James Jeffrey Roche.

Ballads of blue water and other poems online

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Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBallads of blue water and other poems → online text (page 1 of 3)
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Copyright, 1895,

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The Rivtrsidt Pr,-as % Catnbridgt y Mats., U. S. I.

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Of distant deeds si?ig I who ne'er
Did anything, went anywhere;

Of storm and battle on the blue —
Whose total fleet is one canoe.

I might, had Fortune so inclined,
Have fought, and left my shield behind 7

Let him who takes his armor off
Boast if he willj and should he scoff

At us who never put it on,

Still may we praise the heroes gone,

And rest content that we have known
Some joys that go with peace alone.

The bark that carried Ccesar'sfate
Bore never such a precious freight

As thou didst bear, one day, when She
Sang, not of war, for thee and me.




Dedication : To my Canoe, " Wanda " iii

The Fight of the "Armstrong" Privateer . . i

The Kearsarge 8

"Albemarle" Cushing 10

At Sea 15

The Constitution's Last Fight 17

Reuben James 21

A Business Transaction 24

Summer is Past 28

Jack Creamer 30

The Flag 23

Sir Hugo's Choice 36

Gettysburg 39

The Men of the Alamo 42

John Boyle O'Reilly 47

The Last of the Druids 49

Washington 52

The Lay Brother's Story 54

Whittier 57

Woburn 58

Nature the False Goddess 61

Recantation 63

A Sailor's Yarn 64

Hope 68

The author acknowledges his thanks to The Century Company,
" The Atlantic Monthly," Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons, and
Messrs. Harper and Brothers for permission to republish several
poems in this collection.



Tell the story to your sons

Of the gallant days of yore,
When the brig of seven guns
Fought the fleet of seven score,
From the set of sun till morn, through the long

September night —
Ninety men against two thousand, and the ninety
won the fight

In the harbor of Fayal the Azore.

Three lofty British ships came a-sailing to Fayal :
One was a line-of-battle ship, and two were frigates

Nelson's valiant men of war, brave as Britons ever

Manned the guns they served so well at Aboukir

and Trafalgar.


Lord Dundonald and his fleet at Jamaica far

Waited eager for their coming, fretted sore at their

There was loot for British valor on the Mississippi

In the beauty and the booty that the Creole cities
boast ;

Jhere were rebel knaves to swing, there were pris-
oners to bring

Home in fetters to old England for the glory of the
King !

At the setting of the sun and the ebbing of the

Came the great ships one by one, with their portals

opened wide,
And their cannon frowning down on the castle and

the town
And the privateer that lay close inside ;
Came the eighteen gun Carnation, and the Rota,

And the triple-decked Plantagenet an admiral's

pennon bore ;
And the privateer grew smaller as their topmasts

towered taller.
And she bent her springs and anchored by the

castle on the shore.


Spake the noble Portuguese to the stranger :

" Have no fear ;
They are neutral waters these, and your ship is

sacred here
As if fifty stout armadas stood to shelter you from

For the honor of the Briton will defend you from

his arm."
But the privateersman said, " Well we know the

And their faith is written red in the Dartmoor

slaughter pen.
Come what fortune God may send, we will fight

them to the end,
And the mercy of the sharks may spare us then."

" Seize the pirate where she lies ! " cried the Eng-
lish admiral :

" If the Portuguese protect her, all the worse for
Portugal ! "

And four launches at his bidding leaped impa-
tient for the fray,

Speeding shoreward where the Armstrong, grim
and dark and ready, lay.

Twice she hailed and gave them warning ; but the
feeble menace scorning,

On they came in splendid silence, till a cable's
length away —


Then the Yankee pivot spoke ; Pico's thousand

echoes woke ;
And four baffled, beaten launches drifted helpless

on the bay.

Then the wrath of Lloyd arose till the lion roared

And he called out all his launches and he called

five hundred men j
And he gave the word " No quarter ! " and he sent

them forth to smite.
Heaven help the foe before him when the Briton

comes in might !
Heaven helped the little Armstrong in her hour of

bitter need ;
God Almighty nerved the heart and guided well

the arm of Reid.

