By chapel bare, with walls sea-beat
The lichened urns in wilds are lost
About a carved memorial stone
That shows, decayed and coral-mossed,
A form recumbent, swords at feet,
Trophies at head, and kelp for a winding-sheet.
I invoke thy ghost, neglected fane,
Washed by the waters’ long lament;
I adjure the recumbent effigy
To tell the cenotaph’s intent–
Reveal why fagotted swords are at feet,
Why trophies appear and weeds are the winding-sheet.
By open ports the Admiral sits,
And shares repose with guns that tell
Of power that smote the arm’d Plate Fleet
Whose sinking flag-ship’s colors fell;
But over the Admiral floats in light
His squadron’s flag, the red-cross Flag of the White.
The eddying waters whirl astern,
The prow, a seedsman, sows the spray;
With bellying sails and buckling spars
The black hull leaves a Milky Way;
Her timbers thrill, her batteries roll,
She revelling speeds exulting with pennon at pole,
But ah, for standards captive trailed
For all their scutcheoned castles’ pride–
Castilian towers that dominate Spain,
Naples, and either Ind beside;
Those haughty towers, armorial ones,
Rue the salute from the Admiral’s dens of guns.
Ensigns and arms in trophy brave,
Braver for many a rent and scar,
The captor’s naval hall bedeck,
Spoil that insures an earldom’s star–
Toledoes great, grand draperies, too,
Spain’s steel and silk, and splendors from Peru.
But crippled part in splintering fight,
The vanquished flying the victor’s flags,
With prize-crews, under convoy-guns,
Heavy the fleet from Opher drags–
The Admiral crowding sail ahead,
Foremost with news who foremost in conflict sped.
But out from cloistral gallery dim,
In early night his glance is thrown;
He marks the vague reserve of heaven,
He feels the touch of ocean lone;
Then turns, in frame part undermined,
Nor notes the shadowing wings that fan behind.
There, peaked and gray, three haglets fly,
And follow, follow fast in wake
Where slides the cabin-lustre shy,
And sharks from man a glamour take,
Seething along the line of light
In lane that endless rules the war-ship’s flight.
The sea-fowl here, whose hearts none know,
They followed late the flag-ship quelled,
(As now the victor one) and long
Above her gurgling grave, shrill held
With screams their wheeling rites–then sped
Direct in silence where the victor led.
Now winds less fleet, but fairer, blow,
A ripple laps the coppered side,
While phosphor sparks make ocean gleam,
Like camps lit up in triumph wide;
With lights and tinkling cymbals meet
Acclaiming seas the advancing conqueror greet.
But who a flattering tide may trust,
Or favoring breeze, or aught in end?–
Careening under startling blasts
The sheeted towers of sails impend;
While, gathering bale, behind is bred
A livid storm-bow, like a rainbow dead.
At trumpet-call the topmen spring;
And, urged by after-call in stress,
Yet other tribes of tars ascend
The rigging’s howling wilderness;
But ere yard-ends alert they win,
Hell rules in heaven with hurricane-fire and din.
The spars, athwart at spiry height,
Like quaking Lima’s crosses rock;
Like bees the clustering sailors cling
Against the shrouds, or take the shock
Flat on the swept yard-arms aslant,
Dipped like the wheeling condor’s pinions gaunt.
A LULL! and tongues of languid flame
Lick every boom, and lambent show
Electric ‘gainst each face aloft;
The herds of clouds with bellowings go:
The black ship rears–beset–harassed,
Then plunges far with luminous antlers vast.
In trim betimes they turn from land,
Some shivered sails and spars they stow;
One watch, dismissed, they troll the can,
While loud the billow thumps the bow–
Vies with the fist that smites the board,
Obstreperous at each reveller’s jovial word.