Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE BATTLE OF CHARLESTON HARBOR, by PAUL HAMILTON HAYNE



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THE BATTLE OF CHARLESTON HARBOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Two hours, or more, beyond the prime of a blithe april day
Last Line: And thou in clear-eyed faith hast seen god's angels near the guns!
Subject(s): American Civil War; Charleston, South Carolina; Fort Sumter, South Carolina; Holidays; Memorial Day; United States - History; Declaration Day


Two hours, or more, beyond the prime of a blithe April day,
The Northmen's mailed "Invincibles" steamed up fair Charleston Bay;
They came in sullen file, and slow, low-breasted on the wave,
Black as a midnight front of storm, and silent as the grave.

A thousand warrior-hearts beat high as those dread monsters drew
More closely to the game of death across the breezeless blue,
And twice ten thousand hearts of those who watch the scene afar,
Thrill in the awful hush that bides the battle's broadening star.

Each gunner, moveless by his gun, with rigid aspect stands,
The reedy linstocks firmly grasped in bold untrembling hands,
So moveless in their marbled calm, their stern, heroic guise,
They look like forms of statued stone with burning human eye!

Our banners on the outmost walls, with stately rustling fold,
Flash back from arch and parapet the sunlight's ruddy gold, --
They mount to the deep roll of drums, and widely echoing cheers,
And then, once more, dark, breathless, hushed, wait the
grim cannoneers.

Onward, in sullen file, and slow, low-glooming on the wave,
Near, nearer still, the haughty fleet glides silent as the grave,
When shivering the portentous calm o'er startled flood and shore,
Broke from the sacred Island Fort the thunder-wrath of yore!

Ha! brutal Corsairs! though ye come thrice-cased in iron mail,
Beware the storm that's opening now, God's vengeance guides the hail!
Ye strive, the ruffian types of Might, 'gainst law and
truth and Right;
Now quail beneath a sturdier Power, and own a mightier Might!

The storm has burst! and while we speak, more furious, wilder, higher,
Dart from the circling batteries a hundred tongues of fire;
The waves gleam red, the lurid vault of heaven seems rent above --
Fight on, O knightly gentlemen! for faith, and home, and love!

There's not, in all that line of flame, one soul that would not rise
To seize the victor's wreath of blood, though death must
give the prize;
There's not, in all this anxious crowd that throngs the ancient town,
A maid who does not yearn for power to strike one foeman down!

The conflict deepens! ship by ship the proud Armada sweeps,
Where fierce from Sumter's raging breast the volleyed lightning leaps;
And ship by ship, raked, overborne, ere burned the sunset light,
Crawls in the gloom of baffled hate beyond the field of fight!

O glorious Empress of the Main! from out thy storied spires
Thou well mayst peal thy bells of joy, and light thy festal fires, --
Since Heaven this day hath striven for thee, hath nerved
thy dauntless sons,
And thou in clear-eyed faith hast seen God's angels near the guns!





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