What did Shackleton take his men out to see?
A frigid flag shaking in the Antarctic breeze,
marking the most extreme point of the planet?
No, I tell you: something far greater than this.
He caught a glimpse of it with Discovery,
trekking by pony and sled with Wilson and Scott,
setting a new record for southernmost travel,
dwarfed by the power of wind and glacial flow.
With Nimrod, the mighty hunter of the unknown returned,
schooling Wild, Adams, and Marshall as he had been schooled,
teaching them what it means to be human and humble,
what it means to also be divine and to persevere,
To endure the flow of molten rock which spawns a new island,
the explosive swell of magma which atomizes a mountain,
the fierce gale which pushes pack ice far out to sea,
the crush of floes which collapse a vessel’s hull—
the harsh jest which destroys a boy’s spirit.
All of these are tragedies in their own right.
The first spiderweb espied on a virgin atoll,
verdant vegetation thriving from volcanic ash,
the ship which survives when anchor cables snap,
a starving crew eight hundred miles at sea in an open boat,
an aging man who learns at long last what it is to be fully loved—
All are divine. Yes, all are divine.
This is why Shackleton would return
with twenty-seven companions and crew
lured there with little chance of success or safe return;
and this is what it meant for him to have saved them all
not from danger but from safety and stale comfort,
from believing that nature can be brought to bay.
This is why men endure “the worst journey in the world,”
not the zoologist’s quest for an Emperor penguin egg.
The transformational is what Shackleton gleaned,
what The Boss brought his men out to see:
That power to destroy is power to create,
that they are neither opposing forces
nor forces to be opposed.
No, they are both
Hand of God.