James Jeffrey Roche.

Ballads of blue water and other poems online

. (page 2 of 3)
Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBallads of blue water and other poems → online text (page 2 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Prevailed that he had n't larned to fight.
But I reckon the Captain knowed his man,

When he put the flag in his hand the day
That we went ashore from the old Cyane,

On a madman's cruise for Darien Bay.

Forty days in the wilderness

We toiled and suffered and starved with Strain,
Losing the number of many a mess

In the Devil's swamps of the Spanish Main.
All of us starved, and many died.

One laid down, in his dull despair j
His stronger messmate went to his side —

Wo left them both in the jungle there.
It was hard to part with shipmates so;

But standing by would have done no good.
We heard them moaning all day, so slow

We dragged along through the weary wood.
McGinnis, he suffered the worst of all ;

Not that he ever piped his eye
( )r would n't have answered to the call


If they 'd sounded it for " All hands to die."

I guess 't would have sounded for him before,

But the grit inside of him kept him strong,
Till we met relief on the river shore ;

And we all broke down when it came along.

All but McGinnis. Gaunt and tall,
Touching his hat, and standing square :

II Captain, the Flag." . . . And that was all ;

He just keeled over and foundered there.
" The Flag ? " We thought he had lost his head —

It might n't be much to lose at best —
Till we came, by and by, to dig his bed,

And we found it folded around his breast.
He laid so calm and smiling there,

With the flag wrapped tight about his heart ;
Maybe he saw his course all fair,

Only — we could n't read the chart.


It is better to die, since death comes surely,
In the full noontide of an honored name,

Than to lie at the end of years obscurely,
A handful of dust in a shroud of shame.

Sir Hugo lived in the ages golden,

Warder of Aisne and Picardy ;
He lived and died, and his deeds are told in

The Book immortal of Chivalrie :

How he won the love of a prince's daughter —
A poor knight he with a stainless sword —

Whereat Count Rolf, who had vainly sought her.
Swore death should sit at the bridal board.

" A braggart's threat, for a brave man's scorn-
ing ! "'
And Hugo laughed at his rival's ire,
But couriers twain, on the bridal morning,

To his castle gate came with tidings dire.


The first a-faint and with armor riven :
u In peril sore have I left thy bride, —

False Rolf waylaid us. For love and Heaven !
Sir Hugo, quick to the rescue ride ! "

Stout Hugo muttered a word unholy ;

He sprang to horse and he flashed his brand,
But a hand was laid on his bridle slowly,

And a herald spoke : " By the king's command

"This to Picardy's trusty warder : —
France calls first for his loyal sword,

The Flemish spears are across the border,
And all is lost if they win the ford."

Sir Hugo paused, and his face was ashen,
His white lips trembled in silent prayer —

God's pity soften the spirit's passion
When the crucifixion of Love is there !

What need to tell of the message spoken ?

Of the hand that shook as he poised his lance ?
And the look that told of his brave heart broken,

As he bade them follow, " For God and France ! "

On Cambray's field next morn they found him,
'Mid a mighty swath of foemen dead ;


Her snow-white scarf he had bound around him
With his loyal blood was baptized red.

It is all writ clown in the book of glory,
On crimson pages of blood and strife,

With scanty thought for the simple story
Of duty clearer than love or life.

Only a note obscure, appended

By warrior scribe or monk perchance,

Saith : " The good knight's ladye was sore offended
That he would not die for her but France."

Did the ladye live to lament her lover ?

Or did roystering Rolf prove a better mate ?
I have searched the records over and over,

But naught discover to tell her fate.

And I read the moral — A brave endeavor

To do thy duty, whate'er its worth,
Is better than life with love forever —

And love is the sweetest thing on earth.


There was no union in the land,
Though wise men labored long

With links of clay and ropes of sand
To bind the right and wrong.

There was no temper in the blade
That once could cleave a chain ;

Its edge was dull with touch of trade
And clogged with rust of gain.

The sand and clay must shrink away

Before the lava tide :
By blows and blood and fire assay

The metal must be tried.

Here sledge and anvil met, and when
The furnace fiercest roared,

God's undiscerning workingmen
Reforged His people's sword.


Enough for them to ask and know
The moment's duty clear —

The bayonets flashed it there below,
The guns proclaimed it here :

To do and dare, and die at need,
But while life lasts, to fight —
For right or wrong a simple creed,
But simplest for the right.

