Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CHANGE OF FLAGS, by ARTHUR GUITERMAN



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THE CHANGE OF FLAGS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A flurried scud of sunlit sails
Last Line: "that wrought the battle-blade!"
Subject(s): England; Flags; Freedom; Spain; English; Liberty


A FLURRIED scud of sunlit sails
To make the sheltered port;
A flash of steel, a trumpet-peal
Within the seaward fort;
The grave-browed burgomasters
Have sought the council-hall;
Van Dyck has raised the yeomanry
To man the northern wall;
The Watch is up with ancient arms
That foiled the steel of Spain,
And groups of anxious burghers
Are clustered on The Plain.

And here is Abram Pietersen,
And hither from The Strand
Comes stalwart Borger Joris,
His hammer in his hand.
The vrouws have left their bread to burn,
The children leave their play --
"The Englishmen! the Englishmen!
Their ships are in the Bay!"

The stubborn Heer Direktor
Upon the rampart's height
Roused up his keen-eyed gunners,
Their linstocks blazing bright:
"Now make your weapons ready,
And hold your courage high!
(I'll hear the cannon's music
Once more before I die!)
And show these haughty English
That ye are of the strain
That held the walls of Leyden
Against the might of Spain!"

A hand upon his shoulder
And Peter turned in pride;
The Dominie, his comrade,
Was standing at his side.
"Old friend, and trusty soldier,"
That man of God began,
"I know thy heart of courage
That fears not any man;
Yet save thy helpless city!
Provoke not ruthless war!
Alone, surrounded, friendless,
Outnumbered as we are.

Our sires held leagured Leyden
By spear and carronade;
But faithful Father William
Had sworn to bear them aid.
But spare a helpless people,
Beset on every hand,
Divorced by leagues of ocean
From home and fatherland!"

Then paused the stern Direktor,
While through a dimming mist
He viewed his little city
He clenched his iron fist
And smote the useless cannon.
"Thou speakest truth!" he said;
"I yield! -- but, God in heaven!
I would that I were dead!"

Then, shoulder touching shoulder,
With drum and trumpet-peal,
The princely flag of Orange
Above their caps of steel,
The city's stanch defenders
Marched shoreward, unashamed;
And, red against the heavens
The flag of England flamed.

An angry man was Joris
Beside the blazing forge
To see above the rampart
The banner of St. George!
"So! must we swear allegiance
And bow our necks?" quoth he,
"And pay our tithes to puppets
Of kings beyond the sea?
What boot to fashion plowshares
And scythes, but hapless toil!
Oh, had I beaten broadswords
Ye might have held your soil!

"Ho! freemen! leave the city
For dukes to make or mar!
We'll raise our rugged hamlets
Among the hills afar;
And there I'll hammer sabers
For better men to use;
We'll breed a race of soldiers!
A race with hearts and thews!
Our children's children's children
Perchance may live to fling
Away these galling shackles
And scorn the tyrant king;
And when they've struck for freedom,
And when our debt is paid,
They'll think on Borger Joris
That wrought the battle-blade!"





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