Launched: 14 October 2001. Last updated: 11 December 2022.


Antarctic Haiku—Poems freezing moments on the Ice Patamber Kaushik
Last Entry; being a Romance of Antarctic and Captain R. F. Scott, RN, CVO Snowden Barnett
Antarctica; a collection of verse on the maiden voyage of m.v. 'R.S.A.' Mary Bennett
Approaching Ice | Poems Elizabeth Bradfield
Scott's Memorial: His Space Diana Brodie
E.H.S. Charles Darling
To Sir Ernest H. Shackleton H.M.G.
Scott's Last Expedition in Verse C. Huntly Gordon
The Heroic Five "Grant"
Collected Poems Bill Manhire
Poem by Mawson
Shackleton, a Life in Poetry Jim Mayer
Night Orders; Poems from Antarctica and The Arctic Jean McNeil
A Poem (With Prefatory Note.) Commander Scott, R.N., at The South Pole. Chas. Moss
What the Ice Gets; Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914-1916 [A Poem] Melinda Mueller
Antarctic Traveller Katha Pollitt
The Sleeping Bag H. G. Ponting
Worsley Enchanted Douglas Stewart
Antarctic Visions Poems by Nina Carey Tassi and photos by Pat Roach
The Penguin Dennis Webster
Flight of the Falcon: Scott's Journey to the South Pole 1910-1912 J.A. Wainwright
The Quest Richard Wightman
Some Antarctic haiku and tanka Christopher J. Wilson
Paradise Harbour Re-visited Christopher J. Wilson
A Shirase waka David Yelverton

Author Bio: Pitamber Kaushik is a writer, journalist, poet, educator, and independent researcher. His writings have appeared in over 220 leading publications across 55+ countries. His haiku poems have appeared in The Heron's Nest, The Wales Haiku Journal, and World Haiku Review, among others. He is a runner-up of the International Kusamakura Haiku Contest and a finalist of the 3rd Basho-an International English Haiku Competition and other international haiku contests.

Antarctic Haiku—Poems freezing moments on The Ice

What is a haiku?

Haiku is a form of short-poetry that originated in Japan but is now written, relished, and celebrated worldwide. The traditional format of haiku, which has itself proven to be quite dynamic over its evolution, dictates a poem in three lines (phrases), consisting of five, seven, and five morae respectively. A 'mora' is a phonetic unit similar to (but not the same as) a syllable. There are other classical rules and regulations pertaining to the pattern, word choice, and thematic requisites, which are loosened or even altogether done away with by modern poets. Two such important regulations are the inclusion of a kireji (a cutting word that disrupts an ongoing stream of thought in order to produce parallel comparison, contrast, or closure) and the inclusion of a kigo (season word), typically in the first line. Contemporary haiku poets, especially non-Japanese ones, take varying degrees of liberties from the form, permitting themselves greater flexibility and variety.

Essence of Haiku Poetry

Haiku rely on clever juxtaposition of seemingly disparate and disjoint elements in a scene or across scenes that leads to an epiphany of an underlying metaphorical union between them. Haiku aims to capture the beauty of a moment by the poet and ensure its faithful conveyance to the reader by means of clever and measured deployment of words encapsulating incisive wit. Thus, a striking 'aha!' moment that is often spontaneously resonant with the reader is embodied in succinct verse, emerging from long, patient everyday observation of nature, witty juxtaposition of ideas, and deft deployment of words. Although (and perhaps because) haikus often embody the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi (a wry sentiment of transient, fleeting beauty whose aesthetic virtue stems from its impermanence), they can be as meditative, introspective, and reflective as they are ephemeral. Haiku is often described by its enthusiasts as having a calming, nigh-therapeutic effect upon the soul.

It is not uncommon for haiku to have a plurality of meaning, thus appropriating differentially-punctuated multiple re-reads on part of the reviewer. The potential open-endedness and multiplicity of interpretations invokes the reader to actively and intimately interact and engage with the haiku. As any artform, the appreciation of haiku is partly subject to the reader's personality. The reader enjoys as much, if not more, authority over determining the final sense of the haiku as the composer. Haiku may mean considerably different things to different readers, depending on their individual and unique lived experiences and personalities. Its polysemy being contingent upon the way it is read and the deeply personal feelings it invokes, makes the brief verse surprisingly potent and expansively engaging.

Even in the absence of strict syllabic length measurement, the essentiality of terseness in the verse necessitates deep and meticulous reflection - a probing investigation of the world and the self - encouraging lateral thinking, imaginative originality, and combinatorial creativity. The brevity and human universality of a haiku are essential to its appeal and evoke the most intense empathy from within the composer. A haiku is essentially a discipline-extracted distillate of a unique experience—rare yet relatable.

Antarctica Haiku - Poetry at the World's Edge

Antarctica is often thought to be a desolate, frigid desert, devoid of the natural inspiration that stems from teeming, thriving diversity of life and scenes, and thus, doesn't serve as a natural muse for most poets and litterateurs.

However, the vast landscape has immense scientific significance, and among other things, is a potential avenue for philosophical reflection into our place in the cosmos.

