Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE INVINCIBLE ARMADA, 1588, by LEWIS MORRIS (1833-1907)

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE INVINCIBLE ARMADA, 1588, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: Tis a fair eve at midsummer, three hundred years ago
Last Line: May she find sons as strong as those who broke the might of spain!
Subject(s): Spanish Armada

'TIS a fair eve at midsummer, three hundred years ago,
Drake and his bold sea captains all are out on Plymouth Hoe;
They are busy at bowls, brave gentlemen, with jovial mirth and jest,
When watching eyes spy far away a sail upon the West.

A sail! ten sail! a hundred sail! nay nigh two hundred strong!
And up the sea they swiftly climb in battle order long;
Their high main-royals rake the skies, as in a crescent wide,
Like a thick wood, full seven miles broad, they sail on side by side.

There is swift alarm and hurry then, but never a thought of fear,
As the seamen, with the falling night, behold the Don draw near.
"Ring out the bells," cries Hawkins, and across the darkling main,
England peals out defiance to the gathered hosts of Spain.

They do not fear the Don, not they, who on the Spanish main,
Have fought his might and lowered his pride, again and yet again;
And yet 'tis fearful odds they face, when they sail forth to meet,
Spain and her great Armada with the puny English fleet.

And the streets grow thronged with seamen, and the crowds begin to shout,
And quick oars dash and sails are set, before the stars come out.
They weigh their anchors with a will, and out they speed to sea,
Where up the Channel, stately, slowly, forge the enemy.

Now St. George for merry England, and St. James for Papal Spain,
Our seamen are our chiefest hope, nor shall we trust in vain.
We have quenched the fires of Smithfield, and no more, 'fore God, we swear,
Shall they ever again flame upward, through our sweet, free, English air.

Now when they neared the foeman, as he loomed across the sea,
Lord Howard led the English van, a Catholic Lord was he,
And his great Ark Royal thundered out her broadsides loud and long,
With Drake and Frobisher hard by, and heroes in a throng.

But never a gun the Spaniards fired, but silent ploughed and slow,
As bisons in a sullen herd across the prairies go;
And behind them close, like hunters swift, with hounds that snarl and bite;
The English squadrons followed through the breezy summer night.

They could see the Dons' high lanterns, in a brilliant crescent flare,
They could catch the Black Friars' moaning chant upon the midnight air.
All night they pressed them close, and ere the sun began to flame,
Long miles away, by blue Torbay, the warring galleons came.

Soon as the dawn began to glow, the guns began to roar,
All day the thundering navies fought along the Dorset shore,
Till Portland frowned before them, in the distance dark and grim,
And again the night stole downward, and the ghostly cliffs grew dim.

And already, praised be God, who guides the patriots' noble strife,
Though not an English flag is lost, and scarce an English life,
De Valdez yields his ship and sword, and into Weymouth Bay,
They tow Oquenda's burning bark, the galleon of Biscay.

Day fades in night, 'mid stress of fight, and when to waking eyes,
Freshwater's ghostly sea cliffs, and the storm-worn Needles rise,
From a score of sheltered inlets on the smiling Solent sea,
England comes forth to aid her sons, with all her chivalry.

There sails my Lord of Cumberland, and he of Oxford too,
Brave Raleigh and Northumberland, and Grenville and Carew.
As to a field of honour hasten knights of deathless fame,
To meet the blue blood of Castile, the flower of England came.

Then with the wind, the foe faced round, and hissing o'er the blue,
Forth from his lofty broadsides vast his hurtling missiles flew;
Long time the fight confusedly raged, each man for his own hand;
St. George! protect our country, and the freedom of our land!

See here round brave Ricaldes thick the English levies press!
See there the keels from London town, hemmed round and in distress!
Such thunder sure upon the seas was never heard before,
As the great ordnance smite the skies with one unceasing roar!

