Alfred Noyes.

Collected poems, Volume 1 online

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And all night long on England's guardian heights

The beacons reddened, and all the next long day

The impregnable Armada never swerved

From its tremendous path. In vain did Drake,

Frobisher, Hawkins, Howard, greatest names

In all our great sea-history, hover and dart

Like falcons round the moimtainous array.

Till now, as night fell and they lay abreast

Of the Isle of Wight, once more the coimcil flag

Flew from the little Revenge. With iron face

Thrust close to Howard's, and outstretched iron arm.

Under the stars Drake pointed down the coast

Where the red beacons flared. "The shoals," he hissed,

"The shoals from Owers to Spithead and the net

Of channels yonder in Portsmouth Roads. At dawn

They'll lie to leeward of the Invincible

Fleet!"



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«14 DRAKE

Swiftly, in mighty swe^ing miee Df ake eet
Before the council his fierce battle-plan
To drive the Armada down upon the banks
And utterly shatter it — stroke by well-schemed stroke
As he unfolded there his vital plot
And touched their dead cold warfare into life
Where plan before was none, he seemed to tower
Above them, clad with the deep night of stars;
And those that late would rival knew him now,
In all his great simplicity, their king,
One of the gods of battle, England's Drake,
A soul that simunoned Caesar from his grave,
And swept with Alexander o'^ the deep.

So when the dawn thro' rolling wreaths of cloud

Struggled, and all the waves were molten gold,

The heart of Spain exulted, for she saw

The little fleet of England cloven in twain

As if by some strange discord. A light breeze

Blew from the ripening East; and, up against it,

Urged by the very madness of defeat.

Or so it seemed, one half the British fleet

Drew nigh, towed by their boats, to challenge the vast

Tempest-winged heaving citadels of Spain,

At last to the murderous grapple; while far away

Their other half, led by the flag of Drake,

Stood out to sea, as if to escape the doom

Of that sheer madness, for the light wind now

Could lend them no such wings to hover and swoop

As heretc^ore. Nearer the mad ships came

Towed by their boats, till now upon their right

To windward loomed the Fleet Invincible

With all its thunder-clouds, and on their left

To leeward, gleamed the perilous white shoals

With their long level lightnings under the cliffs

Of England, from the green glad garden of Wight

To the Owers and Selsea Bill. Right on they came.

And suddenly the wrench of thundering cannon

Shook the vast hulks that towered above them. Red

Flamed the blue sea between. Thunder to thunder

Answered, and still the ships of Drake sped out



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DRAKB 413

To tlie open aeft. Skkoua saw them go^

Furrowing the deep that like a pale-blue shield

Lay diamond'dazded now in the fuU light.

Bich was the omen of that day for Spain,

The feast-day of Sidonia's patron-sainti

And the pi iesttf ehanted and the trumpets blew

Triumphantly 1 A universal shout

Went skyward from the locust-swanning decks,

A shout that rent the golden morning clouds

From heaven to menacing heaven, as castle to castle

Flew the great battle-signal, and like one range

Of moving mountaips, those almighty ranks

Swept down upon the smaU forsaken shipsi

The lion's brood was in the imperial nets

Of Spain at last. Onward the mountains came

With all their golden douds of sail and flags

Like streaming cataracts; all their glorious chasms

And glittering steeps, echoing, re-echoing,

Calling, answering, aa with the herald winds

That blow the gcdden trumpets of the morning

From Skiddfi^w to Helvellyn. In the midst

The great San MarHn surged with heaven-wide press

Of proudly billowing sail; and yet once more

Slowly* sqJemnly, like another dawn

Up to her mast-head soared in thunderous gold

The sacred standard of their last crusade;

While rouAd a hiUndred prows that heaved thro' heaven

Like granite oUffa, their black wet shining flanks,

And swept lil^e moving promontories, rolled

The splendid long-drawn thunders of the foam.

And flashy the untamed white lightnings of the sea

Back to a mom unhalyarded of man,

Back to tl^ unleashed sun and blasoned clouds

A»d a«wQ sky— the unfettered flag of God.



Like one huge moving coast-line on they came
Crashing, and closed the ships of England round

With one fierce erescent of thunder and sweeping flame.
One crin^n scythe of Death, whose long sweep drowned

The eternal ocean with its mighty sound.



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416 DRAKE

From heaven to heaven, one roar, one glitter of doom.
While out to the sea-line's blue remotest bound

The ships of Drake still fled, and the red fume
Of battle thickened and shrouded shoal and sea with gloom.

