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Poem Found in Two Years Before the Mast

Yes, whales. The first time that I heard them breathing,
We had the watch from twelve to four, and coming
Upon deck, found the little brig quite still,
Surrounded by thick fog, and the sea smooth
As though anointed with fine oil. Yet now
And then a long, low swell would rise and roll
Under the surface, slightly lifting the vessel
But without breaking the water's glassy skin.
We were surrounded far and near by shoals
Of sluggish whales and grampuses, though fog
Prevented us from seeing them rise slowly
To the surface, perhaps lying out at length,
And heaving those peculiar lazy, deep,
Long-drawn breathings, which must ever leave
An impression of supine, majestic strength.
Some of the watch were sleeping, and the others
Perfectly still, so that there could be nothing
To break the wild illusion, and I stood
Leaning over the bulwarks, listening
To the slow breathings of the mighty creatures—
Now one breaking the water just alongside,
Whose sable body I almost fancied I
Could see despite the fog; and again another,
Just audible in the distance—until the low,
Regular swell seemed like the heaving of
The ocean's mighty bosom to the sound
Of its sublime and long-drawn respirations....

Alfred Corn

Press 53

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