An Old Man-o’-War’s-Man’s Yarn.

Ay, ay, good neighbours, I have seen1
Him ! sure as God’s my life ;2
One of his chosen crew I’ve been ;3
Haven’t I, old goodwife ?4
God bless your dear eyes ! didn’t you vow5
To marry me any weather,6
If I came back with limbs enow7
To keep my soul together ?8
Brave as a lion was our Nel,9
And gentle as a lamb :10
Tell you it warms my blood to tell11
The tale—grey as I am12
It makes the old life in me climb,13
It sets my soul a-swim ;14
I live twice over every time15
That I can talk of him.16
Our best beloved of all the brave17
That ever for freedom fought ;18
And all his wonders of the wave19
For fatherland were wrought !20
He was the manner of man to show21
How victories may be won ;22
So swift, you scarcely saw the blow ;23
You look’d—the deed was done.24
You should have seen him as he trod25
The deck, our joy, and pride !26
You should have seen him, like a god27
Of storm, his war-horse ride !28
You should have seen him as he stood29
Fighting for his good land,30
With all the iron of soul and blood31
Turned to a sword in hand.32
He sailed his ships for work; he bore33
His sword for battle-wear;34
His creed was “ Best man to the fore!”35
And he was always there.36
Up any peak of peril where37
There was but room for one:38
The only thing he did not dare39
Was any death to shun.40
The Nelson touch his men he taught,41
And his great stride to keep ;42
His faithful fellows round him fought43
A thousand heroes deep.44
With a red pride of life, and hot45
For him, their blood ran free ;46
They “ minded not the showers of shot,47
No more than peas,” said he.48
The tyrant saw our sea-king thwart49
His landing on our isle ;50
He gnashed his teeth, he gnawed his heart,51
At Nelson of the Nile,52
Who set his fleet in flames, to light53
The lion to his prey,54
And lead destruction through the night55
Upon his dreadful way.56
Around the world he drove his game,57
And ran his glorious race,58
Nor rested till he hunted them59
From off the ocean’s face ;60
Like that old war-dog, who, till death,61
Hung to the vessel’s side62
Till hands were lopped, and then with teeth63
He held on till he died.64
Oh, he could do the deeds that set65
Old fighters’ hearts a-fire;66
The edge of every spirit whet,67
And every arm inspire.68
Yet I have seen upon his face69
The tears that, as they roll,70
Show what a light of saintly grace71
May clothe a sailor’s soul.72
And when our darling went to meet73
Trafalgar’s Judgment-day,74
The people knelt down in the street75
To bless him on his way.76
He felt the country of his love77
Watching him from afar ;78
It saw him through the battle move :79
His heaven was in that star !80
Magnificently glorious sight81
It was in that great dawn !82
Like one vast sapphire flashing light,83
The sea, just breathing, shone !84
Their ships, fresh painted, stood up tall85
And stately : ours were grim86
And weatherworn, but one and all87
In rare good fighting trim.88
Our spirits all were flying light,89
And into battle sped,90
Straining for it on wings of might,91
With feet of springy tread ;92
The battle shone on every face ;93
Its fire in every eye ;94
Our sailor blood at swiftest pace95
To catch the victory nigh.96
His proudly-wasted face, wave-worn,97
Was beaming and serene ;98
I felt the brave, bright spirit burn99
There, all too plainly seen ;100
As though the sword this time was drawn101
For ever from the sheath,102
And when its work to-day was done103
All would be dark in death.104
His deep eyes glowed like lamps of night105
Set in the porch of power ;106
The deed unborn was kindled bright107
Within them at that hour !108
The purpose, welded at white heat,109
Cried, like some visible Fate,110
To-day, we must not merely beat ;111
We must annihilate.”112
He smiled to see the Frenchman show113
His reckoning for retreat,114
With Cadiz port on his lee-bow ;115
And held him then half-beat.116
They showed no colours, till we drew117
Them out to strike with there !118
Old Victory, for a prize or two,119
Had flags enough to spare.120
Mast-high the famous signal ran ;121
Breathless we caught each word :122
England expects that every man123
Will do his duty.” Lord,124
You should have seen our faces ! heard125
Us cheering, row on row,126
Like men before some furnace stirred127
To a fiery fearful glow !128
Good Collingwood our Iee-line led,129
And cut their centre through.130
See how he goes in!” Nelson said,131
As his first broadside flew,132
And near four hundred foemen fell.133
Up went another cheer.134
“Ah, what would Nelson give,” said Coll,135
“But to be with us here !”136
We grimly kept our vanward path ;137
Over us hummed their shot ;138
But, silently, we reined our wrath,139
Held on, and answered not,140
Till we could grip them face to face,141
And pound them for our own,142
Or hug them in a war embrace,143
Till they or we went down.144
How calm he was ! when first he felt145
The sharp edge of that fight.146
Cabined with God alone he knelt ;147
The prayer still lay in light148
Upon his face, that used to shine149
In battle—flash with life,150
As though the glorious blood ran wine,151
Dancing with that wild strife.152
Fight for us, thou Almighty One !153
Give victory once again !154
And if I fall, thy will be done.155
Amen, Amen, Amen !”156
With such a voice he bade good-by,157
The mournfullest old smile wore :158
Farewell! God bless you, Blackwood, I159
Shall never see you more.”160
And four hours after, he had done161
With winds and troubled foam.162
The Reaper was borne dead upon163
Our load of harvest home.164
Not till he knew the old flag flew165
Alone on all the deep ;166
Then said he, “ Hardy, is that you ? 167
Kiss me.” And fell asleep.168
Well, ’twas his chosen death below169
The deck in triumph trod ; 170
’Tis well. A sailor’s soul should go171
From his good ship to God.172
He would have chosen death aboard,173
From all the crowns of rest ;174
And burial with the patriot sword175
Upon the victor’s breast.176
Not a great sinner.” No, dear heart,177
God grant in our death-pain,178
We may have 1 as well our part,179
And feel as free from stain.180
We see the spots on such a star,181
Because it burned so bright ;182
But on the side next God they are183
All lost in greater light.184
And so he went upon his way,185
A higher deck to walk,186
Or sit in some eternal day,187
And of the old time talk188
With sailors old, who, on that coast,189
Welcome the homeward bound ;190
Where many a gallant soul we’ve lost,191
And Franklin will be found.192
Where amidst London’s roar and moil193
That Cross of Peace upstands,194
Like martyr with his heavenward smile,195
And flame-lit, lifted hands,196
There lies the dark and mouldered dust ;197
But that magnanimous198
And mighty seaman’s soul, I trust,199
Is living yet with us.200