Literary Places

The Wreck by R. S. Hawker


‘I shall be, I think, forgiven, if I include in this volume (Ecclesia, 1840), a composition suggested by a family relique ; because, however inferior the verses may be, they record a name and an event which will long be matter of Cornish pride. The following inscription, on a silver goblet in my possession, will speak for itself : —

” This cup is presented to Wrey I’ans, Esquire, by Edward and Robert Were Fox, of Wadebridge, on behalf of the proprietors of the cargo of the St. Anna St. Joseph, Captain Antony de Fonseca Rosa, wrecked at Bude, the 7th of August, 1790, for his care in saving the same, and particular attention to the unfortunate crew.”‘


ADIEU ! Adieu ! my own dear shore,
The Isles, where angry spirits dwell ;
De Rosa views thy coast no more —
Ye winds ! is this his last farewell ?

Adieu ! tall Chili’s mountains bold,
Parana’s sands and rich Peru :
To deep Potosi’s mines of gold ;
To Empelada’s shores adieu !

The setting sun sinks fast and deep
Beneath thy hot and waveless seas :
” Oh ! for full sails this calm to sweep !
The Petrel’s wing to cleave the breeze ! ”

Hush ! Mariner, that heedless word :
The clouds — the winds — that voice obey :
Lo ! at thy wish the fatal bird
Skims o’er the wave at break of day !

Unseen the forms that fill the sky,
To watch the seaman’s reckless hour :
Thy sin hath brought the Avenger nigh :
The spirit of the storm hath power.

” Nine awful days — nine hopeless nights
Have seen us tossed from strand to strand :
Pilot, are these Morena’s heights ?
Pilot, is this my native land ? ”

De Rosa, no ! not these thine hills,
Nor they Morena’s mountains blue :
No groves of cork, no shining rills,
Nor vine nor olive meet thy view.

Thou seest dark Cornwall’s rifted shore,
Old Arthur’s stern and rugged keep :
There, where proud billows dash and roar.
His haughty turret guards the deep.

And mark yon bird of sable wing.
Talons and beak all red with blood :
The spirit of the long-lost king
Pass’d in that shape from Camlan’s flood !

And still, when loudliest howls the storm,
And darkliest lowers his native sky,
The king’s fierce soul is in that form :
The warrior’s spirit threatens nigh!

” Pilot ! they say when tempests rave
Dark Cornwall’s sons will haunt the main.
Watch the wild wreck, yet not to save :
Oh ! for Parana’s sands again ! ”

Is it the mermaid, cold and pale,
That glides within yon cloister’d cave ?
Hark ! ’tis her wild and broken wail
Above the shipwrecked seaman’s grave !

Away ! away ! before the wind !
Fury and wrath are on the blast :
Tintagel’s keep, far, far behind :
Tremoutha’s bay is won and past.

Away ! away ! what shall avail
In the fierce hands of such a sea ?
She bends — she quivers to the gale —
And Bude’s dark rocks are on the lee !

Her race is run — deep in that sand
She yields her to the conquering wave –
And Cornwall’s sons— they line the strand-
Rush they for plunder ? No ! to save !

High honour to his heart and name !
Who stood that day with sheltering form,
To give these shores a gentler fame,
To soothe the anguish of the storm !

Thenceforth, when voice and bowl went round,
De Rosa’s pledge was true and loud —
” To every man on Cornish ground ! ”
And every Cornish heart was proud.

And still when breathes the seaman’s vow,
This thought will mingle with his fear —
Would that we saw one absent brow !
Would that the I’ans voice were here !

*  *  *  *  *

‘In his own copy of Ecclesia, Hawker has written “By C. E. H.” (his first wife) against this poem. In another copy of the book is a pencil note in his hand as follows : ” Written by Mrs. Hawker, except the three last stanzas, which are mine. — R. S. H.”‘

NOTE: This version of the poem comes from Cornish Ballads & Other Poems by R. S. Hawker, edited by C. E. Byles. Byles’ own footnote regarding the Cornish chough apears on page 17 and reads as follows: “This wild bird chiefly haunts the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. The common people believe that the soul of King Arthur inhabits one of these birds, and no entreaty or bribe would induce an old Tintagel quarry-man to kill me one.”

Click here to read more about Charlotte Hawker