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At last the guns of the feet are still, and now from

far and near Are heard the shouts of a victor's crew as they answer

cheer with chèer.

The shrilly call of the bo’s'n's mate the crew from

quarters pipes, And the dead are stretched on the quarter-deck,

wrapped in the stars and stripes, While the setting sun sinks in the west, a blazing ball

of fire, Lighting the scene of a battle fought, and the carnage

of man's desire.

[blocks in formation]

The increasing moonlight drifts across my bed,
And on the churchyard by the road I know
It falls as white and noiselessly as snow.
'Twas such a night two weary summers fled;
The stars, as now, were waning overhead.
Listen! Again the shrill-lipped bugles blow
Where the swift currents of the river flow
Past Fredericksburg: far off the heavens are red
With sudden conflagration : on yon height,
Linstock in hand, the gunners hold their breath:
* By permission of the publishers, Houghton, Mifflin & Co.


A single-rocket pierces the dense night,
Flings its spent stars upon the town beneath:
Hark!—the artillery massing on the right,
Hark!—the black squadrons wheeling down to Death.



That night I think that no one slept;

No bells were struck, no whistle blew,
And when the watch was changed I crept

From man to man of all the crew
With whispered orders. Though we swept

Through roaring seas, we hushed the clock,
And muffled every clanking block.

So when one fool, unheeding, cried

Some petty order, straight I ran,
And threw him sprawling o'er the side.

All life is but a narrow span:
It little matters that one bide

A moment longer here, for all
Fare the same road, whate'er befall.

But vain my care; for when the day

gray and wet, we saw the foe
But half a stormy league away.

By noon we saw his black bows throw
Five fathoms high a wall of spray;

A little more, we heard the drum,
And knew that our last hour had come.

All day our crew had lined the side

With grim, set faces, muttering; And once a boy (the first that died)

One of our wild songs tried to sing ;
But when their first shot missed us wide,

A dozen sprang above our rail,
Shook fists, and roared a cursing hail.

Thereon, all hot for war, they bound

Their heads with cool, wet bands, and drew Their belts close, and their keen blades ground;

Then, at the next gun's puff of blue,
We set the grog-cup on its round,

And pledged for life or pledged for death
Our last sigh of expiring breath.

Laughing, our brown young singer fell

As their next shot crashed through our rail; Then 'twixt us flashed the fire of hell,

That shattered spar and riddled sail, What ill we wrought we could not tell;

But blood-red all their scuppers dripped When their black hull to starboard dipped.

Nine times I saw our helmsman fall,

And nine times sent new men, who took The whirling wheel as at death's call;

But when I saw the last one look
From sky to deck, then, reeling, crawl

Under the shattered rail to die,
I knew where I should surely lie.

I could not send more men to stand

And turn in idleness the wheel
Until they took death's beckoning hand,

While others, meeting steel with steel,
Flamed out their lives--an eager band,

Cheers on their lips, and in their eyes
The goal-rapt look of high emprise.

So to the wheel I went. Like bees

I heard the shot go darting by; There came a trembling in my knees,

And black spots whirled about the sky.
I thought of things beyond the seas-

The little town where I was born,
And swallows twittering in the morn.

A wounded creature drew him where

I grasped the wheel, and begged to steer. It mattered not how he might fare

The little time he had for fear;
So if I left this to his care

He too might serve us yet, he said.
He died there while I shook my head. .

I would not fall so like a dog,

My helpless back turned to the foe; So when his great hulk, like a log,

Came surging past our quarter, lo!
With helm hard down, straight through the fog

Of battle smoke, and luffing wide,
I sent our sharp bow through his side.

The willing waves came rushing in

The ragged entrance that we gave; Like snakes I heard their green coils spin

Up, up, around our floating grave;
But dauntless still, amid a din

Of clashing steel and battle-shout,
We rushed to drive their boarders out.

Around me in a closing ring

My grim-faced foemen darkly drew; Then, sweeter than the lark in spring,

Loud rang our blades; the red sparks flew. Twice, thrice, I felt the sudden sting

Of some keen stroke; then, swinging fair, My own clave more than empty air.

The fight went raging past me when

My good blade cleared a silent place; Then in a ring of fallen men

I paused to breathe a little space. Elsewhere the deck roared like a glen

When mountain torrents meet; the fray A moment then seemed far away.

The barren sea swept to the sky;

The empty sky dipped to the sea; Such utter waste could scarcely lie

Beyond death's starved periphery.
Only one living thing went by:

Far overhead an ominous bird
Rode down the gale with wings unstirred.

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