They faltered not who stood that day
And held this post of dread ;

Nor cowards they who wore the gray
Until the gray was red.

For every wreath the victor wears
The vanquished half may claim ;

And every monument declares
A common pride and fame.

We raise no altar stones to Hate,
Who never bowed to Fear :

No province crouches at our gate,
To shame our triumph here.

Here Standing by a dead wrong's grave
The blindest now may see,


The blow that liberates the slave
But sets the master free !

When ills beset the nation's life

Too dangerous to bear,
The sword must be the surgeon's knife,

Too merciful to spare.

O Soldier of our common land,

'T is thine to bear that blade
Loose in the sheath, or firm in hand,

But ever unafraid.

When foreign foes assail our right,

One nation trusts to thee —
To wield it well in worthy fight —

The sword of Meade and Lee !


To Houston at Gonzales town, ride, Ranger, for

your life,
Nor stop to say good-by to-day to home, or child,

or wife ;
But pass the word from ranch to ranch, to every

Texan sword,
That fifty hundred Mexicans have crossed the

Nueces ford,
With Castrillon and perjured Cos, Sesma and

And Santa Anna ravenous for vengeance and for

prey !
They smite the land with fire and sword ; the

grass shall never grow
Where northward sweeps that locust horde on San

Antonio !

Now who will bar the foeman's path, to gain a

breathing space,
Till Houston and his scattered men shall meet him

Lwc to face ?


Who holds his life as less than naught when home

and honor call,
And counts the guerdon full and fair for liberty to

Oh, who but Barrett Travis, the bravest of them

With seven score of riflemen to play the rancher's

And feed a counter-fire to halt the sweeping prairie

flame ;
For Bowie of the broken blade is there to cheer

them on,
With Evans of Concepcion, who conquered Castril-

And o'er their heads the Lone Star flag defiant

floats on high,
And no man thinks of yielding, and no man fears

to die.

But ere the siege is held a week a cry is heard

A clash of arms, a rifle peal, the Ranger's ringing

And two-and-thirty beardless boys have bravely

hewed their way
To die with Travis if they must, to conquer if they



Was ever bravery so cheap in Glory's mart before
In all the days of chivalry, in all the deeds of war ?

But once again the foemen gaze in wonderment and

To see a stranger break their lines and hear the

Texans cheer.
God ! how they cheered to welcome him, those

spent and starving men !
For Davy Crockett by their side was worth an

army then.
The wounded ones forgot their wounds ; the dying

drew a breath
To hail the king of border men, then turned to

laugh at death.
For all knew Davy Crockett, blithe and generous

as bold,
And strong and rugged as the quartz that hides its

heart of gold.
His simple creed for word or deed true as the bul-
let sped,
And rung the target straight : " Be sure you 're

right, then go ahead ! "

And were they right who fought the fight for Texas
by his side ?

They questioned not ; they faltered not ; they only
fought and died.


Who hath an enemy like these, God's mercy slay
him straight ! —

A thousand Mexicans lay dead outside the convent

And half a thousand more must die before the for-
tress falls,

And still the tide of war beats high around the
leaguered walls.

At last the bloody breach is won ; the weakened

lines give way ;
The wolves are swarming in the court ; the lions

stand at bay.
The leader meets them at the breach, and wins the

soldier's prize ;
A foeman's bosom sheathes his sword when gallant

Travis dies.
Now let the victor feast at will until his crest be

red —
We may not know what raptures fill the vulture

with the dead.
Let Santa Anna's valiant sword right bravely hew

and hack
The senseless corse ; its hands are cold ; they will

not strike him back.
Let Bowie die, but 'ware the hand that wields his

deadly knife ;


Four went to slay, and one comes back, so dear he

sells his life.
And last of all let Crockett fall, too proud to sue *

for grace,
So grand in death the butcher dared not look upon

his face.

But far on San Jacinto's field the Texan toils are

And Alamo's dread memory the Texan steel shall

And Fame shall tell their deeds who fell till all the

years be run.
"Thermopylae left one alive — the Alamo left



August 10, i8qo

Have thy people climbed to Nebo ?

Is the Promised Land in sight,
And the pleasant fields of Canaan

Radiant in the morning light ?

Strike the harp, and sound the timbrel,
For the weary night is past,

For their wanderings are over,
And the day hath come at last.

