Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SIR WALTER'S HONOR, by MARGARET JUNKIN PRESTON



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SIR WALTER'S HONOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: With drooping sail and shattered mast
Last Line: "before dishonor—death!"
Subject(s): Honor; Raleigh, Sir Walter (1552-1618)


WITH drooping sail and shattered mast,
Sir Walter's galleons lay
Beyond the bar, but soon they cast
Anchor in Plymouth Bay.

He leaped to shore with bated breath,
For there, right full in view,
Stood his fair wife, Elizabeth,
And his fair son, Carew.

And while he soothed her pale alarms,
With words all passion-sweet,
He heard a troop of men-at-arms
Come clattering down the street.

Sir Lewis quickly drew his blade,
As from his steed he sprang,
And on his kinsman's shoulder laid
Its weight, with sudden clang.

He gave no greet; but on the ear
His words did sharply ring—
"Sir Walter, I arrest thee here,
By mandate of the King!"

"'What hath he done?' Why, treason's taint
Hung o'er his head of old;
And he hath failed, though thrice he sailed,
To find the mine of gold.

'Twas midnight; but in Plymouth yet
Went on the wassail-bout,
The early moon was just a-set,
And all the stars were out.

When at Sir Walter's prison bars
A muffled tap was heard;
And as his ear was bent to hear,
He caught the whispered word:—

"Quick, father! catch thy doublet up,
Without a moment's stay:
Before they drain their latest cup,
We must be far away.

My mother at the water's brink,
Waits, all her fears awake;
And if escape should fail—I think—
I think her heart will break!"

Too much! His bravery shrank to meet
The weight of such a blow;
And springing instant to his feet,
He answered—"I will go!"

Across the star-lit stream they steal,
Without one uttered word,
The waters gurgling at the keel
Was all the sound they heard.

"Put back the boat! Nay, Sweet, no moan!
Thy love is so divine,
That thou wouldst rather die than own
A craven heart were mine!

My purse, good oarsman! Pull thy best,
And we may make the shore
Before the latest trencher-guest
Hath left the Warder's door.

Hist! not one other pleading word:

But thou, my boy, Carew,
Shalt pledge thy vow, even here, and now,
That—faithful, tried and true—

Thou'lt choose, whatever stress may rise,
Whilst thou hast life and breath
Before temptation—sacrifice!
Before dishonor—death!"

The boatman turned, he dared not bide,
Nor say Sir Walter nay;
And with his oars against the tide
He labored up the bay.

And when beside the water-stair,
With grief no words can tell,
They braced themselves at length to bear
The wrench of the farewell—

The boy, with proud, yet tear-dimmed eyes,
Kept murmuring, under breath:
—"Before temptation—sacrifice!
Before dishonor—death!"





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