Launches to port and starboard, launches forward

and aft,
Fourteen launches together striking the little craft.
They hacked at the boarding - nettings, they

swarmed above the rail ;
But the Long Tom roared from his pivot and the

grape-shot fell like hail :
Pike and pistol and cutlass, and hearts that knew

not fear,


Bulwarks of brawn and mettle, guarded the priva-
And ever where fight was fiercest, the form of Reid

was seen ;
Ever where foes drew nearest, his quick sword fell
Once in the deadly strife
The boarders' leader pressed
Forward of all the rest
Challenging life for life ;
But ere their blades had crossed,
A dying sailor tossed
His pistol to Reid, and cried,
" Now riddle the lubber's hide ! "
But the privateersman laughed, and flung the

weapon aside,
And he drove his blade to the hilt, and the foeman

gasped and died.
Then the boarders took to their launches laden

with hurt and dead,
But little with glory burdened, and out of the bat-
tle fled.

Now the tide was at flood again, and the night was

almost done,
When the sloop-of-war came up with her odds of

two to one,


And she opened fire ; but the Armstrong answered

her, gun for gun,
And the gay Carnation wilted in half an hour of sun.

Then the Armstrong, looking seaward, saw the

mighty seventy-four,
With her triple tier of cannon, drawing slowly to

the shore.
And the dauntless captain said : " Take our

wounded and our dead,
Bear them tenderly to land, for the Armstrong's

days are o'er ;
But no foe shall tread her deck, and no flag above

it wave —
To the ship that saved our honor we will give a

shipman's grave."
So they did as he commanded, and they bore their

mates to land
With the figurehead of Armstrong and the good

sword in his hand.
Then they turned the Long Tom downward, and

they pierced her oaken side,
And they cheered her, and they blessed her, and

they sunk her in the tide.

Tell the story to your sons,

When the haughty stranger boasts


Of his mighty ships and guns
And the muster of his hosts,
How the word of God was witnessed in the gallant

days of yore
When the twenty fled from one ere the rising of
the sun,

In the harbor of Fayal the Azore !


In the gloomy ocean bed

Dwelt a formless thing, and said,
In the dim and countless eons long ago,

" I will build a stronghold high,

Ocean's power to defy,
And the pride of haughty man to lay low."

Crept the minutes for the sad,

Sped the cycles for the glad,
But the march of time was neither less nor more j

While the formless atom died,

Myriad millions by its side,
And above them slowly lifted Roncador.

Roncador of Caribee,

Coral dragon of the sea,
Ever sleeping with his teeth below the wave ;

Woe to him who breaks the sleep !

Woe to them who sail the deep !
Woe to ship and man that fear a shipman's grave


Hither many a galleon old,

Heavy-keeled with guilty gold,
Fled before the hardy rover smiting sore ;

But the sleeper silent lay

Till the preyer and his prey
Brought their plunder and their bones to Roncador.

Be content, O conqueror !

Now our bravest ship of war,
War and tempest who had often braved before,

All her storied prowess past,

Strikes her glorious flag at last
To the formless thing that builded Roncador.


Joy in rebel Plymouth town, in the spring of sixty-
When the Albemarle down on the Yankee frig-
ates bore,
With the saucy Stars and Bars at her main ;

When she smote the Southfield dead, and the
stout Miami quailed,
And the fleet in terror fled when their mighty can-
non hailed
Shot and shell on her iron back in vain,
Till she slowly steamed away to her berth at Ply-
mouth pier,
And their quick eyes saw her sway with her great
beak out of gear,
And the color of their courage rose again.

All the summer lay the ram,

Like a wounded beast at bay.
While the watchful squadron swam

In the harbor night and day,


Till the broken beak was mended, and the weary
vigil ended,
And her time was come again to smite and slay.

Must they die, and die in vain,

Like a flock of shambled sheep ?
Then the Yankee grit and brain
Must be dead or gone to sleep,
And our sailors' gallant story of a hundred years
of glory
Let us sell for a song, selling cheap !

Cushing, scarce a man in years,
But a sailor thoroughbred,
" With a dozen volunteers

I will sink the ram," he said.
" At the worst 'tis only dying." And the old com-
mander, sighing,
" 'T is to save the fleet and flag — go ahead ! "

Bright the rebel beacons blazed

On the river left and right ;
Wide awake their sentries gazed
Through the watches of the night ;
Sharp their challenge rang, and fiery came the
rifle's quick inquiry,
As the little launch swung into the light.


Listening ears afar had heard ;

Ready hands to quarters sprung,
The Albemarle awoke and stirred,
And her howitzers gave tongue ;
Till the river and the shore echoed back the mighty
When the portals of her hundred-pounders swung.

