ho, boy, haul taut on the hind mule's tail!'
'Ho! lighten ship! ho! man the pump!
Ho, hostler, heave the lead!

'A quarter-three!-'tis shoaling fast!
Three feet large!-t-h-r-e-e feet!-
Three feet scant!' I cried in fright
'Oh, is there no retreat?'

Said Dollinger, the pilot man,
As on the vessel flew,
'Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through.'

A panic struck the bravest hearts,
The boldest cheek turned pale;
For plain to all, this shoaling said
A leak had burst the ditch's bed!
And, straight as bolt from crossbow sped,
Our ship swept on, with shoaling lead,
Before the fearful gale!

'Sever the tow-line! Cripple the mules!'
Too late! There comes a shock!
Another length, and the fated craft
Would have swum in the saving lock!

Then gathered together the shipwrecked crew
And took one last embrace,
While sorrowful tears from despairing eyes
Ran down each hopeless face;
And some did think of their little ones
Whom they never more might see,
And others of waiting wives at home,
And mothers that grieved would be.

But of all the children of misery there
On that poor sinking frame,
But one spake words of hope and faith,
And I worshipped as they came:
Said Dollinger the pilot man,-
(O brave heart, strong and true!)-
'Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
For he will fetch you through.'

Lo! scarce the words have passed his lips
The dauntless prophet say'th,
When every soul about him seeth
A wonder crown his faith!

And count ye all, both great and small,
As numbered with the dead:
For mariner for forty year,
On Erie, boy and man,
I never yet saw such a storm,
Or one't with it began!'

So overboard a keg of nails
And anvils three we threw,
Likewise four bales of gunny-sacks,
Two hundred pounds of glue,
Two sacks of corn, four ditto wheat,
A box of books, a cow,
A violin, Lord Byron's works,
A rip-saw and a sow.

A curve! a curve! the dangers grow!
'Labbord!-stabbord!-s-t-e-a-d-y!-so!-
Hard-a-port, Dol!-hellum-a-lee!
Haw the head mule!-the aft one gee!
Luff!-bring her to the wind!'

For straight a farmer brought a plank,-
(Mysteriously inspired)-
And laying it unto the ship,
In silent awe retired.

Then every sufferer stood amazed
That pilot man before;
A moment stood. Then wondering turned,
And speechless walked ashore.

Submitted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Edited: Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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