Poetic Prose of Isaac I. Hayes: “The Arctic Night”

Isaac I. Hayes, MD. "The Open Polar Sea," 1st edition, 1867.
Isaac I. Hayes, MD. “The Open Polar Sea,” 1st edition, 1867.

When first reading The Open Polar Sea, “The Arctic Night” chapter became my “quintessential Hayes” and one of the reasons that I continue to study his writings and to collect his books. In Chapter VXII, Hayes’ prose is poetic, lending itself to elegant free verse describing the winter night of January 20th 1861. I can imagine a solitary Hayes some distance from his ice-locked schooner, United States, where he “wandered far out upon the frozen sea” on a below-zero Greenland winter night. There he observes and reflects on “nature…exposed on a gigantic scale.”  

Perhaps later that evening or the next day, Hayes penned the passages of this chapter snugly in his ship’s cabin while wrapped in an afghan or buffalo-robe and while under the watchful eye of his new companion, Birdie, a Maltese-colored Arctic fox. While five pages in length, Chapter XVII is exquisite reading, whether by itself or as part of the complete work, providing a greater appreciation and understanding of Arctic explorer and author Isaac Israel Hayes, MD.

This poem is composed from Hayes’ illustrative writings in Chapter XVII, pp. 224-225: 

                                  The Arctic Night 

                        Out of the glassy sea, the cliffs rear their
                        Dark fronts and frown grimly over the
                        Desolate wastes of ice-clad waters. The
                        Mountain peaks, glittering in the clear,
                        Cold atmosphere, pierce the very heavens,
                        Their heads hoary with unnumbered ages.

                        The glaciers pour their crystal torrents
                        Into the sea in floods of immeasurable
                        Magnitude. The very air, disdaining the
                        Gentle softness of other climes, bodies
                        Forth a loftier majesty, and seems to fill
                        The universe with a boundless transpar-
                        Ency; and the stars pierce it sharply, and
                        The moon fills it with a cold refulgence.

                        There is neither warmth nor coloring
                        Underneath this ethereal robe of night.
                        No broad window opens in the east, no
                        Gold and crimson curtain falls in the west,
                        Upon a world clothed in blue and green
                        And purple, melting into one harmonious
                        Whole, a tinted cloak of graceful loveliness.

                       Under the shadow of the eternal night,
                       Nature needs no drapery and requires no
                       Adornment. The glassy sea, the tall cliff,
                       The lofty mountains, the majestic glacier,
                       Do not blend one with the other. Each stands
                       Forth alone, clothed only in Solitude. Sable
                       Priestess of the Arctic winter, she has
                       Wrapped the world in a winding-sheet and
                       Thrown her web and woof over the very face
                       Of Nature.                    

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