“The only book that the party had was a volume of Dickens.
During the six months that they lay in the cave which they
had hacked in the ice, waiting for spring to come, they read
this volume through again and again.”—From a
newspaper report of an antarctic expedition.
Huddled within their savage lair
They hearkened to the prowling wind;
They heard the loud wings of despair . . .
And madness beat against the mind. . . .
A sunless world stretched stark outside
As if it had cursed God and died;
Dumb plains lay prone beneath the weight
Of cold unutterably great;
Iron ice bound all the bitter seas,
The brutal hills were bleak as hate. . . .
Here none but Death might walk at ease!
Then Dickens spoke, and, lo! the vast
Unpeopled void stirred into life;
The dead world quickened, the mad blast
Hushed for an hour its idiot strife
With nothingness. . . .
And from the gloom,
Parting the flaps of frozen skin,
Old friends and dear came trooping in,
And light and laughter filled the room. . . .
Voices and faces, shapes beloved,
Babbling lips and kindly eyes,
Not ghosts, but friends that lived and moved . . .
They brought the sun from other skies,
They wrought the magic that dispels
The bitterer part of loneliness . . .
And when they vanished each man dreamed
His dream there in the wilderness. . . .
One heard the chime of Christmas bells,
And, staring down a country lane,
Saw bright against the window-pane
The firelight beckon warm and red. . . .
And one turned from the waterside
Where Thames rolls down his slothful tide
To breast the human sea that beats
Through roaring London’s battered streets
And revel in the moods of men. . . .
And one saw all the April hills
Made glad with golden daffodils,
And found and kissed his love again. . . .
. . . . . .
By all the troubled hearts he cheers
In homely ways or by lost trails,
By all light shed through all dark years
When hope grows sick and courage quails,
We hail him first among his peers;
Whether we sorrow, sing, or feast,
He, too, hath known and understood—
Master of many moods, high priest
Of mirth and lord of cleansing tears!