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0 Comments | Feb 12, 2010

The Legend of John Bascomb

Click play below to listen to a reading of this poem by the author.

scio enim ego quoniam propter me tempestas grandis haec super vos

Iona Propheta I.12:


John Bascomb took to the open seas
As dawn awoke on an April morn’.
And in his parlous mind was formed
The germ of a powerful disease.

Our triple-master crossed the mouth
Of St. Francis Bay, as morning mist
Embraced the crew in a farewell kiss,
The gaff rigs swelled, and pulled us south.

No man aboard could say for sure
What made him sign with Bascomb’s crew.
But every soul among us knew
That fortune called from distant shores.

For Bascomb told a proper tale
Of a land that’d never had a name,
Where the only thing ‘tween us and fame
Was our will and the breeze in a canvas sail.

It mattered not how oft’ we heard
Of that land where rivers flowed with gold.
His vision swept up heart and soul,
And drove us on with every word.


As morning broke on the seventh day,
With cloudless sky and crimson sun,
It seemed we’d only just begun,
Though the last white gull had flown away.

We ploughed with purpose o’er the sea,
As dolphins danced before the bow.
Our canvas heaved and thrust the prow
Fast on toward our destiny.

The days were full, the stories long,
Our progress measured by the stars.
If someone asked aloud “How far?”
The captain would rejoin his song.

For so entrancing was the dream
Of great adventure, wealth, and fame,
That none aboard dared risk the shame
Of casting doubt upon our scheme.

So on we rode beneath the mast,
As the sun came up, and the sun went down.
Sustained by nothing but the sound
Of Bascomb’s tale and the north wind’s blast.


At thirty days the wind blew strong,
And dark clouds often hid the sun.
No man’s resolve though was undone,
As each embraced his siren’s song.

The next day’s sun did not arise.
Instead a vast and wild expanse
That held each crewman’s gaze entranced,
As slate gray clouds embroiled the skies.

The swells grew larger with each hour,
And often cleared the gunwale rail.
But Bascomb faced the gathering gale,
Standing, undaunted by its power.

He sent a dozen men to go
Tie fast the spars and furl the sails.
But a slippery rope and a timely gale,
And one was claimed by the waves below.

Unmoved, John Bascomb drove us on,
Though every crewman now could tell
There soon would stand the gates of hell
Between us and another dawn.


As darkness fell, the rain beat down.
The north wind howled and whipped the spray.
Great shards of sail were torn away,
And the timbers moaned a tortured sound.

But on we fought against the wheel,
To keep the bow into each swell.
We held our brothers when we fell,
And clutched the rail at every heel.

Then, clearly heard above the roar,
John Bascomb spread his arms and cried,
With desperate voice and fiery eyes,
“My God, await me at your door.”

And as he prayed into the night,
A wall of black engulfed the bow.
A wave so vast no man knew how
The great ship could remain aright.

The sea engulfed us, cold and blind.
We prayed to God and held on fast.
But when the mammoth swell had passed,
No trace of Bascomb did we find.


Within an hour the tempest passed.
The lashing wind and rain grew still.
The midnight sky began to fill,
As stars peered through the overcast.

Again we turned and set our course,
Before a steady northern breeze.
The moon reflected on the seas,
Filling us with a grim remorse.

For though his will had brought us far,
And swelled the hearts of all aboard,
It seemed the heav’ns could ill afford
To shine without John Bascomb’s star.

So three days past the storm we sailed,
With morning shining off the waves.
When verdant peaks through distant haze
Our wonder-stricken eyes assailed.

By evening we drew near the land,
As crewmen cheered and spirits soared.
But then, as we rowed to the shore
We saw a figure on the strand.


‘Twas Bascomb, clear as heaven’s day,
Though not a man believed his sight.
For surely on that stormy night,
The sea had stolen him away.

He claimed no memory of the night,
But bore the scars of deep travail.
His hands and abdomen impaled,
As though from some horrific fight.

Although we could not comprehend
The power that brought him to this place,
The peaceful look upon his face
Bid each of us our doubts suspend.

So from our journey now reprieved,
Content, no more the sea to roam,
John Bascomb calls this land his home,
And nevermore is he to leave.

When finally we sail for home,
And sweet mortality compels,
Our children’s children e’er will tell
The legend of the great Bascomb.

* For I know that because of me that harsh tempest is upon you

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