Lift on high the little children ;

Lead the elders forth to see ;
Let the maidens sing in gladness

Of the joy that is to be.

Now for them the bulwarks totter,
Now for them the Jordan dries, —

But our Chief is dead on Phasga ;
In the stranger land he lies.



Wonder not if we be silent ;

Chide not if our eyes be dim ;
We are mourning for our Prophet —

Israel hath no more like him !


Conal, last of the Druids, stood by the ruined

And the ashes were cold on the altar and bitter and

gray as brine ;
The sacred grove was deserted, and impious hands

had raised
The mystic sign of the stranger where the holy fires

had blazed.
He went to the home of his father, and a stranger

bade him in
Who knew not the face of Conal nor came of his

father's kin.

For the years were many and changeful since the

Druid went afar
From the peaceful land of Ierne to the stormy fields

of war.
He had battled with Pict and Briton, Norseman

and Hun and Gaul,
When Dathi's glorious banner waved on the Alpine




And now he was old, and weary of the splendid

joy of strife,
And he longed for the Druid cloister and the even-

ing calm of life

" The gods of the brave will bless me for the foes

I have slain,'' he said,
And he turned to the land of Ierne — and they

told him the gods were dead !

Then he cursed the gods of his fathers, the many

who fled from one,
And he cursed the priest of the stranger for the

thing that he had done.
" I will find this priest, I will slay him, — let him

bide on land or sea,
Though a thousand swords defend him — and the

gods shall be shamed by me ! "

He went to the Court of Tara where the king had

housed the priest ;
He found him not at the palace, he found him not

at the feast;
But down in a lowly hovel, where a man with the

Black Death lav,
They told him, "The good priest. Patrick, watches

by Dight and day ;
For the man he serves was his foenian in the days

of his power and pride,


But the pride and the power have left him, and the

love of his friends has died ;
Kith or kin has he none — only one son, gone

wild —
And the Black Death's hand, Christ save us ! would

part the mother and child.
The boldest soldier in Erin, I warrant ye, would

not dare
To watch with old Conn the Druid, in the deadly

pest-house there."

Never a word said Conal, but his face was set and

As he strode to the lonely cabin where the dying

Druid lay,
He knelt by the humble pallet, and the air was

thick with death,
But the lips of the stricken father smiled with his

dying breath,
And his feeble hand was lifted to bless with the

Christian's sign
The wayward son of his bosom — the last of the

Druid line.

Then the sinful wrath of Conal passed like a mist

And he kissed the hem of the garment of the man

he had sworn to slay.


God wills no man a slave. The man most meek,
Who saw Him face to face on Horeb's peak,
Had slain a tyrant for a bondman's wrong,
And met his Lord with sinless soul and strong.
Uut when, years after, overfraught with care,
His feet once trod doubt's pathway to despair,
For that one treason lapse, the guiding hand
That led so far now barred the promised land.
God makes no man a slave, no doubter free ;
Abiding faith alone wins liberty.

No angel led our Chieftain's steps aright ;
No pilot cloud by day, no flame by night ;
No plague nor portent spake to foe or friend ;
No doubt assailed him, faithful to the end.

Weaklings there were, as in the tribes of old,
Who craved for fleshpots, worshiped calves of

Murmured that right should harder be than wrong,
And freedom's narrow road so steep and long ;


But he who ne'er on Sinai's summit trod,

Still walked the highest heights and spake with

Saw with anointed eyes no promised land
By petty bounds or pettier cycles spanned,
Its people curbed and broken to the ring,
Packed with a caste and saddled with a king —
But freedom's heritage and training school,
Where man unruled should learn to wisely rule,
Till sun and moon should see at Ajalon
Kings' heads in dust and freemen's feet thereon.

His work well done, the leader stepped aside,
Spurning a crown with more than kingly pride,
Content to wear the higher crown of worth,
While time endures, First Citizen of earth.



That is his grave, and this is mine —

The Father was good to me so old,

Though I spake no word and I made no sign,

Nor ever nourished a hope so bold

As to dream that my dust by his might lie.

Who was saint on earth and is saint on high.

Forty years together we wrought,

And not one look from him to tell

That his mind went back for a fleeting thought

To the life we both had known so well.

For he had been here two years before

I left the world and curbed my tongue,

And I knew him well in the clays of yore

When 1 was not old and he was young.