Will the swordfish brave the whale,

Doubly girt with boom and chain ?
Face the shrapnel's iron hail ?
Dare the livid leaden rain ?
Ah ! that shell has done its duty ; it has spoiled
the Yankee's beauty ;
See her turn and fly with half her madmen
slain !

High the victors' taunting yell
Rings above the battle roar.
And they bid her mock farewell
As she seeks the farther shore,
Till they see her sudden swinging, crouching for
the leap and springing
Back to boom and chain and bloody fray once


Now the Southron captain, stirred

By the spirit of his race,
Stops the firing with a word,

Bids them yield, and offers grace.
dishing, laughing, answers, " No ! we are here to
fight ! " and so
Swings the dread torpedo spar to its place.

Then the great ship shook and reeled,

With a wounded, gaping side,
But her steady cannon pealed
Ere she settled in the tide,
And the Roanoke's dull flood ran full red with
Yankee blood,
When the fighting Albemarle sunk and died.

Woe in rebel Plymouth town when the Albemarle

And the saucy flag went down that had floated
long and well,
Nevermore from her stricken deck to wave.

For the fallen flag a sigh, for the fallen foe a
tear !
Never shall their glory die while we hold our glory
And the hero's laurels live on his grave.


Link their Cooke's with Cushing's name ; proudly

call them both our own ;
Claim their valor and their fame for America
alone —
Joyful mother of the bravest of the brave !


Shall we, the storm-tossed sailors, weep
For those who may not sail again \

Or wisely envy them, and keep
Our pity for the living men ?

Beyond the weary waste of sea,
Beyond the wider waste of death,

I strain my gaze and cry to thee
Whose still heart never answereth.

brother, is thy coral bed

So sweet thou wilt not hear my speech ?
This hand, methinks, if I were dead,
To thy dear hand would strive to reach.

1 would not, if God gave us choice
For each to bear the other's part,

That mine should be the silent voice,
And thine the silent, aching heart.


Ah, well for any voyage done,

Whate'er its end — or port or reef j

Better the voyage ne'er begun,
For all ships sail the sea of Grief.


A Yankee ship and a Yankee crew —
Constitution, where ye bound for ?

Wherever, my lad, there 's fight to be had,
Acrost the Western Ocean.

Our captain was married in Boston town

And sailed next day to sea ;
For all must go when the State says so ;

Blow high, blow low, sailed we.

" Now what shall I bring for a bridal gift
When my home-bound pennant flies ?
The rarest that be on land or sea
It shall be my lady's prize."

" There 's never a prize on sea or land
Could bring such joy to me
As my true love sound and homeward bound
With a king's ship under his lee."

The Western ocean is wide and deep,
And wild its tempests blow,


But bravely rides Old Ironsides,
A-cruising to and fro.

We cruised to the East and we cruised to the

And Southing far went we,
And at last off Cape de Verde we raised

Two frigates sailing free.

Oh, God made man, and man made ships,

But God makes very few
Like him who sailed our ship that day

And fought her, one to two.

He gained the weather-gage of both,

He held them both a-lee ;
And gun for gun till set of sun,

He spoke them fair and free ;

Till the night-fog fell on spar and sail

And ship and sea and shore,
And our only aim was the bursting flame

And the hidden cannon's roar.

Then a lifting rift in the mist showed up
The stout Cyane close-hauled


To swing in our wake and our quarter rake,
And a boasting Briton bawled :

" Starboard and larboard we Ve got him fast
Where his heels won't carry him through :
Let him luff or wear, he '11 find us there —
Ho, Yankee, which will you do ? "

We did not luff and we did not wear,

But braced our topsails back,
Till the sternway drew us fair and true

Broadsides athwart her track.

Athwart her track and across her bows

We raked her fore and aft,
And out of the fight and into the night

Drifted the beaten craft.

The slow Levant came up too late ;

No need had we to stir.
Her decks we swept with fire and kept

The flies from troubling her.

We raked her again, and her flag came down,

The haughtiest flag that floats,
And the Limejuice dogs lay there like logs,

With never a bark 'in their throats.


With never a bark and never a bite,

But only an oath, to break,
As we squared away for Praya Bay

With our prizes in our wake.

Parole they gave and parole they broke,
What matters the cowardly cheat,

If the captain's bride was satisfied
With the one prize laid at her feet ?

