It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.

Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

The skipper he stood beside the helm,
His pipe was in his month,
And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
The smoke now West, now South.

Then up and spake an old Sailor,
Had sailed to the Spanish Main,
“I pray thee, put into yonder port,
For I fear a hurricane.

“Last night, the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see!”
The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he.

Colder and louder blew the wind,
A gale from the Northeast.
The snow fell hissing in the brine,
And the billows frothed like yeast.

Down came the storm, and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
Then leaped her cable’s length.

“Come hither! come hither! my little daughter,
And do not tremble so;
For I can weather the roughest gale
That ever wind did blow.”

He wrapped her warm in his seaman’s coat
Against the stinging blast;
He cut a rope from a broken spar,
And bound her to the mast.

“O father! I hear the church-bells ring,
O say, what may it be?”
“‘Tis a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast!”–
And he steered for the open sea.

“O father! I hear the sound of guns,
O say, what may it be?”
“Some ship in distress, that cannot live
In such an angry sea!”

“O father! I see a gleaming light
O say, what may it be?”
But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.

Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
With his face turned to the skies,
The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
On his fixed and glassy eyes.

Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed
That saved she might be;
And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave,
On the Lake of Galilee.

And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
Through the whistling sleet and snow,
Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
Tow’rds the reef of Norman’s Woe.

And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf
On the rocks and the hard sea-sand.

The breakers were right beneath her bows,
She drifted a dreary wreck,
And a whooping billow swept the crew
Like icicles from her deck.

She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool,
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.

Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
Ho! ho! the breakers roared!

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s Woe!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Wreck of the Hesperus

34 Comments

  1. rae edelson says:

    My grandmother, Jewish, and clearly not a follower
    of Longfellow’s poetry in her city of origin, Lodz
    Poland, would use the expressiion ‘wreck of the hesperus’ to oomment on an untenable situation. I had
    always wondered about the origin and on googling discovered the poem. What made me seek it out is today
    I was certain as my grandmother had been at times at
    the same age as I am now that she looked like the reck of the hesperus. enjoyed the poem particularly since
    I have become a huge fan of Melville and Conrad and have been introduced to destructive captains who bring down the innnocent with their arrogance and do not accept the power of nature. So let’s hear it for Lonfellow and Grandma Mary Winokur.

  2. Caron Lee Buechler says:

    When I was a little girl in the early fifties, my fastidiously-groomed grandmother (who grew up in the 1890’s) used to say when she wasn’t satisfied with her own appearance, “Oh! I look like the Wreck of the Hesperus!” And of course she often said it to me too, because my hair was usually wild and messed up. I knew it meant messy somehow, but I didn’t know where Grandma got it from. I found myself spontaneously saying it to myself as I got into the office this morning, late and rushed. I googled it and found out it was a Longfellow poem, and was delighted to finally read it. It’s a link with Grandma!

  3. gari says:

    Looking for information and found it at this great site…

  4. iou says:

    Thank you very much.

  5. iou says:

    this one is simple & nice.o

  6. David Penner says:

    I studied this poem in grade school somewhere in the nineteen fifties. I have rememmered this poem all my life. I remember it had a profound impact on me.I currently teach English in Malaysia, and came across this poem by accident as I was searching materials on the internet for my students. It’s a real treat to read this poem again after all these years. I have often repeated some parts, because we had to learn this poem off by heart.

  7. ricko says:

    Great tutorial.

  8. Joyce says:

    My dad loved this poem. He was a scottish fisherman, who,loved the sea and loved poetry. He loved this poem because it was about a skipper and his daughter. I think he imagened that He was the skipper and I was the daughter. He toke a stroke about 5-6 years ago, and when i went to visit him, I always read this poem to him aloud. It’s very emotional to me. He loved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. ( luv u dad xx )

  9. Paul North says:

    My only knowledge of this poem was hearing my mom, who must have had to memorize it in the 1930s, mutter to herself when she was unhappy with her hair or makeup, “I look like The Wreck of the Hesperus!”

  10. Stan Bartlett says:

    I did not learn much at school in the 1940’s but this I loved and learnt off by heart, I had a lot of fun teaching it to my Grandson, He loved it at about 5 or 6 years of age, now 23. Thank You HWL.

    Stan . Australia

  11. Linda says:

    My seventh grade teacher made us memorize and recite several poems throughout the year. This was the longest we had to memeorize and this is the one that I can still recite after 42 years. Thank you Mrs. Bortz..You were a lady and a scholar!

  12. dottie says:

    my mother used to use the phrase that someone looked like the wreck of the hesperis at approprate times== as in all in disaray. she was born in 1901!

  13. charlie wilkie says:

    My dad used to recite this very picture filled poem to me.A time in my life that will always be treasured. p.s. I did the same with my kids. thanks mr.longfellow

  14. Ivan says:

    when i listened to this poem, it touched me like a diamond on a extrodenary women finger. So deep and so far it almost mad me burst in tears. I just love this poem and hope everyone inlights there day like it did to thee.

  15. Heather says:

    I first heard this poem in the fifth grade, my teacher always used to make us memorize the first few lines of famous poems, and me being the little suck up that i wasattempted to memorize it all (needless to say i didnt succed). Its been a favorite of mine sence that time and now i have chosen to write my thesis paper off of this poem. I never heard the saying “i look like the wreak of the Hesperus” in referance to hair but i think i’ll start using it now.