The distant sea, the close white menacing shoals

Are shrouded! And the lion's brood flght on I
And now death's very midnight round them rolls;

Rent is the flag that late so proudly shone!
The red decks reel and their last hope seems gone!

Round them they still keep clear one ring of sea:
It narrows; but the lion's brood fight on,

Ungrappled still, still fearless and still free,
While the white menacing shoals creep slowly out to lee.

Now through the red rents of each fire-cleft doud,

High o'er the British blood-greased decks flash out
Thousands of swarthy faces, crowd on crowd

Surging, with one tremendous hurricane shout
On, to the grapple! and still the grim redoubt

Of the oaken bulwarks rolls them back again,
As buffeted waves that shatter in the furious bout

When cannonading cliffs meet the full main
And hurl it back in smoke — so Britain hurls back Spain;

Hurls her back, only to see her return,

Darkening the heavens with billow on billow of sail:
Roimd that huge storm the waves like lava burui

The daylight withers, and the sea-winds fail I
Seamen of England, what shall now avail

Your naked arms? Before those blasts of doom
The Sim is quenched, the very sea-waves quail:

High overhead their triiunphing thousands loom,
When hark! what low deep guns to windward suddenly boom?

What low deep strange new thimders far away

Respond to the triumphant shout of Spain?
Is it the wind that shakes their giant array?

Is it the deep wrath of the rising main?
Is it — El Draquef El Draquel Ay, shout again,

His thunders burst upon your windward flanks;



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DRAKE 417

The shoals creep out to leeward I Is it plain

At last, what earthquake heaves your herded ranks
Huddled in huge dismay tow'rds those wh'te foam-swept
banks?

Plain, it was plain at last, what cimning lured,
What courage held them over the jaws o' the pit,
Till Drake could hurl them down. The little ships
Of Howard and Frobisher, towed by their boats,
Slipped away in the smoke, while out at sea
Drake, with a gale of wind behind him, crashed
Volley on volley into the helpless rear
Of Spain and drove it down, huddling the whole
Invincible Fleet together upon the verge
Of doom. One awful surge of stormy wrath
Heaved thro' the struggling citadels of Spain.
From East to West their desperate signal flew,
And like a drove of bullocks, with the foam
Flecking their giant sides, they staggered and swerved,
Careening tow'rds the shallows as they turned,
Then in one wild stampede of sheer dismay
Rushed, tacking seaward, while the grey searplain
Smoked roimd them, and the cannonades of Drake
Raked their wild flight; and the crusading flag,
Tangled in one black maze of crashing spars,
Whirled downward like the pride of Lucifer
From heaven to hell.

Out towards the coasts of France
They plunged, narrowly weathering the Ower banks;
Then, once again, they formed in ranks compact,
Roundels impregnable, wrathfully bent at last
Never to swerve again from their huge path
And solid end — to join with Parma's host.
And hurl the whole of Europe on our isle.
Another day was gone, much powder spent;
And, while Lord Howard exulted and conferred
Knighthoods on his brave seamen, Drake alone
Knew that his mighty plan, in spite of all,
Had failed, knew that wellnigh his last great chance
Was lost of wrecking the Spaniards ere they joined
Parma. The night went by, and the next dav,

37



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tia DRAKE

With scarce a visible soar the Invincible Fleet
Drew onwards towards its goal, imshakeable now
In that grim battle-or^er. Beacons flared
Along the British coast, and pikes flashed out
All night, and a strange dread began to grip
The heart of England, as it seemed the might
Gf seamen most renowned in all the worl<|
Checked not that huge advance. Yet at the heart
Of Spain no le^ there clung a vampire fear
And strange foreboding, as the next day passed
Quietly, and behind her all day long
The shadowy ships of Drake stood on her trail
Quietly, pi^tiently, as death or doom,
Unswerving and implacable.

While the sun
Sank thro' long crimson fringes on that eve,
The fleets were passing Calais and the wind
Blew fair behind them. A strange impulse seized
Sp^in to shake off those bloodhounds from her trail,
And suddenly the whole Invincible Fleet
Anchored, in hope the following wind would bear
The ship^ of England past and carry them down
To leeward. But their grim insistent watch
Was ready; and though their van had wellnigh crashed
Into the rear of Spain, in the golden dusk.
They, too, a cannon-shot away, at once
Anchored, to windward still.