The 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held virtually in March 2021 had teams of scientists summarize the abstracts of research results reported at the event, in the form of haiku. One of the papers, the self-explanatorily and a tad overwhelmingly-titled "Investigating Icequakes on Enceladus Using an Antarctic Analog: Application of Seismic and Machine-Learning Techniques to Characterize Tidally Induced Seismicity along Icy Rifts" , was succinctly summarized in seventeen syllables by its five authors as:

Antarctic ice quakes
Can this then tell us how does
Enceladus shake?
    – K. G. Olsen, N. C. Schmerr, M.-H. Huang, T. A. Hurford and K. M. Brunt

The above haiku surprises us in its unexpected yet not abrupt transition from the rather inhospitable, inconsiderate, and hostile setting set in the first line to the intriguingly innocent question posed in the second. Quakes, that too of ice, being of constructive use and providing answers? It's a testament to the wonder and potential of science, of investigating seemingly far-fetched connections, discerning not-so-obvious patterns, and unearthing surprising discoveries.

Antarctica could serve as an expansive and deep introspection into our existence, our planet and our dynamic relationship with it, the history of our world and the life on it, our civilization, our political nature, and above all, the human spirit of courage, resilience, and curiosity.

The eminent poet-naturalist Elizabeth Bradfield , wrote a collection of poems titled Botched Pilgrimage, recounting her observations and experiences on her expedition to the frozen continent, through haibun—an intensely expressive form of Japanese poetry that combines a haiku with a prose poem. The haiku embedded in one of her haibun, titled "Point Wild, Elephant Island" , goes:

surly ice licks down
tastes chop, fractures to brash
spittle hisses the keel
    – Elizabeth Bradfield

Another haiku , this one narrating her experience of whale-watching in the Strait of Magellan, elegantly captures and conveys the breathless anticipation of beholding the spectacle that these majestic creatures are, both in its meticulously-chosen words as well as in its deftly-woven structure:

breath held, expelled
they rise we surge toward looking
toward what can't yet be seen
    – Elizabeth Bradfield

The delightfully raw vivid imagery of this picturesque haiku might belie its delightfully fine, astutely-crafted delicate multifaceted structure - a seamless, laconic convergence of sentiments of the self and imagery of the surroundings.

A haiku is akin to an ice-core, a pithy condensation representative of vast experience - centuries worth of wise observation - in a laconic handy, readily-accessible column. A haiku is to human-wisdom what an Antarctic ice-core is to the natural history of the Earth.

Researcher Wynet Smith, a part of the largest all-female expedition to the Antarctic, recalled some of her experiences in tweets through haikus captioning pictures and videos of the voyage. One such haiku goes:

Drake passage serene
Antarctic convergence zone
Natural divide
    – Wynet Smith

The pithy haiku portrays a wonderfully layered sense of awe and reflection - parts of the world, distinct yet unified.

Antarctica's vastness in space and time, its isolation and pristinity, and its association with the limits of our civilisation - geographically, biologically, politically, and technologically, together make it a chamber for both deeply individual as well as transcendental pan-humanistic reflection. Looking at the frontier of the planet prompts us to look beyond narrow categorical distinctions and contrived petty boundaries that we have fragmented the Earth with, enabling us to feel an unparalleled sense of solidarity at the most fundamental human level, perhaps even at an organic level relating with all life clinging to the surface of the blue marble. Trying to comprehend the boundary of the world helps us transcend our own boundaries, realise our helplessly intermeshed co-dependencies, and unite against common threats to endeavour for our collective survival. The seemingly barren endless expanse of ice is a pristine pasture for exquisite literary inspiration, a place where poems are discovered more than they are composed.

Concluding with my own haiku and tanka (a five-line cousin-form of haiku), intended as a humble tribute to the unexplored land and a gentle reminder to ourselves:

End of the World
I look up
at the polar Sun
through frozen air
grateful for my intact umbrella

secluded pole
ice-core drilling
time frozen
being careful
with history

the globe teetering
over a neglected hole
punctured through Antarctica
(11 December 2022)

PARADISE HARBOUR RE-VISITED from Christopher J. Wilson.
Ice diamonds glisten
Constant braying Gentoos
Roof-top white sentinels
Orange peeling paint
Warm Chilean greeting
Waterboat Point revisited
Historic site just visible
Chilean Flag flying
Brown Skua Kingdom
Adélie march past
Carving glassier – pistol shot
Ice Algae fields
Leucistic Gentoo
Leopard Seal stealth
A South Polar treat
Mutt mutting Sheathbills bobbing and bowing
"All" Sheathbill memories
(7 March 2015)

HAIKU Traditional haiku consist of 17 on (also known as morae), in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 on respectively

Out of an ice hole
Return from the ocean depths
An Emperor scrambles

Joint surface breakers
Adélie penguins porpoise
Beauty; perfection

Stiff wings, shear delight
Feather kiss on wind-torn wave
Black-broweds signature

Snow and rock landscape
Continent Antarctica
Breathtaking, awesome

Eye level glider
Spectacular encounter
Light-mantled moment

Dazzling reflections
Crackling ice, braying Gentoos
Paradise Harbour

Pistol shot echoes
Spectacular ice carving
Mini tsunamis

Back-deck, midday watch
White-chinned Petrel with glasses
Spectacled Petrel

Sooty, Great, Manx, Cory's
South Latitude experience
Shearwater windfall

Breathtaking vista
Floating ice, eerie stillness
Lemaire Channel

Crabeater yawning
Grab camera, take the shot
Forever captured

Back-deck dawn vigil
Angry seas, windswept white caps
Wanderer sighted

Deception Island
Bitterly cold, biting wind
Pintardos dancing

Orka fluke gestures
Humpback breaches, Minke shows
Cetacean movements

Clear calm horizon
Exciting moment at sea
Setting suns green flash

TANKA Tanka consist of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern of on: 5-7-5-7-7.

