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Wreck of the Hesperus

“The Wreck of the Hesperus” is a story that presents the tragic consequences of a sea captain’s pride. On an ill-fated voyage in the winter, he had his daughter aboard ship for company. The disaster came when the captain ignored the advice of one of his experienced men, who feared that a hurricane was approaching. When the hurricane arrives, he ties his daughter to the mast to prevent her from being swept overboard; she calls out to her dying father as she hears the surf beating on the shore, then prays to Christ to calm the seas. The ship crashes onto the reef of Norman’s Woe and sinks; a horrified fisherman finds the daughter’s body, still tied to the mast, drifting in the surf the next morning. Longfellow combined fact and fancy to create this, one of his best-known, most macabre, and most enduring poems. His inspiration was the great Blizzard of 1839, which ravaged the northeast coast of the United States for 12 hours starting January 6, 1839, destroying 20 ships with a loss of 40 lives. He probably drew specifically on the destruction of the ship Favorite on the reef of Norman’s Woe – all hands were lost, one of whom was a woman, who reportedly floated to shore dead but still tied to the mast.

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