Quietly heaved
The golden sea in that tremendous hour
Fraught with the fate of Europe and mankind,
As yet once more the flag of council flew.
And Hawkins, Howard, Frobisher, and Drake
Gathered together upon the little Revenge,
While like a triumphing fire the news was borne
To Spain, already, that the Invincible Fleet
Had reached its end, ay, and ''that great black dog
Sir Francis Drake" was writhing now in chains
Beneath the torturer's hands.

High on his poop
He stood, a granite rock, above the throng
Of captains, there amid the breaking waves



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Of dashing though^ aad swift epimon,

Silent, gftaiag wliere now the cool fresh win4

Blew steadily up the terrible North ^e^

Which rolled under the clouds into a gloom

Unfathomable. Once only his lips moved

Half-consciously, breathing those mighty wordSj

The cUmda His chariai! Then, suddenly, he turped

And looked upon the little flock of ships

That followed on the fleet qf Ei^and, sloops

Helpless in fight. These, manned by the brave zeal

Of many a noble house, from hour to hour

Had plimged out from the coast to join his flag.

"Better if they had brought us powder and food

Than sought to joii^ ua thus," he had growled; but now

"Lore! God," he cried aloud, "they'll fight our road

To victory yet!" And in great sweeping strokes

Once more he drew his naighty battle-plan

Before the captains. In the thickening gloom

They stared at his grim face as at a man

Risen from hell, with all the powers of hell

At his command, a face tempered like steel

In the everlasting furnaces, a rock

Of adamant, while with a voice that blent

With ^e ebb and flow of the everlasting sea

He spake, and at the low deep menacing words

Monotonous with the unconquerable

Passion and level strength of his great soul

They shuddered; for the man seemed more than man,

And from his iron lips resounded doom

As from the lips of cannon, doom to Spain,

Inevitable, unconquerable doom.

And through that mighty host of Spain there crept

Cold winds of fear, as to the darkening sky
Once more from lips of kneeling thousands swept

The vespers of an Eifipire — one vast cry.
Salve ReginaI God, what wild reply

Hissed from the clouds in that dark hour of dreams?
Ave Maria, those about to die

SalvU thee! See, what ghostly pageant streams
Above them? What thin hands point down like pale mooiH
beams?



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420 DRAKE

Thick as the ghosts that Dante saw In hell

Whirled on the blast thro' boundless leagues of pain.
Thick, thick as wind-blown leaves innumerable,

In ihe Inquisition's yellow robes her slain
And tortured thousands, dense as the red ram

That wellnigh quenched her fires, went hissing by
With twisted shapes, raw from the racks of Spain,

Salve Rbgina! — crushing thro' the sky.
And pale hands pointing down and lips that mocked her cry.

Ten thousand times ten thousand! — ^what are these

That are arrayed in yellow robes and sweep
Between your prayers and God like phantom seas

Prophesying over your masts? Could Rome not keep
The ke3^? Who loosed these dead to break your sleep?

Salve Reqina, cry, yea, cry aloud,
Ave Maria! Ye have sown: shall ye not reap?

Salve Rbgina I Christ, what fiery cloud
Suddenly rolls to windward, high o'er mast and shroud?

Are hell-gates burst at last? For the black deep

To windward bums with streaming crimson fires!
Over the wild strange waves, they shudder and creep

Nearer — strange smoke-wreathed masts and spars, red
spires
And blazing hulks, vast roaring blood-red pyres,

Fierce as the flames ye fed with flesh of men
Amid the imperial pomp and chanting choirs

Of Alva — ^from El Draque's red hand again
Sweep the wild fire-ships down upon the Fleet of Spain.

Onward before the freshening wind they come

Full fraught with all the terrors, all the bale
That flamed so long for the delight of Rome,

The shrieking fires that struck the sunlight pale,
The avenging fires at last! Now what avail

Your thousand ranks of cannon? Swift, cut free,
Cut your scorched cables! Cry, reel backward, quail,

Crash your huge huddled ranks together, flee!
Behind you roars the fire, before — the dark North Sea!



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DRAKE 421

Dawn, everlasting and omnipotent

Dawn rolled in crimson o'er the spar-strewn waves,

As the last trumpet shall in thunder roll

O'er heaven and earth and ocean. Far away,

The ships of Spain, great raggdd piles of gloom

And shaggy splendour, leaning to the North

Like sun-shot clouds confused, or rent apart

In scattered squadrons, furiously plunged,

Burying their mighty prows i' the broad grey rush

Of smoking billowy hills, or heaving high

Their giant bowsprits to the wandering heavens.