Mirrored reflections
Glassy seas, floating icebergs
Porpoising Penguins
Calling Gentoos, stunning sunset
Memories of Curverville

Scotia Sea secret
Moss clinging, rough rock skyline
Chinstrap covered beach
Macaroni sentinel
Elephant Island tasted

Warm Chilean greeting
White sentinels on roof tops
Orange peeling paint
Hectic Gentoo rookery
Snowy Sheathbill memories
(5 March 2015)

SHACKLETON: A LIFE IN POETRY Jim Mayer. Oxford: Signal Books, 2014. 208pp. £9.99. ISBN: 9781909930100. Paperback. Web:

Jim's book was presented at Athy this year; he gave a very well-done talk on the subject. Shackleton was well known for his love and knowledge of poetry so this book is a welcomed addition to the Shackleton canon.
"Sir Ernest Shackleton, known as a tough polar explorer and inspirational leader, also held the words of poets close to his heart. 'Poetry was his other world and he explored it as eagerly as he did the great Antarctic spaces,' said his friend, Mrs. Hope Guthrie. This new biography reveals another side of Shackleton's story through the poetry he loved. It also includes–for the first time in published form—all the poems and poetic diary extracts written by the great explorer, each of which sheds light on significant milestones in his life and adventures. Shackleton, who did more than any other explorer to open Antarctica to the popular imagination, used poetry as a tool, to encourage and motivate men who were frequently operating close to their physical and psychological limits. The works of Tennyson, Browning and Robert W. Service were, in his own phrase, 'vital mental medicine' throughout his life. Poems influenced his speeches, his letters to his wife and the way he led his men. These verses, selected from his correspondence and other sources, are linked throughout the book to Shackleton's turbulent and restless life, offering fresh insights into his struggles in the Antarctic, his strained but loving marriage and the magnetic attraction of the polar regions. Shackleton: A life in Poetry is a love story, a new interpretation of a well-known Boy's Own adventure and a poetic exploration.

Jim Mayer is an expedition leader and a guide in the Arctic and Antarctic where he specialises in polar history. He has led his own life of exploration, having skied across the Greenland ice cap and survived an attack from hungry polar bears."
Source: From the publisher's website.
—R. Stephenson
(22 December 2014)


There seems to be a difference of opinion amongst us as to which is the correct way to use a sleeping bag. There may almost be said to be sides on the subject, hence the following:–
ON the outside grows the furside, on the inside grows the skinside;
So the furside is the outside, and the skinside is the inside.
As the furside is the outside, and the skinside is the inside,
One side likes the skinside inside, and the furside on the outside.
Others like the skinside outside, and the furside on the inside;
As the skinside is the hard side, and the furside is the soft side.
If you turn the skinside outside, thinking you will side with that side;
Then the soft side, furside's inside, which some argue is the wrong side.
If you turn the furside outside, as you say it grows on that side;
Then the hard side's next your own side, which for comfort's not the right side;
As the hard side is the cold side, and your skinside's not your warm side;
And two cold sides coming side by side, are not right sides, one side decides,
If you decide to side with this side, turn the outside furside inside;
Then the hard side, cold side, skinside, beyond all question's inside outside.…
AND it does not matter a particle what you do with the
bally thing, someone's sure to tell you it's outside inside.
                —H. G. Ponting (appeared in Volume III of the South Polar Times,
                    and was "performed" by Taff Evans in the film, Scott of the Antarctic.)

The Quest

Richard Wightman

Read at the Transportation Club in New York
on 30 March 1910 at a dinner for
Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The test of man is ever in his tasks;
The things he does his inmost soul reveal,
And show him craven or of courage fine
To forfeit ease and urge the human weal.
The treasures man would gain are hidden deep,
Fast-locked beneath his feet the old earth lies;
The flowers of progress bloom in dangered ways
And yield their fragrance but to brave emprise.
And some there be who hug the hearth, or lean
To gentle gain within the place of trade;
And some the craft of statesmanship essay
In governmental halls where laws are made.
The docile canvas waits the artist's soul,
The colors on the palette patient lie
To meet the beck of him would portray
The varied hues of landscape and of sky.
The wan inventor bends the heated steel,
The soldier arms for battle at the dawn,
The writer limns his story of mankind,
The singer sings his song and passes on.
Each in his acre holds his sheening plow,
Commanded but to till as best he may,
And who shall say that these have lived in vain
Or strewn their seed along a barren way?
But great is he who fells the lure of lands
Uncharted, where no human foot has trod;
Who hears afar from out the icy vast,
His callthe summons of an onward God.
This man, this son of reasoned discontent—
The flame of conquering within his breast—
What recks he of the city's paven lanes,
Of feasting, or of cushioned ease and rest?
For him naught but the long and rugged way,
The memoried kiss of her who could not go,
The ceaseless stare of cold antarctic suns,
The fearful marches through eternal snow;
The tug of hunger at his shrinking frame,
No hearth-fire lending its warm meed of cheer,
Companioned oft by solitude and pain
Amid the vigils of the awesome year.
But once again has man his fibre shown,
And Aspiration's banner flung afar;
For him awaits the chaplet of the brave,
The silent Hail of every gleaming star.
The quest unfinished,ah, 'tis ever sweet!
The goal unreached, the best of life ne'er done!
And on the scroll of couraged men and great,
Writ clear in light, the name of Shackleton.
—Thanks to Seamus Taffee
(28 July 2011)

