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The Temeraire

[Supposed to have been suggested to an Englishman of the old order by the fight of the Monitor and Merrimac.]

The gloomy hulls, in armor grim,
  Like clouds o'er moors have met,
And prove that oak, and iron, and man
  Are tough in fibre yet.

But Splendors wane. The sea-fight yields
  No front of old display;
The garniture, emblazonment,
  And heraldry all decay.

Towering afar in parting light,
  The fleets like Albion's forelands shine--
The full-sailed fleets, the shrouded show
  Of Ships-of-the-Line.

The fighting Temeraire,
  Built of a thousand trees,
Lunging out her lightnings,
  And beetling o'er the seas--
O Ship, how brave and fair,
  That fought so oft and well,
On open decks you manned the gun
What cheering did you share,
  Impulsive in the van,
When down upon leagued France and Spain
  We English ran--
The freshet at your bowsprit
  Like the foam upon the can.
Bickering, your colors
  Licked up the Spanish air,
You flapped with flames of battle-flags--
  Your challenge, Temeraire!
The rear ones of our fleet
  They yearned to share your place,
Still vying with the Victory
  Throughout that earnest race--
The Victory, whose Admiral,
  With orders nobly won,
Shone in the globe of the battle glow--
  The angel in that sun.
Parallel in story,
  Lo, the stately pair,
As late in grapple ranging,
  The foe between them there--
When four great hulls lay tiered,
  And the fiery tempest cleared,
And your prizes twain appeared,

But Trafalgar' is over now,
  The quarter-deck undone;
The carved and castled navies fire
  Their evening-gun.
O, Tital Temeraire,
  Your stern-lights fade away;
Your bulwarks to the years must yield,
  And heart-of-oak decay.
A pigmy steam-tug tows you,
  Gigantic, to the shore--
Dismantled of your guns and spars,
  And sweeping wings of war.
The rivets clinch the iron-clads,
  Men learn a deadlier lore;
But Fame has nailed your battle-flags--
  Your ghost it sails before:
O, the navies old and oaken,
  O, the Temeraire no more!

The Temeraire, that storied ship of the old English fleet, and the subject of the well-known painting by Turner, commends itself to the mind seeking for some one craft to stand for the poetic ideal of those great historic wooden warships, whose gradual displacement is lamented by none more than by regularly educated navy officers, and of all nations.

* Some of the cannon of old times, especially the brass ones, unlike the more effective ordnance of the present day, were cast in shapes which Cellini might have designed, were gracefully enchased, generally with the arms of the country. A few of them--field-pieces--captured in our earlier wars, are preserved in arsenals and navy-yards.

Herman Melville