A Yankee ship and a 3 'ankee crew —
Constitution, where ye bound for f

Wherever the British prizes be %

Though it *s one to two, or one to three

Old Ironsides weans Victory,
Acrost the Western Ocean !


Three ships of war had Preble when he left the

Naples shore,
And the knightly king of Naples lent him seven

galleys more,
And never since the Argo floated in the middle

Such noble men and valiant have sailed in company
As the men who went with Preble to the siege of

Stewart, Bainbridge, Hull, Decatur — how their

names ring out like gold ! —
Lawrence, Porter, Trippe, Macdonough, and a

score as true and bold ;
Every star that lights their banner tells the glory

that they won ;
But one common sailor's glory is the splendor of

the sun.

Reuben James was first to follow when Decatur

laid aboard
Of the lofty Turkish galley and in battle broke his



Then the pirate captain smote him, till his blood

was running fast,
And they grappled and they struggled, and they

fell beside the mast.
Close behind him Reuben battled with a dozen,

Till a bullet broke his sword-arm, and he dropped

the useless blade.
Then a swinging Turkish sabre clove his left and

brought him low,
Like a gallant bark, dismasted, at the mercy of the

Little mercy knows the corsair : high his blade was

raised to slay,
When a richer prize allured him where Decatur

struggling lay.
" Help ! " the Turkish leader shouted, and his

trusty comrade sprung,
And his scimetar like lightning o'er the Yankee

captain swung.

Reuben James, disabled, armless, saw the sabre

Hashed on high,
Saw Decatur shrink before it, heard the pirate's

taunting cry,
Saw, in half the time I tell it, how a sailor brave

and true


Still might show a bloody pirate what a dying man

can do.
Quick he struggled, stumbling, sliding in the blood

around his feet,
As the Turk a moment waited to make vengeance

doubly sweet.
Swift the sabre fell, but swifter bent the sailor's

head below,
And upon his 'fenceless forehead Reuben James

received the blow !

So was saved our brave Decatur ; so the common

sailor died ;
So the love that moves the lowly lifts trie great to

fame and pride.
Yet we grudge him not his honors, for whom love

like this had birth —
For God never ranks His sailors by the Register

of earth !



To Amsterdam and its Commodore,

Over his pipe and his eau-de-vie,
A flibote skimming the Texel shore

Brought serious news for the Zuyder Zee :

Forty sail of the Channel Fleet,

With a high-born Admiral of the Blue,

Holland's bravest had come to greet
And settle an ancient score or two.

Frugal of speech was the Commodore.

" I will meet their wishes," he briefly said,
And straight to the offing his squadron bore,

With a broom at the flagship's mainmast-head.

Quickly to work, in a business way,

Went old Van Dam and his captains stout.

Broadside for broadside, half the day.
But the sturdy enemy still held out ;


Till about four bells in the afternoon
The English suddenly ceased their fire,

And Van Dam hailed : " Have you struck so soon ?
Is the score then settled, may I inquire ? "

And the answer came : " No ; we have not struck,
But our powder is spent ; we can fight no more."

" Ah, that is a matter of evil luck,

In a case like this," said the Commodore.

Then he stroked his beard and he closed his eyes :
" 'T were a pity to mar so sweet a fight,

On a beggarly question of supplies.
Diable ! it spoils one's pleasure quite."

With the thrifty blood of his Holland sire

A stream of a warmer fluid ran,
From a Norman mother with heart of fire —

And the mother it is that makes the man.

"To win or to lose," said the blood of France,
" Were a problem simple as life or death ;

But to win by an enemy's dull mischance ! " —
He damned the lubbers below his breath.

Then : " Send me your boat aboard," he cried,
" If you will not strike and you cannot fight.


Pity your stubborn bulldog pride

Should bark so loud, with so small a bite !

The Admiral came in his gig of state ;
ptain by right of heritage,

Favor had made him all but great,
And Nature had never marred the page.

Dutchman all was the Commodore

At once when he saw his wondrous guest,

Marveling much and marveling more
As he listed the visitor's request.

Never was such proposal made
To sailor before, on land or sea :

" Twas awkward to dabble in vulgar trade ;
But have you some powder to sell to me ? '

Dutch diplomacy struggled hard,

But Gallic chivalry won the day.
The sale was made and the bill was paid,

And the guns went back to their pleasant play

111 had it gone with the Commodore,

I lad pluck or fortune deceived him then ;

Bui 1)'- fought as lie never fought before,
And he brought his investment back again.