Elizabeth Bradfield's Approaching Ice | Poems has been issued by Persea Books (New York, 2009, 102pp, $15 paperback, ISBN: 978-0-89255-355-6). These short poems are both Arctic and Antarctic related. There are a number of reviews of the collection at; also several of the poems appear here.
(20 December 2010)

I found this poem by Sir Douglas Mawson, in his hand, in a book from the John King Davis Collection at the Australian Antarctic Division library:
Perhaps when on my printed page you look,
     Your fancies by the fireside may go homing
To that lone land where bravely you endured.
     And if perchance you hear the silence calling.
The frozen music of star-yearning heights,
     Or, dreaming, see the seines of silver trawling
Across the ships abyss on vasty nights,
     You may recall that sweep of savage splendor,
That land that measures each man at his worth,
     And feel in memory, half fierce, half tender,
The brotherhood of men that know the South.

               Apologies to Service—
(20 December 2010)

This is quite possibly the worse Antarctic poem ever written though I have to admit I'm not an expert on such things.
—R. Stephenson



5TH APRIL, 1913.

The number of copies of this pamphlet is extremely limited, and is issued for private circulation only. Reprinted from the Retford Gainsborough and Worksop Times.



In June, 1910, the Terra Nova, commanded by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, C.V.O., R.N., and excellently equipped both as to men and provisions, left England on a voyage of exploration to the South Pole. The Expedition arrived at McMurdo Sound, on the shores of Victoria Land, in January, 1911, and there remained throughout the winter. Early in the summer of that year, in November the explorers started from Hut Point over the Great Ice Barrier, setting up snow cairns as guides for the return journey. On December 31st a depot was formed in latitude 86.56, and on January 3rd, 1912, at a distance of 150 miles from the Pole, the supporting parties were sent back. There were left Commander Scott; Captain Edward Grace Oates, of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons; Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson, zoologist and artist; Lieut. Henry Robertson Bowers, R.I.M., and Petty Officer Edgar Evans. These five set out on the final stage, and on January 17th brought the enterprise to a successful issue, and planted the Union Jack at the South Pole. On the homeward. march they were hampered by head winds, rough ice, blizzards, intense frost, and eventually by a shortage of fuel and food. These difficulties would have been overcome, but sickness occasioned the delay, which proved fatal. Evans accidentally fell and died on February 17th from concussion of the brain. Captain Oates became seriously ill. In view of the impossibility of recovery, and convinced that his illness was retarding the progress of his friends, he walked out into the storm, despite entreaties to remain, and sacrificed his life to save them, Scott, Wilson, and Bowers pushed on. When eleven miles from safety, at "One Ton Camp," with fuel for one hot meal and food for two days," they were confined to their tent for four days; and, with the gale still raging around them, at the close of March, 1912, they succumbed. On November 12th the bodies were recovered—together with the dying message written by the Commanderand were buried on the spot where they were found. When the tidings reached England, in February, 1913, the nation was deeply moved, and a memorial service was held at St. Paul's Cathedral, which was attended by His Majesty the King, Ministers, ecclesiastical dignities, and thousands of the people.


Britannia mourned her son
Whose work was done;
And would have burst her mighty heart in song
Of triumph, chivalry, and pride of race,
But ere the words which trembled on her tongue
Could find in music their appointed place,
The melody was broken,
In sorrow felt and spoken;
And all the joys which waited on the years
Dissolved, unuttered, in the nation's tears.
These tender chords
Too sad for words
Which mark the music lives of men provide,
Swept o'er the sea to foreign strands,
Awoke regret in other lands,
And in the King's dominions far and wide.
While here, beneath St. Paul's familiar dome
Where Englishmen, in unity, rejoice,
And where in that one universal home,
A common sorrow finds a common voice,
His Majesty the King
Met with his people there,
To join with all who sing
Or breathe a word of prayer:
He heard the strains appealing roll,
In "Jesu, Lover of my soul;"
The voices like the plangent sea,
In "Rock of Ages cleft for me;"
The March whose tones would haunt awhile
The shades of each sequestered aisle;
The funeral drums, and final call
In solemn note which rounded all.
And he whose memory was thus revered,
With all who shared his lamentable fate—
That manly soul to every heart endeared,
Was one of those who make the country great;
Who gloried in our Island Home,
The open sea, the tossing foam;
Endowed with English pluck and pride,
Who struggled, won the prize, and died;
And not a single soul who met
To mourn his loss, would there forget
That far away
His lifeless clay
Was lying shrouded in its deep repose,
Beneath the mantle of eternal snows.


The ship, Terra Nova, with
    modern equipment,
Had left for the voyage with
    Scott in command,
Its object The Pole in the
    frozen Antarctic,
And wintered alongside
    that desolate land.
The winter was over,
    the summer approaching,
And all things were ready
    in view of the day;
The depots established,
    the route to be followed,
And now it was time to
    be up and away.
Away from the ship in
    its icy enclosure,
Away from the island
    where Erebus flamed,
Away with provisions
    in several sledges,
To store in the depots
    allotted and named
Away to the south o'er
    the limitless Barrier,
Where chasms and yawning
    crevasses abound,
Half hid or agape on
    a surface uncharted—
A plateau afloat, of a
    thickness profound.
This plateau in places
    was thinly encrusted,
And broke to the tread like
    the sound of a gun;
In others 'twas furrowed,
    or covered with crystals,
All angles and colours
    which flashed in the sun.
Anon its [sic] was bordered
    with foothills and glaciers,
Beyond were the mountains
    in summer aglow
Victoria Land of
    a beauty appalling,
Eternally clad in
    its vesture of snow.