Never a sign through all the years
Till yesterday when his summons came,
And I saw him smile through a veil of tears,
And he took my hand and he called my name:


(For one hour of life, ere it fades away,

To the dying Trappist is kindly given,

That his soul may see, when its sins are shriven,

How as death to life, and as night to day,

Are the joys of earth to the Joy of Heaven !)

Then the Angel of Memory rolled the stone

Back from the sepulchre of years,

Till the forty winters of monotone

And the forty summers our cells had known

Were gone, and we two were grenadiers —

Grenadiers of the Grande Armee,

Side by side on that woful day

At Kowno Bridge with the godlike Ney,

Facing ten thousand Cossack spears.

I saw him fall as they pressed us back,

Inch by inch, to the further shore ;

Then a mist of blood hid the battle wrack,

And I prayed to awaken nevermore.

But God's great mercy denied the boon

And gave me life and some deeds to do,

Till the end that came so sore and soon

In shame and sorrow and Waterloo.

Small loss was it then to leave the earth

That held no longer or hope or dread ;

But great the reward beyond my worth,

For I found him here I had mourned for dead.


I marveled oft if he never thought
Of France and glory and dreams so dear
To our dear dead youth — ah ! I forgot
The saint had been man — and a grenadier !

He held my hand, and the long desire

Spake through his eyes and the glaze of death ;

Something was, too, of the old-time fire

Men feel when they taste the battle-breath.

And something more of the love so strong

No years could weaken, no reason chill,

For the Chief we followed through right or wrong,

As the planets swing to the great Sun's will.

God will not love him less, I know.

For the love that gnawed at his silent breast

Through years of speechless doubt and woe,

For Himself hath said that love is best,

And all that he asked I freely told,

And would tell again though I died therefor —

"Tell me," he said, "my comrade old,

Tell me about my Emperor ! "


A law well kept in Otaheite saith :
" Speak not the Monarch's name on pain of death ! "

High on his throne majestic Wrong
Triumphant sate, and all in awe

Paid homage due — amid the throng
Was none so supple-kneed as Law.

The patriot at the shrine of Self
With hardly more devotion bowed,

The trader eager-eyed for pelf,
The pulpit politician loud,

And all the mob of caste and class,
Before the throne with tribute drew

And groveled low, as loth to pass ;
But no man spake the name taboo,

Till Freedom's poet came and sung,
And slaves of Slavery in shame

No longer held the servile tongue —
For all men spake the tyrant's name.


Need we tell the stirring story of the builders of

the Town
Where the record of their glory every stone hath

written down ?

Do we look beyond the ripeness, to the sapling or

the root ?
Nay, we know the tree is healthy — we have tasted

of the fruit.

Fair and stately is the city, from the lowly hamlet
grown ;

But its strength is ruled and measured by the hid-
den corner-stone.

Not in darkness, but in wisdom, wrought the pre-
scient pioneers,

Hewing pathways, building bridges, for the march-
ing of the years.


For the glorious procession that their eyes might

never see
Of the serried ages moving to the light of Liberty ;

Moving slowly, footsore, weary, for the road is dark

and long,
Every passage barred by Power, every hilltop held

by Wrong ;

Till the dawn of Freedom breaketh, with the prom-
ised land in view,

Where the simple many toil not for the strong and
cunning few,

Where the worker knows no master, and the thinker

takes no heed
Of the morrow lest he perish in the selfish game of


Naught the Fathers recked of hardships, naught

of triumphs sorely won ;
They but saw the day's endeavor and the duty to

be done.

For they said : " The sum we know not, but God

keeps the score in sight \
Every cipher makes it tenfold, if you place it to the



Who hath faith may move a mountain. Aye, for

faith shall move the man,
And the strong arm of the righteous carry out the

heavenly plan.

So in sacrifice and travail, as a coral island grows,
With the builders for its ramparts, line by line the
structure rose.

Not on perishable columns be their faithful names

enrolled ;
Not in fleeting song or story be their valiant actions


But by sons who stand for honor, in the council, on

the field ;
By unspotted civic virtue, Freedom's sword and

spear and shield j

By the simple faith and courage left in heritage and

trust, —
Shall the City hold its charter, when the parchment

turns to dust !


The vilest work of vilest man,

The cup that drugs, the sword that slays,
The purchased kiss of courtesan,

The lying tongue of blame or praise,

The cobra's fang, the tiger's spring,
The python's murderous embrace —

The wrath of any living thing —
A man may fear but bravely face.