The great States-General, solemn folk,
When old Van Dam came home next day,

With his prizes in tow, forgave the joke,
Or never perceived it — who can say ?


Half the race of life is over, and the breeze is well
Do we lead or do we follow ? — naught it matters
to us now.
All the joy was in the battle of the windward-run-
ning craft,
In the squall against the topsail, in the wave be-
fore the prow.

Oh, the consorts who were with us in the opening
of the race !
Ah, the daring shallops foundered as we sailed
into the wind !
Oh, the sweet and foolish passions when the sun
•was in our face,
And we left the laggard Prudence league on
league away behind !

Then a friend was had for loving, and we loved
without a thought ;
We saw OUT hearts were naked, and we shamed
not of the truth.



But the sober fruit of knowledge aye in bitterness
is bought,
And the flaming sword forever bars the Eden
gate of youth.



The boarding nettings are triced for fight ;

Pike and cutlass are shining bright ;

The boatswain's whistle pipes loud and shrill ;

Gunner and topman work with a will ;

Rough old sailor and reefer trim

Jest as they stand by the cannon grim ;

There 's a fighting glint in Decatur's eye,

And brave Old Glory floats out on high.

But many a heart beats fast below
The laughing lips as they near the foe ;
For the pluckiest knows, though no man quails.
That the breath of death is filling the sails.
Only one little face is wan ;
Only one childish mouth is drawn ;
One little heart is sad and sore
To the watchful eye of the Commodore.
Little Jack Creamer, ten years old,
In DO purser's book or watch enrolled,


Must mope or skulk while his shipmates fight, —
No wonder his little face is white !

" Why, Jack, old man, so blue and sad ?
Afraid of the music ? " The face of the lad
With mingled shame and anger burns.
Quick to the Commodore he turns :
" I 'm not a coward, but I think if you —
Excuse me, Capt'n, I mean if you knew
(I s'pose it 's because I 'm young and small)
I 'm not on the books ! I'mno one at all !
And as soon as this fighting work is done
And we get our prize-money, every one
Has his share of the plunder — /get none."

" And you 're sure we shall take her ? " " Sure ?

Why, sir,
She 's only a blessed Britisher !
We '11 take her easy enough, I bet ;
But glory 's all that I 'm going to get ! "

" Glory ! I doubt if I get more,
If I get so much," said the Commodore;
" But faith goes far in the race for fame,
And down on the books shall go your name."

Bravely the little seaman stood

To his post while the scuppers ran with blood,


While grizzled veterans looked and smiled
And gathered new courage from the child ;
Till the enemy, crippled in pride and might,
Struck his crimson flag and gave up the fight.
Then little Jack Creamer stood once more
Face to face with the Commodore.

11 You have got your glory," he said, u my lad,

And money to make your sweetheart glad.

Now, who may she be ? " " My mother, sir ;

I want you to send the half to her.''

" And the rest ? " Jack blushed and hung his head ;

" I '11 buy some schoolin' with that," he said.

Decatur laughed ; then in graver mood :
" The first is the better, but both are good.
Your mother shall never know want while I
1 lave a ship to sail, or a flag to fly ;
And schooling you '11 have till all is blue,
But little the lubbers can teach to you."

JlftJs/iifwim ('reamer's story is told —
They did such things in the days of old.
When faith and courage won sure reward.
And the quarter-deck was not triply barred,
To the forecastle hero ; for men were men,

And the Nation was close to its Maker then.



I never have got the bearings quite,

Though I 've followed the course for many a
If he was crazy, clean outright,

Or only what you might say was " queer."

He was just a simple sailor man.

I mind it as well as yisterday,
When we messed aboard of the old Cyane.

Lord ! how the time does slip away !
That was five and thirty year ago,

And I never expect such times again,
For sailors was n't afraid to stow

Themselves on a Yankee vessel then.
He was only a sort of bosun's mate,

But every inch of him taut and trim ;
Stars and anchors and togs of state

Tailors don't build for the like of him.
He flew a no-account sort of name,


A reg'lar fo'cas'le "Jim " or " Jack,"
With a plain " McGinnis " abaft the same,

Giner'ly reefed to simple "Mack."
Mack, we allowed, was sorter queer, —

Ballast or compass was n't right.
Till he licked four Juicers one day, a fear

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Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBallads of blue water and other poems → online text (page 1 of 3)