Supporters departed,
    and Scott and his comrades
Unfaltering, plunged in
    the solitude vast;
Provisioned with fuel
    and food for the journey—
That perilous journey
    the longest and last.
They plodded along in
    this death-dealing climate,
Where life is unknown and
    where silence prevails;
Yet on, ever on as
    they tugged at the harness,
Encumbered by drifts and
    the buffeting gales.
At night they encamped, and
    they measured the rations;
They reckoned the distance,
    position reviewed;
They saw they were near to
    the end of the journey,
And started at daylight
    with courage renewed.
In spite of the hardships
    they won through in triumph,
Determined in will, with
    an eye on the goal;
Heroic in suffering,
    strong in endeavour,
As, shoulder to shoulder,
    they swung to The Pole.
Exulting, they hoisted
    the Flag of the Homeland,
And round it they stood as
    it sang in the breeze;
Aloft at the zenith
    in regions Antarctic—
This land of the snows and
    the ice-covered seas.


They left it floating there
Tossed in the frigid air,
Where friends come not nor enemies attack—
The proof of duty done,
The sign of victory won,
And turned their footsteps on the homeward track.
Day after day, night after night,
League upon league they fought the fight;
In frost too keen for us to understand,
Or dream of in this highly-favoured land;
In blizzards oft which whirled and raced
Across the broad and snowy waste;
Amid the winds' persistent beat,
And ice which cumbered sledge and feet.
'Twas rough,
But not enough
To daunt this band of fearless men
Already nearing home again;
Or hinder them from pulling through,
Though food was short, and fuel too.
But sickness, and the dire delays
Which sickness brings in various ways,
Hung o'er them like a funeral pall
As black as night, which darkened all.
The seaman, Evans, known and fully-tried,
On rough ice fell, and shortly after died;
And there below
His cloak of snow,
Sleeps on at peace through storms in fury rave,
Where comrades laid him in his lonely grave.


But further trouble lay in wait
Impossible to over-rate,
And which exceeded human skill,
When Captain Oates was taken ill;
Who grew still worse in fighting on
Through snow and ice till strength was gone;
And soon, alas, the truth was clear—
His work was done, and death was near.
His friends he knew
Were staunch and true,
Who could not, would not him forsake,
Their tacit resolution break—
Whate'er befal
Die one die all!
But saw that in his death their safety lay,
And staggered forth to die—the only way.
"I'm going out," said he,
"And for some time maybe."
Some time?
All time for him was at an end,
Except the time to save his friends—
His loyal friends, and set them free
By one last act of chivalry.
In mortal sickness, weak and pale,
He bent before the Polar gale—
The blizzard awful, cold and dense,
The furrows, and the void immense;
Till stricken down, and covered o'er
With whirling flakes, he rose no more;
And in a drift,
Or icy rift,
Or chasm we may never scan,
There lies an English gentleman—
A stainless knight of high degree
In honour and integrity.


The three companions who alone were left,
Provisions done, exhausted and bereft,
Defied the blizzard once again
Which swept across the rugged plain;
And struggled on with steady tramp
To reach the Hut at One Ton Camp;
Where all they wanted there awaited,
These very needs anticipated,
But fate perverse that saving help denied.
And, when eleven miles away, they died.
We know "the world's a stage," and human kind
Are players all. Each fills the part assigned;
And when the role is played, whate'er it be,
The player exits to eternity.
But such an exit, such a scene
In such a place had never been—
The "exit" from a narrow tent,
Where light and shadow strangely blent;
The "scene" a trackless waste and drear,
Where ice and drifted snow appear,
A deadly silence brooding o'er
Except when storm and tempest roar;
Where life is not—a scene indued
With weird and ghastly solitude;
The "place" a country far removed
From England, home, and friends beloved—
That fair sweet home across the sea,
Enshrined anew in memory.
And in that well-fought struggle at the close,
These actors 'prisioned by relentless foes,
Their work well done throughout the stirring play
With fortitude and courage passed away.
In Dr. Wilson science lost a sage,
Whose art and learning oft adorned the age;
Enthusiastic, patient, sure,
His perseverance made secure
The specimens which still remain—
To knowledge strength, to science gain.
And in Lieutenant Bowers, he who passed
Through all with all and bravely died at last,
The army lost a trusty sword,
A gallant office deplored,
Whose grit and spirit showed again
The daring of his countrymen.


And in that tent so cold and chill,
Wherein they lay for ever still,
Commander Scott sat writing, writing there
A few last words, official, writ with care;
At point of death,
With laboured breath;
Sat writing there, with drooping head
And fingers numb, among the dead;
Still writing, with the end in view,
His vision clear, his moments few;
Still writing, when his pen relaxed,
The strength which held it overtaxed;
Until the pulse which fluttered, stood,
Compelled by lack of warmth and food;
And then to Providence resigned,
He slowly quietly reclined;
Triumphant, though defeated, all alone,
And joined his comrades in the Great Unknown.


    Long after on that sacred ground
The document he wrote was found—
    A touching story, true and plain,
Wherein the dead men live again—
    A brief review of late events;
The fight against the elements;
The deaths, delays, and cold intense
Beyond all human prescience—
    A chronicle, in which we see
The finish of the tragedy;
The fortitude in face of doom,
Starvation in a living tomb,
Farewells across the tossing foam
With bursting hearts in letters home;
As one by one they fall asleep,
And lights go out in shadows deep—
    A record with a last appeal
To men with hearts, to men who feel—
    A plea form those who nevermore
Would land upon their native shore,
For loved ones left and sore bereaved,
Of whom they thought, for whom they grieved—
    A great and solemn trust committed there,
To England's honour and to England's care.


