Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

The Battle for the Bay


(August, 1864.)



O mystery of noble hearts,
To whom mysterious seas have been
In midnight watches, lonely calm and storm,
A stern, sad disciple,
And rooted out the false and vain,
And chastened them to aptness for
Devotion and the deeds of war,
And death which smiles and cheers in spite of pain.

Beyond the bar the land-wind dies,
The prows becharmed at anchor swim:
A summer night; the stars withdrawn look down--
Fair eve of battle grim.
The sentries pace, bonetas glide;
Below, the sleeping sailor swing,
And it their dreams to quarters spring,
Or cheer their flag, or breast a stormy tide.

But drums are beat: Up anchor all!
The triple lines steam slowly on;
Day breaks, and through the sweep of decks each man
Stands coldly by his gun--
As cold as it. But he shall warm--
Warm with the solemn metal there,
And all its ordered fury share,
In attitude a gladiatorial form.

The Admiral--yielding the the love
Which held his life and ship so dear--
Sailed second in the long fleet's midmost line;
Yet thwarted all their care:
He lashed himself aloft, and shone
Star of the fight, with influence sent
Throughout the dusk embattlement;
And so they neared the strait and walls of stone.

No sprintly fife as in the field,
The decks were hushed like fanes in prayer;
Behind each man a holy angel stood--
He stood, though none was 'ware.
Out spake the forts on either hand,
Back speak the ships when spoken to,
And set their flags in concert true,
And On and in! is Farragut's command.

But what delays? 'mid wounds above
Dim buoys give hint of death below--
Sea-ambuscades, where evil art had aped
Hecla that hides in snow.
The centre-van, entangled, trips;
The starboard leader holds straight on:
A cheer for the Tecumseh!--nay,
Before their eyes the turreted ship goes down!

The fire redoubles, While the fleet
Hangs dubious--ere the horror ran--
The Admiral rushes to his rightful place--
Well met! apt hour and man!--
Closes with peril, takes the lead,
His action is a stirring call;
He strikes his great heart through them all,
And is the genius of their daring deed.

The forts are daunted, slack their fire,
Confounded by the deadlier aim
And rapid broadsides of the speeding fleet,
And fierce denouncing flame.
Yet shots from four dark hulls embayed
Come raking through the loyal crews,
Whom now each dying mate endues
With his last look, anguished yet undismayed.

A flowering time to guilt is given,
And traitors have their glorying hour;
O late, but sure, the righteous Paramount comes--
Palsy is on their power!
So proved it with the rebel keels,
The strong-holds past: assailed, they run;
The Selma strikes, and the work is done:
The dropping anchor the achievement seals.

But no, she turns--the Tennessee!
The solid Ram of iron and oak,
Strong as Evil, and bold as Wrong, though lone--
A pestilence in her smoke.
The flag-ship is her singled mark,
The wooden Hartford. Let her come;
She challenges the planet of Doom,
And naught shall save her--not her iron bark.

Slip anchor, all! and at her, all!
Bear down with rushing beaks--and now!
First the Monongahela struck--and reeled;
The Lackawana's prow
Next crashed--crashed, but not crashing; then
The Admiral rammed, and rasping nigh
Sloped in a broadside, which glanced by:
The Monitors battered at her adamant den.

The Chickasaw plunged beneath the stern
And pounded there; a huge wrought orb
From the Manhattan pierced one wall, but dropped;
Others the seas absorb.
Yet stormed on all sides, narrowed in,
Hampered and cramped, the bad one fought--
Spat ribald curses from the port
Who shutters, jammed, locked up this Man-of-Sin.

No pause or stay. They made a din
Like hammers round a boiler forged;
Now straining strength tangled itself with strength,
Till Hate her will disgorged.
The white flag showed, the fight was won--
Mad shouts went up that shook the Bay;
But pale on the scarred fleet's decks there lay
A silent man for every silenced gun.

And quiet far below the wave,
Where never cheers shall move their sleep,
Some who did boldly, nobly earn them, lie--
Charmed children of the deep.
But decks that now are in the seed,
And cannon yet within the mine,
Shall thrill the deeper, gun and pine,
Because of the Tecumseh's glorious deed.



Herman Melville