Orion, and Other Poems

by Charles G.D. Roberts


 

THE SHANNON AND THE CHESAPEAKE


 

OH, shout for the good ship Shannon,
    And cheer for the gallant Brooke,
For hot was the fight she fought
    And staunch the ship he took.

When the might of the land was astonished,                                      
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    And wreck on wreck had gone down,
The old flag fast at the peak,
    But the old flag’s fame o’erthrown,

Then Brooke in the good ship Shannon
    Set it forth in face of the world                                                   
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That "hearts of oak" still flourished
    To keep the old flag unfurled.

’Twas the fair-starred first of June,
    A day of glorious days,
When York and Penn drove the Dutch,                                         
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    And Howe put the French to amaze;

And out from Boston Harbor
    The frigate Chesapeake steered;
Not a sound save the wash on her bows,
    Till her crew broke silence and cheered.                                    
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In curt return from the Shannon
    Came a round shot over the rail,
And sullenly, one by one,
    Fell the first of the deadly hail.

Then full in its blind, white thunder                                                  
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    Burst the wrath of that iron rain,
Sweeping the broad decks bare
    Till their timbers staggered again.

And the men crouch down for their lives,
    And the heavy pall of the smoke                                                
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Is rent by the fierce, red flashes
    And the splinter’s hurtling stroke.

Hot work at the belching cannon,
    In the sweat, and powder, and grime,
Till the Chesapeake’s steersman falls,                                            
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    And firing slacks for a time;

For she drops afoul of our quarter,
    And her gallant captain dies.
Grapple now, for her mightiest bulwark
    Is fallen where Lawrence lies.                                                    
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We swarm in over the taffrail,
    With hot strokes taken and given,
And Brooke at our head, till the foe
    To the hold or the chains are driven.

We haul down the "Stars and Stripes;"                                           
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    But, oh, the grief and the woe!—
A matter of twisted halliards,
    And the storm-worn flag below.

But it costs us dear, that blunder,
    For our gunner misunderstands,                                                 
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And Watt and five brave seamen
    Take death at their comrades’ hands.

But, hark you, there is the summons!
    And sullenly they comply.
Brave men; they fought till hope perished,                                      
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    But better surrender than die.

Now cheer for the good ship Shannon,
    And the good fight fought that morn,
For the old flag’s vindication,
    And its ancient honor upborne!                                                  
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But woe must be in such warfare,
    Though lost be the battle or won,
For brother’s slaughter of brother
    And father smitten of son.

Pray God that England no more                                                     
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    Stand wroth from her daughter apart!
Pray God one blood and one tongue
    Be one in hand and in heart!

But let a great wrong cry to heaven;
    Let a giant necessity come;                                                        
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And now, as of old, she can strike,
    She will strike, and strike home.