Ay! Toll the bell at old St. Paul's,
And meet within its hallowed walls
To mourn the nation's loss in tears—
A hero whom the world reveres,
And wish he might have laid at rest
On Motherlands beloved breast—
The man who won and winning died,
And could no more whate'er betide.
Then ring a glad triumphant peal,
Till steeples rock and towers reel;
Let music play and colours fly;
Fling out the Union Jack on high;
Bedeck and crown the British Isles
With floral wreaths, and songs, and smiles—
Because a Briton true and bold,
A sea-dog like the men of old,
Went sailing blithely o'er the foam—
His hunting-ground, a second home—
Who wrought a great and mighty deed,
The pride of all of English breed;
And left enrooted in his honoured name,
The fragrant flower of immortal fame.

This poem appeared in the Bournemouth Graphic on 14 February 1913.


January 18th, 1912. — Captain Scott reached the South Pole.
February 17th, 1912. — Petty-Officer Evans died.
March 17th 1912. — Captain Oates died.
March 29th, 1912. — Captain Scott, Dr. Wilson and Lieutenant Bowers died.

All honor to those who died
      For England's fame and glory;
From their own lips we ne'er shall hear
      Their brave, heroic story.

A few rough notes to us remain
      To tell us of these heroes;
Written, when death was near; the end
      To misery in the land of snows.

Petty-Officer Evans, the strongest man
      Was the first to meet his doom,
And the great ice plateau, his last resting place,
      Was the gallant, heroic man's tomb.

See the brave self-sacrifice of Captain Oates,
      For of his own will he went
Out into the blizzard, to try and save
      Those lives, that were so near spent.

The blizzard then became so fierce,
      That the three brave men had to stay;
With food and safety, only just
      A few short miles away.

Four four long days the blizzard raged;
      When they were starved and worn
These men then laid them down to rest;
      With hopes for a brighter dawn.

All glory be to those who died,
      It is the nation’s duty and lot
To honour, the names we’ve learned to love,
      Bowers, Wilson, Oates, Evans and Scott.

               Parkstone, February 12th, 1913.

The following poem has been submitted by Diana Brodie.
Learn more about her work at

Scott's Memorial: His Space

As if remembering that his eyes once filled
with snow, his expression's vague and ill
at ease to find himself in this watered down space
beside a sluggish stream. Set up

in this city workers' lunchtime chatter place, he extends
one hopeful arm: like shop assistants, clerks,
like my father at his office window opposite, he's
impatient to leave, reluctant to go home.

* * * *
A land then too young for heroes (Everest
had not been climbed) claimed its share of Empire's Glory
where it could, though for Scott, Christchurch was merely
harbour, somewhere for passing through.

No air. All petty scandal. Nothing more.
wrote Kathleen Scott, explorer's wife and sculptor,
of this faux English town. The couple moved from host
to host, the last no better than the first.

* * * *
A bamboo pole poked through fresh snow. Seeing this,
the searchers guessed what they might find, stayed long enough
inside the dug-out tent to know. Built a cairn. Stood apart
in silence and in prayer under a blazing midnight sky.

Scott had starved to death. He might, the searchers thought,
have been the first to die. He'd flung one frozen arm
across his comrade, Wilson, left a letter
to Kathleen, marked To my widow, by his side.

* * * *
Bronze, as the Greeks knew, was the metal fit for heroes
but in 1915 was all used up for armaments.
Kathleen chose instead Carrara marble - fragile,
as the Greeks knew too. So she shipped it incomplete,

especially his hands, his arm which pointed north
towards the home he never reached; Kathleen planned
to travel south again to finish it but never did.
She stayed in England, married a one-armed baronet (war hero),
danced often at the Savoy. And chose her epitaph:
     Kathleen: The happiest woman alive.
(21 November 2009)

In 'The Polar Sale' at Christie's on 25 September 2001, Lot 115 was a poem by Charles Darling inspired by Shackleton's death in South Georgia. The poem appeared in calligraphic form with a watercolor scene of Grytviken. Herewith the poem:


                The Epiphany–1922.

He saw the sign and bowed his head who last
    Sought newer fame below the Southern Cross,
    Beyond the boundary of gain or loss;
Thence on th' unlighted trackless voyage passed
To endless silence, timeless, spaceless, vast;
    Unfathomed fenced by neither wall nor fosse;
    Nor frozen seas are there, nor storms to toss
The ships aloft; or snap the straining mast.

Eternal star—the last to meet his sight—
Which came to pause awhile above the bay;
Then through the evening sparkled as a gem,
Gathering its lustre from the deepening night
A point to mark the ending of the way.
Wert though the star that stood o'er Bethlehem?
                            Charles Darling.
(23 August 2008)

David Yelverton, in an article on Japanese Antarctic explorer, Lt. Nobu Shirase, says that "Shirase composed a waka, a short Japanese poem, as his farewell effort:

'Study the treasures under the Antarctic and make use of them even after death.'"

