Tom Deadlight

- 1819-1891

(1810)

During a tempest encountered homeward-bound from the Mediterranean, a grizzled petty-officer, one of the two captains of the forecastle, dying at night in his hammock, swung in the sick-bay under the tiered gun-decks of the British Dreadnought, 98, wandering in his mind, though with glimpses of sanity, and starting up at whiles, sings by snatches his good-bye and last injunctions to two messmates, his watchers, one of whom fans the fevered tar with the flap of his old sou’-wester.

Some names and phrases, with here and there a line, or part of one; these, in his aberration, wrested into incoherency from their original connection and import, he involuntarily derives, as he does the measure, from a famous old sea-ditty, whose cadences, long rife, and now humming in the collapsing brain, attune the last flutterings of distempered thought:—

Farewell and adieu to you noble hearties,— 
     Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain, 
For I’ve received orders for to sail for the Deadman, 
     But hope with the grand fleet to see you again. 

I have hove my ship to, with main-top-sail aback, boys; 
     I have hove my ship to, for to strike soundings clear— 
The black scud a’flying; but by God’s blessing dam’ me, 
     Right up the Channel for the Deadman I’ll steer. 

I have worried through the waters that are callèd the Doldrums, 
     And growled at Sargasso that clogs while ye grope— 
Blast my eyes, but the light-ship is hid by the mist, lads:— 
     Flying Dutchman—oddsbobbs—off the Cape of Good Hope! 

But what’s this I feel that is fanning my cheek, Matt? 
     The white goney’s wing?—how she rolls!—’tis the Cape! 
Give my kit to the mess, Jock, for kin none is mine, none; 
     And tell Holy Joe to avast with the crape. 

Dead reckoning, says Joe, it w’ont do to go by; 
     But they doused all the glims, Matt, in sky t’other night. 
Dead reckoning is good for to sail for the Deadman; 
     And Tom Deadlight he thinks it may reckon near right. 

The signal!—it streams for the grand fleet to anchor. 
     The captains—the trumpets—the hullabaloo! 
Stand by for blue-blazes, and mind your shank-painters, 
     For the Lord High Admiral, he’s squinting at you! 

But give me my tot, Matt, before I roll over; 
     Jock, let’s have your flipper, it’s good for to feel; 
And don’t sew me up without baccy in mouth, boys, 
     And don’t blubber like lubbers when I turn up my keel.

America

I

Where the wings of a sunny Dome expand
I saw a Banner in gladsome air—
Starry, like Berenice's Hair—
Afloat in broadened bravery there;
With undulating long-drawn flow,
As rolled Brazilian billows go
Voluminously o'er the Line.
The Land reposed in peace below;
   The children in their glee
Were folded to the exulting heart
   Of young Maternity.

II

Later, and it streamed in fight
   When tempest mingled with the fray,
And over the spear-point of the shaft
   I saw the ambiguous lightning play.
Valor with Valor strove, and died:
Fierce was Despair, and cruel was Pride;
And the lorn Mother speechless stood,
Pale at the fury of her brood.


III

Yet later, and the silk did wind
        Her fair cold for;
Little availed the shining shroud,
   Though ruddy in hue, to cheer or warm
A watcher looked upon her low, and said—
She sleeps, but sleeps, she is not dead.
   But in that sleep contortion showed
The terror of the vision there—
   A silent vision unavowed,
Revealing earth's foundation bare,
   And Gorgon in her hidden place.
It was a thing of fear to see
   So foul a dream upon so fair a face,
And the dreamer lying in that starry shroud.

IV

But from the trance she sudden broke—
The trance, or death into promoted life;
At her feet a shivered yoke,
And in her aspect turned to heaven
   No trace of passion or of strife—
A clear calm look. It spake of pain,
But such as purifies from stain—
Sharp pangs that never come again—
   And triumph repressed by knowledge meet,
Power delicate, and hope grown wise,
   And youth matured for age's seat—
Law on her brow and empire in her eyes.
   So she, with graver air and lifted flag;
While the shadow, chased by light,
Fled along the far-brawn height,
   And left her on the crag.

Gettysburg

O Pride of the days in prime of the months
  Now trebled in great renown,
When before the ark of our holy cause
	Fell Dagon down-
Dagon foredoomed, who, armed and targed,
Never his impious heart enlarged
Beyond that hour; God walled his power,
And there the last invader charged.

He charged, and in that charge condensed
  His all of hate and all of fire;
He sought to blast us in his scorn,
	And wither us in his ire.
Before him went the shriek of shells-
Aerial screamings, taunts and yells;
Then the three waves in flashed advance
  Surged, but were met, and back they set:
Pride was repelled by sterner pride,
  And Right is a strong-hold yet.

Before our lines it seemed a beach
  Which wild September gales have strown
With havoc on wreck, and dashed therewith
	Pale crews unknown-
Men, arms, and steeds. The evening sun
Died on the face of each lifeless one,
And died along the winding marge of fight
	And searching-parties lone.

Sloped on the hill the mounds were green,
  Our centre held that place of graves,
And some still hold it in their swoon,
  And over these a glory waves.
The warrior-monument, crashed in fight,
Shall soar transfigured in loftier light,
	A meaning ampler bear;
Soldier and priest with hymn and prayer
Have laid the stone, and every bone
	Shall rest in honor there.

Shiloh: A Requiem

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
  The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
  The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
  Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
 	And natural prayer
  Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
  Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
  But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
  And all is hushed at Shiloh.