Francis Hastings Doyle

The Loss Of The Birkenhead

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Right on our flank the crimson sun went down,
The deep sea rolled around in dark repose,
When, like the wild shriek from some captured town,
A cry of women rose.

The stout ship Birkenhead lay hard and fast,
Caught, without hope, upon a hidden rock;
Her timbers thrilled as nerves, when through them passed
The spirit of that shock.

And ever like base cowards, who leave their ranks
In danger's hour, before the rush of steel,
Drifted away, disorderly, the planks
From underneath her keel.

Confusion spread,for, though the coast seemed near,
Sharks hovered thick along that white sea-brink.
The boats could hold? -- not all; and it was clear
She was about to sink.

"Out with those boats, and let us haste away,"
Cried one, "ere yet yon sea the bark devours."
The man thus clamoring was, I scarce need say,
No officer of ours.

We knew our duty better than to care
For such loose babblers, and made no reply,
Till our good colonel gave the word, and there
Formed us in line to die.

There rose no murmur from the ranks, no thought,
By shameful strength, unhonored life to seek;
Our post to quit we were not trained, nor taught
To trample down the weak.

So we made women with their children go,
The oars ply back again, and yet again;
Whilst, inch by inch, the drawning ship sank low,
Still under steadfast men.

What follows, why recall? The brave who died,
Died without flinching in the bloody surt;
They sleep as well, beneath that purple tide,
As others, under turf; --

They sleep as well, and, roused from thier wild grave,
Wearing their wounds like stars, shall rise again,
Joint-heirs with Christ, because they bled to save
His weak ones, not in vain.

If that day's work no clasp or medal mark,
If each proud heart no cross of bronze may press,
Nor cannon thunder loud from Tower and Park,
This feel we, none the less:

That those whom God's high grace there saved from ill --
Those also, left His martyrs in the bay --
Though not by siege, though not in battle, still
Full well had earned their pay.

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Francis Hastings Doyle