From Antarctic, The Journal of the New Zealand Antarctic Society, vol 20, no 1 & 2, 2002, p.23.
(2 September 2003)

This Shackleton poem I came upon recently. It appeared in the May 1910 issue of 'Lippincott's Monthly Magazine' (Vol 85, Page 627). Does anyone recognize the poem or know who H. M. G. might be?
—R. Stephenson
(22 December 2002)


"I shall take the adventure that God will ordain me."
                    —MORTE D'ARTHUR.

                BY H. M. G.

THE hurrying world makes pause to hear your story,
Your hand lies clasped in that of strong Renown,--
Your little human hand, ringed with the glory
    Of setting in our vast Imperial crown
Another gem--of more than diamond might--
Kindling the fancy, dazzling to the sight.

Keen science pores already o'er the treasure
    You and your comrades clutched from icy Death. . . .
Ah, friends! I needs must use my soul to measure
    These gains of famished limbs and shuddering breath:--
What Nature hid within her glaciered girth
Your jocund hands are strewing o'er the earth!

What of bleak heights? The soul's resolve is higher:
    Therefore your laurels blossomed from the snow!
Courage and hope shone like a cloud of fire;
    And, for the first time since Creation's glow,
Man's reverent knee impressed the vast, pure ground:--
Ever upon his knees a man is crowned.

Yet to Infinitude before you glistens
    The lone 'way of the soul,' where none may find‚--
Howe'er so far be tread or keen he listens—
    Foot-prints before him, or dear steps behind;
Our wistful voices give each other hail. . . .
Alone, the Great Ice Barrier we scale.

What lies beyond? Man's soul, though ever veering,
    Points to a Supreme Magnet out of sight;
I may not doubt that man is thither steering
    To find on vaster planes, height beyond height,
The Centre whence all spiritual currents roll--
The Infinite, Unimaginable Pole!

A poem by Dennis Webster:


The penguin is an awkward bird.
At least, that's what I've always heard.
     It swims and waddles, never flies,
     When other birds act otherwise.

Its workday outfit seems so formal
And that, I think, is hardly normal.
     It keeps its egg upon its feet
     Which doesn't sound so very neat.

Still, I guess the penguin does its best
To raise a child without a nest.
     It's not exactly Paradise
     Living on a slab of ice.

This poem was written by the father of Kim Cunningham of Hancock, New Hampshire. An artist, she has produced an illustrated booklet that includes this poem. Included here with her permission.

Some Antarctic Poetry -- A Short and Incomplete Bibliography:

Barnett, Snowden. Last Entry; being a Romance of Antarctic and Captain R. F. Scott, RN, CVO (London: Oriel Press, Ltd., 1982) 56pp. Wrappers. Foreword by Sir Peter Scott. Illustrations by Joby Jones. £4. ISBN: 0 85362 194 2. Presumably out-of-print. There was also a leather-bound limited edition.
Foreword by Sir Peter Scott
Canto One: Antarctica...the last frontier
Canto Two: Early Explorers
Canto Three: Later Explorers
Canto Four: Prelude
Canto Five: Scott's Polar Journey
Canto Six: Evaluation
Canto Seven: Scott's Polar Party

Bennet, Mary. Antarctica; a collection of verse on the maiden voyage of m.v. 'R.S.A.' (Durban: Printed by the Know Printing Co, (Pty.) Ltd., [1962]) [16] pp. Wrappers.

A collection of eleven poems. Light verse.

Gordon, C. Huntly. Scott's Last Expedition in Verse (New Zealand: Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd., [1937]) [24] pp. Wrappers.

A not-often-seen poem that I encountered at the 2001 Boston Book Fair.

Manhire, Bill. Kim Griggs--a New Zealand journalist who has been to the Antarctic via the NZ Antarctic Programme--passes on the following: "I'd just like to suggest a New Zealand poet for inclusion in the poetry area. New Zealand poet Bill Manhire went to Antarctica as an inaugural Antarctic Arts Fellow. His recently published book of collected poems contains all his Antarctic poems."

Doing a websearch this is what I found: Collected Poems by Bill Manhire. Manchester, UK: Carcanet Press Limited, 2001? 220 pp. Paperback £12.95. ISBN: 1 85754 537 0. Available in NZ/Australia from Victoria University Press (presumably the publisher with Carcanet handling areas outside NZ/Antarctica).

From the Carcanet website: "Into the settled poetry of New Zealand a disruptive force rumbled in magazines and then burst forth with Malady (1970). Here began the revolution of Bill Manhire. He starts thriftily, with imagistic poems whose calm voices are at odds with the ego-rant of neo-romantic contemporaries. Manhire is drawn to economy, to sparsely-peopled landscapes, the territory of the Norse Sagas (in which he invests serious scholarship) and Antarctica. He sent his publisher a postcard from Antarctica, where he was poet in residence: he was making his first day trip to the South Pole.

He generally keeps to stanzas and syntax, but his syntax twists like an Ashberian Möbius strip. As a scholar he is old-fashioned and wants to communicate, making fun of the dialects of literary criticism and theory; he is also an explorer in language who doesn't like to go back to the museum every day but to work in the field. In the briefest moment he establishes his theme (rhythmic, imagistic, syntactical) and immediately starts playing variations.

Collected Poems draws on eight previous books.

'A poet of considerable subtlety and strength, a dangerous writer... ' Charles Causley, Landfall

BILL MANHIRE was born in Invercargill in 1946. He was his country's inaugural Poet Laureate and has won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry four times. He holds a personal chair at the Victoria University of Wellington, where he directs the celebrated creative writing programme and the International Institute of Modern Letters. His volume of short fiction South Pacific was published by Carcanet in 1994."

