'By the North Pole, I do challenge thee!'
by Thomas Hood
From 'Love's Labour's Lost.'
Paery, my man! has thy brave leg
Yet struck its foot against the peg
On which the world is spun?
Or hast thou found No Thoroughfare
Writ by the hand of Nature there
Where man has never run!
Hast thou yet traced the Great Unknown
Of channels in the Frozen Zone,
Or held at Icy Bay,
Hast thou still miss'd the proper track
For homeward Indian men that lack
A bracing by the way?
Still hast thou wasted toil and trouble
On nothing but the North-Sea Bubble
Of geographic scholar?
Or found new ways for ships to shape,
Instead of winding round the Cape,
A short cut thro' the collar?
Hast found the way that sighs were sent to
The Pole—tho' God knows whom they went to!
That track reveal'd to Pope—
Or if the Arctic waters sally,
Or terminate in some blind alley,
A chilly path to grope?
Alas! tho' Ross, in love with snows,
Has painted them couleur de rose,
It is a dismal doom,
As Clauclio saith, to Winter thrice,
'In regions of thick-ribbed ice'—
All bright,—and yet all gloom!
'Tis well for Gheber souls that sit
Before the fire and worship it
With pecks of Wallsend coals,
With feet upon the fender's front,
Roasting their corns—like Mr. Hunt—
To speculate on poles.
'Tis easy for our Naval Board—
'Tis easy for our Civic Lord
Of London and of ease,
That lies in ninety feet of down,
With fur on his nocturnal gown,
To talk of Frozen Seas!
'Tis fine for Monsieur Ude to sit,
And prate about the mundane spit,
And babble of Cook's track—
He'd roast the leather off his toes,
Ere he would trudge thro' polar snows,
To plant a British Jack!
Oh, not the proud licentious great,
That travel on a carpet skate,
Can value toils like thine!
What 'tis to take a Hecla range,
Through ice unknown to Mrs. Grange,
And alpine lumps of brine?
But we, that mount the Hill o' Rhyme,
Can tell how hard it is to climb
The lofty slippery steep,
Ah! there are more Snow Hills than that
Which doth black Newgate, like a hat,
Upon its forehead, keep.
Perchance thou'rt now—while I am writing—
Feeling a bear's wet grinder biting
About thy frozen spine!
Or thou thyself art eating whale,
Oily, and underdone, and stale,
That, haply, cross'd thy line!
But I'll not dream such dreams of ill—
Rather will I believe thee still
Safe cellar'd in the snow,—
Reciting many a gallant story,
Of British kings and British glory,
To crony Esquimaux—
Cheering that dismal game where Night
Makes one slow move from black to white
Thro' all the tedious year,—
Or smitten by some fond frost fair,
That comb'd out crystals from her hair,
Wooing a seal-skin dear!
So much a long communion tends,
As Byron says, to make us friends
With what we daily view—
God knows the daintiest taste may come
To love a nose that's like a plum
In marble, cold and blue!
To dote on hair, an oily fleece!
As tho' it hung from Helen o' Greece—
They say that love prevails
Ev'n in the veriest polar land—
And surely she may steal thy hand
That used to steal thy nails!
But ah, ere thou art fixed to marry,
And take a polar Mrs. Parry,
Think of a six months' gloom—
Think of the wintry waste, and hers,
Each furnish'd with a dozen furs,
Think of thine icy dome!
Think of the children born to blubber!
Ah me! hast thou an Indian rubber
Inside!—to hold a meal
For months,—about a stone and half
Of whale, and part of a sea calf—
A fillet of salt veal!—
Some walrus ham—no trifle but
A decent steak—a solid cut
Of seal—no wafer slice!
A reindeer's tongue and drink beside!
Gallons of sperm—not rectified!
And pails of water-ice!
Oh, canst thou fast and then feast thus?
Still come away, and teach to us
Those blessed alternations—
To-day to run our dinners fine,
To feed on air and then to dine
With Civic Corporations—
To save th' Old Bailey daily shilling,
And then to take a half-year's filling
In P.N.'s pious Row—
When ask'd to Hock and haunch o' ven'son,
Thro' something we have worn our pens on
For Longman and his Co.
O come and tell us what the Pole is—
Whether it singular and sole is,—
Or straight, or crooked bent,—
If very thick or very thin,—
Made of what wood—and if akin
To those there be in Kent?
There's Combe, there's Spurzheim, and there's Gall,
Have talk'd of poles—yet, after all,
What has the public learn'd?
And Hunt's account must still defer,—
He sought the poll at Westminster—
And is not yet return'd!
Alvanly asks if whist, dear soul,
Is play'd in snow-towns near the Pole,
And how the fur-man deals?
And Eldon doubts if it be true,
That icy Chancellors really do
Exist upon the seals!
Barrow, by well-fed office grates,
Talks of his own bechristen'd Straits,
And longs that he were there;
And Croker, in his cabriolet,
Sighs o'er his brown horse, at his Bay,
And pants to cross the mer!
O come away, and set us right,
And, haply, throw a northern light
On questions such as these:—
Whether, when this drown'd world was lost.
The surflux waves were lock'd in frost,
And turned to Icy Seas!
Is Ursa Major white or black?
Or do the Polar tribes attack
Their neighbors—and what for?
Whether they ever play at cuffs,
And then, if they take off their muffs
In pugilistic war?
Tells us, is Winter champion there,
As in our milder fighting air?
Say, what are Chilly loans?
What cures they have for rheums beside,
And if their hearts get ossified
From eating bread of bones?
Whether they are such dwarfs—the quicker
To circulate the vital liquor,—
And then, from head to heel—
How short the Methodists must choose
Their dumpy envoys not to lose
Their toes in spite of zeal?
Whether 'twill soften or sublime it
To preach of Hell in such a climate—
Whether may Wesley hope
To win their souls—or that old function
Of seals—with the extreme of unction—
Bespeaks them for the Pope?
Whether the lamps will e'er be 'learn'd'
Where six months' 'midnight oil' is burn'd
Or Letters must confer
With people that have never conn'd
An A, B, C, but live beyond
The Sound of Lancaster!
O come away at any rate—
Well hast thou earn'd a downier state—
With all thy hardy peers—
Good lack, thou must be glad to smell dock,
And rub thy feet with opodeldock,
After such frosty years.
Mayhap, some gentle dame at last,
Smit by the perils thou hast pass'd.
However coy before,
Shall bid thee now set up thy rest
And tempt the Fates no more!