Now when the fifth day of the fight was come, St. James's Day,
The sea was like a sheet of glass, the wind had died away,
And from out the smoke clouds looming vast, churning the deep to foam,
Driven by three hundred oars the towering galliasses come.

But ere they neared the English line, a furious iron hail
Of chain-shot and of grape-shot crashed through mast and oar and sail;
No more they could, they turned and fled, upon our English sea,
Not yet such furious hatred raged, or stubborn bravery.

And upon the steep white walls of cliff and by the yellow sand,
With pike and musket hurrying down the sturdy peasants stand,
And the trembling women kneel and call upon the Holy name,
And watch the thick black cloud which bursts in murderous jets of flame.

Now St. George for our old England! for the Don has turned and fled,
With many a strong ship sunk or burnt, and gallant seaman dead,
And by the last day of the week, the warring squadrons lie,
The foeman moored in Calais roads, the English watching by.

They sent for aid to Parma, for they were sore beset,
But the Duke was at St. Mary's shrine, and could not succour yet,
For by Nieuport and by Dunkirk, stern, immovable as Fate,
With stalwart ships, and ordnance strong, the Dutchmen guard the gate.

Now that great Sabbath dawns at last, and from the foeman's fleet,
The deep mass-music rises, and the incense sickly-sweet,
And beneath the flag of England, stern, with dauntless hearts and high,
The seamen take the bread and wine, and rise prepared to die.

Then came Lord Henry Seymour, with a message from Her Grace,
And Sir Francis read the missive with grave triumph on his face,
And he sware an oath, that come what would, her orders should be done
Before the early rose of dawn proclaimed the coming sun.

And the summer daylight faded, and 'twas midnight on the wave,
And among the close-moored galleons, all was silent as the grave,
And the bright poop lanterns rose and fell with the breathing of the deep,
And silent rode the towering hulls, with the weary crews asleep.

When two brave men of Devon, for Sir Francis bade them go,
With all sail set before the wind, stole down upon the foe;
And before the drowsy watchmen woke, the swift destruction came,
As with a blaze of wildfire leapt the fireships into flame!

Then from the close-thronged ships of Spain loud cries of terror rise,
As from their burning ranks the glare flares upward to the skies,
With cables cut, and sails half set, they drift into the night,
And many are crushed, and many burn, and some are sunk outright.

And the watchers on the Dover Cliffs know well what thing has been,
And for noble England cheer aloud, and for her Maiden Queen.
No more, no more, great England, shalt thou bow thy head again
Beneath the Holy Office and the tyranny of Spain!

And the conquering English followed, and upon the Flanders shore,
Hopeless the shattered galleons fought, till fight they could no more.
And some went down with all their crews, and some beat helplessly
Upon the yeasty quicksands of the perilous Northern Sea.

Then Sidonia with the remnant, shattered ships and wounded men,
Fled northward, with the foe in chase, hoping for Spain again;
But by the Orkneys, lo! the Lord blew with a mighty wind,
And on the cruel Irish West they left two score behind.

And the savage kerns of Desmond, when the stormy winds were o'er,
Robbed the thronged corpses of the great, upon the lonely shore.
There, in his gold-laced satins, lay the Prince of Ascule,
'Mid friars, and seamen drowned and dead, and Dons of high degree.

Or faint with hunger and with thirst, though rescued from the wave,
The haughty Spaniards knew in turn the misery of the slave.
They ate the captives' bitter bread, they who brief weeks ago
Sailed forth in high disdain and pride to lay our England low.

And the scattered remnant labouring back to Spain and life again,
Left fourscore gallant ships behind and twice ten thousand men;
And when in dole and misery this great emprise was done,
There was scarce a palace in all Castile which did not mourn a son.

Let not their land forget the men who fought so good a fight!
Still shall our England keep undimmed their fame, their memory bright.
And if again the foemen come in power upon the main,
May she find sons as strong as those who broke the might of Spain!

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