Labouring in vain to return, struggling to lock

Their far-flung r^nks anew, but drifting still

To leeward, driven by the ever-increasing storm

Straight for the dark North Sea. Hard by there lurched

One gorgeous galleon on the ravening shoals.

Feeding the white maw of the famished waves

With gold and purple webs from kingly looms

And spilth of world-wide empires. Howard, still

Planning to pluck the Armada plume by plume,

Swooped down upon that prey and swiftly engaged

Her desperate guns; while Drake, our ocean-king,

Knowing the full worth of that doom-fraught hour,

Glanced neither to the left nor right, but stood

High on his poop, with calm implacable face

Gazing as into eternity, and steered

The crowded glory of his dawn-flushed sails

In superb onset, straight for the great fleet ^

Invincible; and after him the main j

Of England's fleet, knowing its captain now.

Followed, and with them rushed — ^from sky to sky J

One glittering charge of wrath — the storm's white waves, 1

The twenty thousand foaming chariots

Of God. I

None but the everlasting voice
Of him who fought at Salamis might sing ,

The fight of that dread Sabbath. Not mankind
Waged it alone. War raged in heaven that day,
Where Michael and his angels drave once more
The hosts of darkness ruining down the abyss



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4^3 DBAKB

Of chaos. Light against darkness, Liberty
Against all dark old despotism, unsheathed
The sword in that great hour. Behind the strife
Of men embattled deeps beyond all thought
Moved in their awful panoply, as move
Silent, invisible, swift, under the clash
Of waves and flash of foam, huge ocean-glooms
And vast reserves of inappellable power.
The bowsprits ranked ou either fore-front seemed
But spear-heads of those dread antagonists
Invisible: the shuddering sails of Spain
Dusk with the shadow of death, the sunward sails
Of England full-fraught with the breath of God.
Onward the ships of England and God's waves
Triumphantly charged, glittering companions.
And poured their thunders on the extreme ri^t
Of Spain, whose giant galleons as they lurched
Heavily to the roughening sea and wind
With all their grinding, wrenching cannon, worked
On rolling platforms by the helpless hands
Of twenty thousand soldiers, without skill
In stormy seas, rent the indifferent sky
Or tore the black troughs of the swirling deep
In vain, while volley on volley of flame and iron
Burst thro' their four-foot becuns, fierce raking blasts
From ships that came and went on wings of the wind
All round their mangled bulk, scarce a pike's thrust
Away, sweeping their decks from stem to stem
(Between the rush and roar of the great ^een waves)
With crimson death, rending their timbered towns
And populous floating streets into wild squares
Of slaughter and devastation; driving them down,
Huddled on their own centre, cities oi shame
And havoc, in fiery forests of tangled wrath,
With hurricanes of huge masts and swarming spars
And multitudinous decks that heaved and sank
Like earthquake-smitten palaces, when doom
Comes, with one stride, across the pomp of kings.
All round them shouted the everlasting sea.
Burst in white thunders on the streaming poops



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DRAKE 438

And blmded fifty thousand eyes ^th spray.

Once, as a gorgeous galleon, drenched with blood

Began to founder and settle, a British captain

Called from his bulwarks, bidding her fierce crew

Surrender and come aboard. Straight through the heart

A hundred muskets answered that appeal.

Sink or destroy! The deadly signal flew

From mast to mast of England. Once, twice, thrioe,

A huge sea-castle heaved her haggled bulk

Heavenward, and with a cry that rent the heavens

From all her crowded decks, and one deep roar

As of a cloven world or the dark surge

Of chaos yawning, sank: the swirling slopes

Of the sweeping billowy hills for a moment swarmed

With struggling insect-men, sprinkling the foam

With tossing arms; then the indifferent sea

Rolled its grey smoking waves across the place

Where they had been. Here a great galleasse poured

Red rivers through her scuppers and torn flanks,

And there a galleon, wrapped in creeping firoi

Suddenly like a vast volcano split

Asunder, and o'er the vomiting sulphurous clouds

And spouting spread of crimson, flying spars

And heads torn from their tnmks and scattered limbs

Leapt, hideous gouts of death, against the glare.