But thou, cold Mother, knowest naught
Of love, or hate, or joy, or woe ;

Thy bounties come to man unsought,
Thy curses fall on friend and foe.

Thou bearest balm upon thy breath,

Or sowest poison in the air ;
And if man reapeth life or death,

Thou dost not know, thou dost not care.


Thou art God's instrument of fate,
Obedient, mighty, soulless, blind,

No demon to propitiate,
No deity in love enshrined.

Let him who turns from God away
To Bel or Moloch bend the knee,

Defile his soul to wood or clay,
Or thrill with Voudoo's ecstasy,

Seek any fetich undivine,

Be any superstition's thrall —

From Heaven or Hell will come a sign,
But thou alone art deaf to all.


It is not wisdom to be over-wise :

At twenty, one knows all ; at thirty, less ;

Happy if even then his blindness he may guess,

Ere forty open his conceited eyes

To their own blankness, with severe surprise, —

Thrice happy if his folly he confess,

Who thought to find his perfect happiness

In tepid Friendship's unpoetic guise.

A timid sailor of the temperate zone,
I said : " Joy dwells not North, nor East, nor West,
Nor anywhere save in the sea-ways known
Where consort souls find harmony and rest " —
Till sudden Southward was my shallop blown,
And then, at last, I knew that Love was best.


This is the tale that was told to me

By a battered and shattered son of the sea,

To me and my messmate, Silas Green,
When I was a guileless young marine.

T was the good ship Gyascutus,

All in the China seas,
With the wind a- lee and the capstan free

To catch the summer breeze.

'T was Captain Porgie on the deck,
To his mate in the mizzen hatch,

While the boatswain bold, in the forward hold.
Was winding his larboard watch.

"Oh, how does our good ship head to-night ?

Mow heads our gallant craft ? "
" Oh, she heads to the E. S. W. by \.,

And the binnacle lies abaft I "



" Oh, what does the quadrant indicate,
And how does the sextant stand ? "

" Oh, the sextant 's down to the freezing point,
And the quadrant 's lost a hand ! "

" Oh, and if the quadrant has lost a hand
And the sextant falls so low,
It 's our bodies and bones to Davy Jones
This night are bound to go !

" Oh, fly aloft to the garboard strake !
And reef the spanker boom ;
Bend a studding-sail on the martingale,
To give her weather room.

" O boatswain, down in the for'ard hold,

What water do you find ? "
" Four foot and a half by the royal gaff

And rather more behind ! "

" O sailors, collar your marline spikes
And each belaying-pin ;
Come, stir your stumps and spike the pumps,
Or more will be coming in ! "

They stirred their stumps, they spiked the pumps,
They spliced the mizzen brace ;


Aloft and alow they worked, but oh !
The water gained apace.

They bored a hole above the keel

To let the water out ;
But, strange to say, to their dismay,

The water in did spout.

Then up spoke the Cook of our gallant ship.
And he was a lubber brave :
w I have several wives in various ports,
And my life 1 "d orter save."

Then up spoke the Captain of Marines,
Who dearly loved his prog :
" It 's awful to die, and it 's worse to be dry,
And I move we pipes to grog."

Oh, then \ was the noble second mate
What filled them all with awe :

The second mate, as bad men hate,
And cruel skippers jaw.

He took the anchor on his back

And leaped into the main ;
Through foam and spray he clove his way,

And sunk anil rose again I


Through foam and spray, a league away

The anchor stout he bore ;
Till, safe at last, he made it fast

And warped the ship ashore !

'T ain't much of a job to talk about,

But a ticklish thing to see,
And suth'in to do, if I say it, too,

For that second mate was me !

Such was the tale that was told to me
By that modest and truthful son of the sea ;
And I envy the life of a second mate,
Though captains curse him and sailors hate,,
For he ain't like some of the swabs I Ve seen,
As would go and lie to a poor marine.


The star you seem to see, love,
With eyes more bright and clear,

All dark and dead may be, love,
This many a hundred year.

But though its fires may never

Send forth another ray,
That beam through space forever

Shall wing its shining way.

So, spite of saints and sages

And maxims manifold,

Love lives through all the ages,

Though hope be dead and cold.





Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBallads of blue water and other poems → online text (page 2 of 3)