McNeil, Jean. Night Orders; Poems from Antarctica and The Arctic (Sheffield: Smith/Doorstop Books, 2011) 85pp. Wrappers. £9.95. ISBN: 978-1-906613-39-6. Web:

Contents (Antarctica only):
Foreword - Mark Ford
Notebook - November 28th, 2005
The Stanley Planetary Model Walk
Edvard Munch / Fitzroy Road / Conductivity
Ship Diary
Glacier, 11pm
Ice Observations
Running out of Night
Night Flight, March 5th
Notebook - March 14th 2006
The Antarctic Convergence
Ice Diaries

Mueller, Melinda. What the Ice Gets; Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914-1916 [A Poem] (Seattle: Van West & Company, 2000) 95pp. Wrappers. $14. ISBN: 0 9677021 1 9.

Melinda Mueller

Foreword by Gary Holthaus
I. Into the Ice. 5 December 1914 - 25 February 1915. Shackleton
II. Pressure. 16 March - 19 October 1915. Crean. Night Watch
III. What the Ice Gets. 23 - 29 October 1915. McNeish and Hurley
IV. Ocean Camp. 30 October - 27 December 1915
V. Waiting Waiting Waiting. 31 December 1915 - 8 April 1916. Orde-Lees
VI. Open Water. 9 - 15 April 1916. Worsley
VII The James Caird. 14 April - 29 August 1916
VIII. Elephant Island. 24 April - 29 August 1916. Wild
IX. Crossing to Stromness. 10-20 May 1916. Crean. County Kerry
South African Birds
About the Author
In the Preface the author relates her thoughts after viewing the Shackleton exhibit at New York's American Museum of Natural History: "I had the thought that it was odd no one had ever written the story as a poem. It is, after all, an epic tale of heroic and motley characters in a fabulous landscape. I thought, also, that writing such a poem would give me another opportunity to keep company with this story." In his Foreword, Gary Holthaus gives some insight into the poem and its structure, largely lost on me as a non-reader of poetry. But the poem itself is enjoyable as a narrative and can be approached as such. The book is handsomely designed and produced. [An earlier poem on the expedition is Douglas Stewart's 'Worsley Enchanted' (1952) which appeared in his 'Collected Poems 1936-1967' (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1967). Neither as long nor as all encompassing, it tends to make some poetry-reading Antarcticans wince. 'What the Ice Gets' is definitely an improvement in that sense.]
—R. Stephenson

NOTE: Melinda recently read some of her poem at Shackleton's old school, Dulwich College (see photo above).

Pollitt, Katha. Antarctic Traveller (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982) 60pp. $5.95. Wrappers. ISBN: 0 394 74895 6

This is a collection of poems, the final one--of three pages--being entitled "To An Antarctic Traveller."

Stewart, Douglas. Worsley Enchanted From 'Sun Orchards' (1952), appearing in 'Collected Poems 1936-1967' (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1967). Privately re-issued in an edition of 20 copies by the Erebus & Terror Press, 1999, [22]pp.

Comprising 17 sections:

1. His voyage begins with a dream which, "because sailors are superstitious men", sends him to New Burlington Street, where he finds the office of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914.

2. He travels into the country of his dream.

3. He meditates on the nine Emperor penguins which, on the day the Endurance was destroyed by the pack-ice, appeared from a crack in the ice and uttered wailing cries, "quite unlike any we had heard before", that sounded like a dirge for the ship.

4. He watches the men on Elephant Island after their six months' drift on an ice-floe.

5. He hears Crean singing at the tiller of the James Caird, when, with the singer, Shackleton, and three other men, he is voyaging in the ship's boat to South Georgia to bring help to the men on Elephant Island.

6. He hears, as the sixteen days' voyage progresses, the undersong of that "flat, dreary but somehow heartening tune".

7. He watches Shackleton.

8. He looks at a sick man.

9. They find and lose South Georgia.

10. Worsley in the hurricane.

11. He hears the sick man.

12. He sees the end of the boat journey.

13. The landing.

14. Worsley, with Shackleton and Crean, the sick men left in King Haakon Sound, climbs the mountains of South Georgia to cross to the whaling station at Stromness Bay.

15. They have the impression that a fourth man is travelling with them.

16. Crean and Worsley fall into the sleep of exhaustion.

17. Out of the waterfall at Stromness Bay.

Wainwright, J.A. Flight of the Falcon: Scott's Journey to the South Pole 1910-1912 (Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press, [1986]). 151pp. Wrappers. ISBN: 0 88962 355 4.

"On January 18, 1912, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and four companions--Wilson, Bowers, Oates, and Evans--reached the South Pole. They had walked for seventy-nine days and almost nine hundred miles only to discover that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had arrived and departed five weeks previously, Scott and the others turned abound and began the trek home to base camp. Evans died at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on February 18, Oates walked out of the tent into a blizzard on March 16, and Wilson, Bowers and Scott died in their sleeping bags during the last week of March. Scott kept a diary record throughout the entire journey.
Flight of the Falcon counterpoints selections from Scott's diary by providing Scott with a voice not bound by the expectations of his Edwardian audience. Poems mark the poet's own progress on the journey and especially his relationship with Scott, while the commentary of an historian reveals yet another point of view. Photographs and a map accompany the texts.
J.A. Wainwright was born in Toronto in 1946 and now lives in Halifax where he teaches English Literature at Dalhousie University. He is the author of Moving Outward (1970), The Requiem Journals (1976), and After the War (1981)."
—From the back cover.