  16. Patti says:

    When my daughter was 5 yrs old, we checked out a book of children’s poems by HWL. We read through them, and she was fascinated by The Wreck of Hesperus. It had a beautiful pencil illustration showing the girl tied to the mast with her hair “like the brown sea weed” on the water. One had to look among the wreckage to see it and the image left in one’s mind is lasting and powerful.

  17. Marcus Muth says:

    Judging from the other comments, being called The Wreck of the Hesperus was common years ago…My mother has been dead for 30 years and I can remember her saying “Good Lord! I look like the wreck of the Hesperus!” when she felt she was in disarray. I never thought she was. I thought she was beautiful… always.

  18. josh says:

    Doin this for a HSC english assignment and found it and a bunch of other poems. this one jumped out at me (no, literally), but i didnt know if it was appropriate. I showed all of the poem,s to my teacher and she also chose this one. I love it, simple yet elegant. Or simply elegant. then i decided to research more about the poem and found this site. Part of what we have to do is link it to at least one of ST Coleridge’s poems, either: Kubla Khan, This lime tree bower my prison, Frost at midnight and The rime of the ancient mariner. I love the Rime and this, maybe it’s the whole ocean thing?

    Anyway, Have fun!!!

  19. Nick says:

    This Poem is so over rated like common if i had one of his poetry books I would probaly not read it, it gets old

  20. jenny says:

    umm i like commenting these things and laughing at the other comments………. im bored……. everything is fun to me rite now….

  21. James Cubberly says:

    My wife’s Grandmother used to recite this poem on visits years ago. As she was a great lady, I decided to surprise my wife, Doris, with a special gift. When we stopped for a break in sight of the wreck of the Morazan while hiking the shores of South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan, I recited “The Wreck of the Hesperus.” My wife was moved – the reaction was precious. Since then, I have gone on to memorize other poems, and continue to do so.

  22. Andy says:

    This would have to be my most favourite poem. My father used to read it to me when I was little, when I was a teenager he gave me a very old copy of Longfellow’s Poems which I treasure. I am now a poet myself and owe much of my success to the encouragement my dad has given to me over the years.

  23. Brian Burke says:

    My maternal Grandmother came from a ship building family in Yarmouth, N.S. She later moved to Massachusetts where she married and had three daughters and one son.She(and my mother) often used the expression, ‘..looked like the wreck of the Hesperus..’.I never knew the meaning of this until I saw the poem referenced on a T.V. quiz show and then found the poem on this site. I always thought it was equivalent to, ‘seven sheets to the wind’ (another of her colorful expressions) but now I understand her meaning and can hear her saying this to my mother and my two aunts when they were little girls growing up in their house on the Charles River.

  24. Janet Myers says:

    I’m not sure that this means anything , but even though I didn’t do all that well in school I memorized this poem to recite in front of the class in 1959 . There were much shorter poems to chose from ,however this one grabbed me and demanded that I recite it. I still love this poem and I still can’t give a reason for it……..

  25. Sam Wake says:

    Searching, starts, Once there was a little boy named ? and every Friday afternoon he had to give a speech ( wreck of the shooner Hesparus in the poem

  26. Amanda Wilson says:

    As a young child,my mother would often call me The Wreck of the Hesperus. I had a vague idea that it had something to do with my hair being untidy, but growing up in the 1960’s, I never questioned the real meaning. Finally as an adult, I learned that it was a poem about a ship that sunk, but never having read the poem I still couldn’t quite make the conection between a boat and my hair. Anyway this morning my eight year old daughter stumbled into my bedroom with her hair sticking out every which way, and I couldn’t help but repeat my mother’s old saying “You look like the Wreck of the Hesperus.” Instantly, I was asked what on earth I was talking about, so off to the computer we went. Finally after all these years, I was able to read the poem and fully understand and explain it’s meaning.
    How I love the power of modern technology.

  27. Chris Hawks says:

    This poem is a famous poem in my Language book.

  28. Suzanne says:

    As a young child I had very long hair and my older
    brothers would take my hair out of the two braids and
    mess with it till it was hanging over my face and allover my head — then they’d scream “the wreck of the hesperus”. I was never sure exactly what they meant, but it was fun, but now I understand.

  29. Debbie says:

    Thanks, Deb. When my mother hasn’t combed her hair for the day or hasn’t had a perm in awhile, she always says, “I look like the wreck of the ‘Hespers.'” I did a search, and I finally found out what she is talking about!

  30. Deb Cummins says:

    Just a bit of trivia really, however there may be others who can relate. My father once called me ‘The Wreck of the Hesperus’ when I arrived home from school after walking through a huge storm and strong winds. In those days we didn’t ask questions we just listened. Now after surfing the net, I came accross this interesting information. Thank you, now I know what ‘The Wreck of the Hesperus’ was. Only I survived 🙂

  31. Meg says:

    There actually should be an indent in every other line of the poem starting with the 2nd line for people using this poem.

  32. Jackson Milo Millson says:

    If you didn’t know already.. The Hesperus is an actual sailing vessel located in Port Charles, England.

  33. Jenny Kaye says:

    Norman’s Woe is an area of shore in Cape Ann, Massachusetts. I figured others might be curious… ^_^

  34. Lorna Fryer says:

    I understand that the Wreck of the Hesperus was not a true story but was based on the many wrecks in that area and some of the things that could have or did happen.

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