The islands in the Pacific have changed remarkably and those intrepid
sailors who opened up its waters have lived in History for a long time.
We are the heirs of their voyages and their adventures, of the winds
they managed to overcome, the winds of the open sea.
The ocean winds
They come from the immeasurable deep. Their wide wings need the breadth
of the ocean gulf; the spaciousness of desert solitudes. The Atlantic,
the Pacific – those vast blue plains – are their delight.
They hasten thither in flocks. Commander Page witnessed, far out at
sea, seven waterspouts at once. They wander there, wild and terrible!
The ever-ending yet eternal flux and reflux is their work. The extent
of their power, the limits of their will, none know. They are the Sphinxes
of the abyss: Gama was their Œdipus. In that dark, ever-moving
expanse, they appear with faces of cloud. He who perceives their pale
lineaments in that wide dispersion, the horizon of the sea, feels himself
in presence of an unsubduable power. It might be imagined that the proximity
of human intelligence disquieted them, and that they revolted against
it. The mind of man is invincible, but the elements baffle him. He can
do nothing against the power which is everywhere, and which none can
bind. The gentle breath becomes a gale, smites with the force of a war-club,
and then becomes gentle again. The winds attack with a terrible crash,
and defend. them-selves by fading into nothingness. He who would encounter
them must use artifice. Their varying tactics, their swift redoubled
blows, confuse. They fly as often as they attack. They are tenacious
and impalpable. Who can circumvent them? The prow of the Argo cut from
an oak of Dodona’s grove, that mysterious pilot of the bark, spoke
to them, and they insulted that pilot-goddess. Columbus, beholding their
approach at La Pinto, mounted upon the poop, and addressed them with
the first verses of St. John’s Gospel. Surcouf defied them:
“Here come the gang,” he used to say. Napier greeted them
with cannon-balls. They assume the dictatorship of chaos.
Chaos is theirs, in which to wreak their mysterious vengeance; the den
of the winds is more monstrous than that of lions. How many corpses
lie in its deep recesses, where the howling gusts sweep without pity
over that obscure and ghastly mass! The winds are heard wheresoever
they go, but they give ear to none. Their acts resemble crimes. None
know on whom they cast their hoary surf; with what ferocity they hover
over shipwrecks, looking at times as if they flung their impious foam-flakes
in the face of heaven. They are the tyrants of unknown regions. “Luophi
spaventosi” murmured the Venetian mariners.
The trembling fields of space are subjected to their fierce assaults.
Things unspeakable come to pass in those deserted regions. Some horseman
rides in the gloom; the air is full of a forest sound; nothing is visible;
but the tramp of cavalcades is heard. The noonday is overcast with sudden
might; a tornado passes. Or it is midnight, which suddenly becomes bright
as day; the polar lights are in the heavens. Whirlwinds pass in opposite
ways, and in a sort of hideous dance, a stamping of the storms upon
the waters. A cloud overburdened opens and falls to earth. Other clouds,
filled with red light, flash and roar; then frown again ominously. Emptied
of their lightnings, they are but as spent brands. Pent-up rains dissolve
in mists. Yonder sea appears a fiery furnace in which the rains are
falling: flames seem to issue from the waves. The white gleam of the
ocean under the shower is reflected to marvellous distances. The different
masses transform themselves into uncouth shapes. Monstrous whirlpools
make strange hollows in the sky. The vapours revolve, the waves spin,
the giddy Naiads roll; sea and sky are livid; noises as of cries of
despair are in the air.
Great sheaves of shadow and darkness are gathered up, trembling in the
far depths of the sky. Now and then there is a convulsion. The rumour
becomes tumult as the wave becomes surge. The horizon, a confused mass
of strata, oscillating ceaselessly, murmurs in a continual undertone.
Strange and sudden outbursts break through the monotony. Cold airs rush
forth, succeeded by warm blasts. The trepidation of the sea betokens
anxious expectation, agony, terror profound. Suddenly the hurricane
comes down, like a wild beast, to drink of the ocean: a monstrous draught!
The sea rises to the invisible mouth; a mound of water is formed, the
swell increases, and the waterspout appears: the Prester of the ancients,
stalactite above stalagmite below, a whirling double-inverted cone,
a point in equilibrium upon another, the embrace of two mountains-a
mountain of foam ascending, a mountain of vapour descending-terrible
coition of the cloud and the wave. Like the column in Holy Writ, the
waterspout is dark by day and luminous by night. In its presence the
thunder itself is silent and seems cowed.
The vast commotion of those solitudes has its gamut, a terrible crescendo.
There are the gust, the squall, the storm, the gale, the tempest, the
whirlwind, the waterspout, the seven chords of the lyre of the winds,
the seven notes of the firmament. The heavens are a clear space, the
sea a vast round; but a breath passes, they have vanished, and all is
fury and wild confusion.
Such are these inhospitable realms.
The winds rush, fly, swoop down, dwindle away, commence again; hover
above, whistle, roar, and smile; they are frenzied, wanton, unbridled,
or sinking at ease upon the raging waves. Their howlings have a harmony
of their own. They make all the heavens sonorous. They blow in the cloud
as in a trumpet; they sing through the infinite space with the mingled
tones of clarions, horns, bugles, and trumpets-a sort of Promethean
Such was the music of ancient Pan. Their harmonies are terrible. They
have a colossal joy in the darkness. They drive and disperse great ships.
Night and day, in all seasons, from the tropics to the pole, there is
no truce; sounding their fatal trumpet through the tangled thickets
of the clouds and waves, they pursue the grim chase of vessels in distress.
They have their packs of bloodhounds and take their pleasure, setting
them to bark among the rocks and billows. They huddle the clouds together,
and drive them diverse. They mould and knead the supple waters as with
a million hands.
The water is supple because it is incompressible. It slips away without
effort. Borne down on one side, it escapes on the other. It is thus
that waters become waves, and that the billows are a token of their
The Toilers of the Sea. Victor Hugo.