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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Skipper Ireson's Ride


              1Of all the rides since the birth of time,
              2Told in story or sung in rhyme, --
              3On Apuleius's Golden Ass,
              4Or one-eyed Calender's horse of brass,
              5Witch astride of a human back,
              6Islam's prophet on Al-Borák, --
              7The strangest ride that ever was sped
              8Was Ireson's, out from Marblehead!
              9    Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
            10    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
            11        By the women of Marblehead!

            12Body of turkey, head of owl,
            13Wings a-droop like a rained-on fowl,
            14Feathered and ruffled in every part,
            15Skipper Ireson stood in the cart.
            16Scores of women, old and young,
            17Strong of muscle, and glib of tongue,
            18Pushed and pulled up the rocky lane,
            19Shouting and singing the shrill refrain:
            20    "Here 's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
            21    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
            22        By the women o' Morble'ead!"

            23Wrinkled scolds with hands on hips,
            24Girls in bloom of cheek and lips,
            25Wild-eyed, free-limbed, such as chase
            26Bacchus round some antique vase,
            27Brief of skirt, with ankles bare,
            28Loose of kerchief and loose of hair,
            29With couch-shells blowing and fish-horns' twang,
            30Over and over the Mænads sang:
            31    "Here 's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
            32    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
            33        By the women o' Morble'ead!"

            34Small pity for him! -- He sailed away
            35From a leaking ship in Chaleur Bay, --
            36Sailed away from a sinking wreck,
            37With his own town's-people on her deck!
            38"Lay by! lay by!" they called to him.
            39Back he answered, "Sink or swim!
            40Brag of your catch of fish again!"
            41And off he sailed through the fog and rain!
            42    Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
            43    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
            44        By the women of Marblehead!

            45Fathoms deep in dark Chaleur
            46That wreck shall lie forevermore.
            47Mother and sister, wife and maid,
            48Looked from the rocks of Marblehead
            49Over the moaning and rainy sea, --
            50Looked for the coming that might not be!
            51What did the winds and the sea-birds say
            52Of the cruel captain who sailed away? --
            53    Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
            54    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
            55        By the women of Marblehead!

            56Through the street, on either side,
            57Up flew windows, doors swung wide;
            58Sharp-tongued spinsters, old wives gray,
            59Treble lent the fish-horn's bray.
            60Sea-worn grandsires, cripple-bound,
            61Hulks of old sailors run aground,
            62Shook head, and fist, and hat, and cane,
            63And cracked with curses the hoarse refrain:
            64    "Here's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
            65    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
            66        By the women o' Morble'ead!"

            67Sweetly along the Salem road
            68Bloom of orchard and lilac showed.
            69Little the wicked skipper knew
            70Of the fields so green and the sky so blue.
            71Riding there in his sorry trim,
            72Like an Indian idol glum and grim,
            73Scarcely he seemed the sound to hear
            74Of voices shouting, far and near:
            75    "Here's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
            76    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
            77        By the women o' Morble'ead!"

            78"Hear me, neighbors!" at last he cried, --
            79"What to me is this noisy ride?
            80What is the shame that clothes the skin
            81To the nameless horror that lives within?
            82Waking or sleeping, I see a wreck,
            83And hear a cry from a reeling deck!
            84Hate me and curse me, -- I only dread
            85The hand of God and the face of the dead!"
            86    Said old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
            87    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
            88        By the women of Marblehead!

            89Then the wife of the skipper lost at sea
            90Said, "God has touched him! why should we!"
            91Said an old wife mourning her only son,
            92"Cut the rogue's tether and let him run!"
            93So with soft relentings and rude excuse,
            94Half scorn, half pity, they cut him loose,
            95And gave him a cloak to hide him in,
            96And left him alone with his shame and sin.
            97    Poor Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
            98    Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
            99        By the women of Marblehead!

Notes

1] The editor prefaces the poem with the following note:

"In the valuable and carefully prepared His­
tory of Marblehead
, published in 1879 by
Samuel Roads, Jr., it is stated that the crew
of Captain Ireson, rather than himself, were
responsible for the abandonment of the dis­
abled vessel. To screen themselves they
charged their captain with the crime. In view
of this the writer of the ballad addressed the
following letter to the historian:---

OAK KNOLL, DANVERS, 5 mo. 18, 1880.

MY DEAR FRIEND: I heartily thank thee
for a copy of thy History of Marblehead. I
have read it with great interest and think good
use has been made of the abundant material.
No town in Essex County has a record more
honorable than Marblehead; no one has done
more to develop the industrial interests of our
New England seaboard, and certainly none
have given such evidence of self-sacrificing
patriotism. I am glad the story of it has been
at last told, and told so well. I have now no
doubt that thy version of Skipper Ireson's
ride is the correct one. My verse was founded
solely on a fragment of rhyme which I heard
from one of my early schoolmates, a native of
Marblehead.

I supposed the story to which it referred dated
back at least a century. I knew nothing of
the participators, and the narrative of the ballad
was pure fancy. I am glad for the sake of
truth and justice that the real facts are given in
thy book. I certainly would not knowingly do
injustice to any one, dead or living.

I am very truly thy friend,

JOHN G. WHITTIER."

Skipper Ireson's first name was Benjamin, and his nickname Flood.

3] Apuleius's Golden Ass: a fictional autobiography of the author, born about 114 A.D. in Madaura in Africa, in which tale he is transformed into an ass, as which he sees the many follies of man until restored to human form by the goddess Isis.

4] one-eyed Calender's horse of brass: reference untraced.

6] Islam's prophet on Al-Borák: the horse Al-Borák bore Mohammed from Mecca to Jerusalem.

8] Marblehead: township north of Boston and Lynn on Massachusetts Bay on the Atlantic ocean, originally part of Salem.

26] Bacchus: Dionysius, the Greek god of wine, often depicted with Mænads.

45] Chaleur Bay is off the Gulf of St. Lawrence near the Gaspe peninsula (if that is what is meant here).

67] Salem: a town in Massachusetts.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge edition, ed. H. E. S. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894): 55-56. PS 3250 E94 1894 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1857
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/20

Composition date note: 1828 and after
Form note: couplets, the last line (mainly) unrhymed


Other poems by John Greenleaf Whittier