Hardly the thrust of a pike away, the ships

Of England flashed and swerved, till in one mass

Of thunder-blasted splendour and shuddering gloom

Those gorgeous floating citadels huddled and shrank

Their towers, and all the glory of dawn that rolled

And burned along the tempest of their banners

Withered, as on a murderer's face the light

Withers before the accuser. All their proud

Castles and towers and heaven-wide clouds of sail

Shrank to a darkening horror, like the heart

Of EvO, plucked from midnight's fiercest gloom.

With ail its curses quivering and alive;

A horror of wild masts and tangled spars.

Like some great kraken with a thousand arms

Tom from the filthiest cavern of the deep,



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124 DRAKE

Writhing, and spewing forth its venomous fumes

On every side. Sink or destroy! — ^all day

The deadly signal flew; and ever the sea

Swelled higher, and the flashes of the foam

Broadened and leapt and spread as a wild white fire

That flourishes with the wind; and ever the storm

Drave the grim battle onward to the wild

Menace of the dark North Sea. At set of sun,

Even as below the sea-line the broad disc

Sank like a red-hot cannon-ball through scurf

Of seething molten lead, the Santa Maria

Uttering one cry that split the heart of heaven

Went down with all hands, roaring into the dark.

Hardly five rounds of shot were left to Drake!

Gun after gun fell silent, as the night

Deepened — "Yet we must follow them to the North/?

He cried, "or they'll return yet to shake hands

With Parma! Come, we'll put a brag upon it,

And hunt them onward as we lacked for nought!"

So, when across the swinging smoking seas,

Grey and splendid and terrible broke the day

Once more, the fljring Invincible fleet beheld

Upon their weather-beam, and dogging them

Like their own shadow, the dark ships of Drake,

Unswerving and implacable. Ever the wind

And sea increased; till now the heaving deep

Swelled all around them into sulky hills

And rolling mountains, whose majestic crests,

Like wild white flames far blown and savagely flickering

Swept thro' the clouds; and, on their vanishing slopes,

Past the pursuing fleet began to swirl

Scores of horses and mules, drowning or drowned,

Cast overboard to lighten the wild flight

Of Spain, and save her water-casks, a trail

Telling of utmost fear. And ever ihe storm

Roared louder across the leagues of rioting sea.

Driving her onward like a mighty stag

Chased by the wolves. Off the dark Firth of Forth

At last, Drake signalled and lay head to wind.

Watching. "The chariots of God are twenty thousand,"



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DRAKE 425

He muttered, as, for a moment dose at hand,

Caught in some league-wide whirlpool of the sea,

The mighty galleons crowded and towered and plunged

Above him on the huge o'erhanging billows,

As if to crash down on his decks; the next,

A mile of ravening sea had swept between

Each of those wind-whipt straws and they were gone,

With all their tiny shrivelling scrolls of sail.

Through roaring deserts of embattled death,

Where like a hundred thousand chariots charged

With lightnings and with thunders, the great deep

Hurled them away to the North. From sky to sky

One blanching bursting storm of infinite seas

Followed them, broad white cataracts, hUls that grasped

With struggling Titan hands at reeling heavens,

And roared their doom-fraught greetings from Cape Wrath

Round to the Bloody Foreland.

There should the yeast
Of foam receive the purple of many kings,
And the grim gulfs devour the blood-bought gold
Of Aztecs and of Incas, and the reefs.
League after league, bristle with mangled spars.
And all along their coasts the murderous kerns
Of Catholic Ireland strip the gorgeous silks
And chains and jewel-encrusted crucifixes
From thousands dead, and slaughter thousands more
With gallow-glass axes as they blindly crept
Forth from the surf and jagged rocks to seek
Pity of their own creed.

To meet that doom
Drake watched their sails go shrivelling, till the last
Flicker of spars vanished as a skeleton leaf
Upon the blasts of winter, and there was nought
But one wide wilderness of splendour and gloom
Under the northern clouds.

"Not unto us,"
Cried Drake, "not unto us — but unto Him
Who made the sea, belongs our England nowl
Pray God that heart and mind and soul we prove
Worthy among the nations of this hour



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426 DRAKH

And this great Viistbry^ who86 ocean fame
Shall wash th^ woHd with thunder till that day
Wheli thete is no more sea, and l^e strong cliffs
Pass like a smok6, and the last peal of it
Sounds thro' the tHimpet."

So, with olose-hauled sails.
Over tiie rolling tliimiph of the deep,
Lifting their hearffi to h^ven, they turned back home.



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Online LibraryAlfred NoyesCollected poems, Volume 1 → online text (page 26 of 26)