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The Compass, With Variations
by [?]


Down fell the steward on his face,
To all the Saints commending;
And candles to the Virgin vow’d,
As save-alls ‘gain’st his ending.
Down fell the mate, he thought his fate,
Checkmate, was close impending!


Down fell the cook–the cabin boy,
Their beads with fervor telling,
While Alps of surge, with snowy verge,
Above the yards came yelling.
Down fell the crew, and on their knees
Shudder’d at each white swelling!


Down sunk the sun of bloody hue,
His crimson light a cleaver
To each red rover of a wave:
To eye of fancy-weaver,
Neptune, the god, seemed tossing in
A raging scarlet fever!


Sore, sore afraid, each Papist pray’d
To Saint aid Virgin Mary;
But one there was that stood composed
Amid the waves’ vagary;
As staunch as rock, a true game-cock
‘Mid chicks of Mother Carey!


His ruddy cheek retained its streak,
No danger seem’d to shrink him:
His step still bold–of mortal mould
The crew could hardly think him:
The Lady of the Lake, he seem’d
To know; could never sink him.


Relaxed at last the furious gale
Quite out of breath with racing;
The boiling flood in milder mood,
With gentler billows chasing;
From stem to stern, with frequent turn,
The Stranger took to pacing.


And as he walked to self he talked,
Some ancient ditty thrumming,
In undertone, as not alone–
Now whistling, and now humming–
“You’re welcome, Charlie,” “Cowdenknowes,”
“Kenmure,” or “Campbells’ Coming.”


Down went the wind, down went the wave,
Fear quitted the most finical;
The Saints, I wot, were soon forgot,
And Hope was at the pinnacle:
When rose on high a frightful cry–
“The Devil’s in the binnacle!”


“The Saints be near,” the helmsman cried,
His voice with quite a falter–
“Steady’s my helm, but every look
The needle seems to alter;
God only knows where China lies,
Jamaica, or Gibraltar!”


The captain stared aghast at mate,
The pilot at th’ apprentice;
No fancy of the German Sea
Of Fiction the event is:
But when they at the compass look’d,
It seem’d non compass mentis.


Now north, now south, now east, now west,
The wavering point was shaken,
‘Twas past the whole philosophy
Of Newton, or of Bacon;
Never by compass, till that hour,
Such latitudes were taken!


With fearful speech, each after each
Took turns in the inspection;
They found no gun–no iron–none–
To vary its direction;
It seem’d a new magnetic case
Of Poles in Insurrection!


Farewell to wives, farewell their lives,
And all their household riches;
Oh! while they thought of girl or boy,
And dear domestic niches,
All down the side which holds the heart,
That needle gave them stitches.


With deep amaze, the Stranger gazed
To see them so white-livered:
And walked abaft the binnacle,
To know at what they shivered;
But when he stood beside the card,
St. Josef! how it quivered!


No fancy-motion, brain-begot,
In eye of timid dreamer–
The nervous finger of a sot
Ne’er showed a plainer tremor;
To every brain it seemed too plain,
There stood th’ Infernal Schemer!


Mix’d brown and blue each visage grew,
Just like a pullet’s gizzard;
Meanwhile the captain’s wandering wit,
From tacking like an izzard,
Bore down in this plain course at last,
“It’s Michael Scott–the Wizard!”


A smile passed o’er the ruddy face:
“To see the poles so falter
I’m puzzled, friends, as much as you,
For with no fiends I palter!
Michael I’m not–although a Scott–
My Christian name is Walter.”


Like oil it fell, that name, a spell
On all the fearful faction;
The captain’s head (for he had read)
Confess’d the needle’s action,
And bow’d to Him in whom the North
Has lodged its main attraction!