October 21: 1805
Heard ye the thunder of battle
Low in the South and afar?
Saw ye the flash of the death-cloud
Crimson o’er Trafalgar?
Such another day never
England will look on again,
When the battle fought was the hottest,
And the hero of heroes was slain!
For the fleet of France and the force of Spain were
gather’d for fight,
A greater than Philip their lord, a new Armada in might:—
And the sails were aloft once more in the deep Gaditanian bay,
Where Redoubtable and Bucentaure and great Trinidada lay;
Eager-reluctant to close; for across the bloodshed to be
Two navies beheld one prize in its glory,—the throne of the sea!
Which were bravest, who should tell? for both were gallant and true;
But the greatest seaman was ours, of all that sail’d o’er the blue.
From Cadiz the enemy sallied: they knew not Nelson was there; His name a navy to us, but to them a flag of despair. ’Twixt Algeziras and Ayamonte he guarded the coast, Till he bore from Tavira south; and they now must fight, or be lost;— Vainly they steer’d for the Rock and the Midland sheltering sea, For he headed the Admirals round, constraining them under his lee, Villeneuve of France, and Gravina of Spain: so they shifted their ground, They could choose,—they were more than we;—and they faced at Trafalgar round; Rampart-like ranged in line, a sea-fortress angrily tower’d! In the midst, four-storied with guns, the dark Trinidada lower’d.
So with those.—But meanwhile, as against some dyke that men massively rear, From on high the torrent surges, to drive through the dyke as a spear, Eagled-eyed e’en in his blindness, our chief sets his double array, Making the fleet two spears, to thrust at the foe, any way, . . . ’Anyhow!—without orders, each captain his Frenchman may grapple perforce: Collingwood first’ (yet the Victory ne’er a whit slacken’d her course) ‘Signal for action! Farewell! we shall win, but we meet not again!’ —Then a low thunder of readiness ran from the decks o’er the main, And on,—as the message from masthead to masthead flew out like a flame, ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY,—they came.
—Silent they come:—While the thirty black forts of the foeman’s array Clothe them in billowy snow, tier speaking o’er tier as they lay; Flashes that thrust and drew in, as swords when the battle is rife;— But ours stood frowningly smiling, and ready for death as for life. —O in that interval grim, ere the furies of slaughter embrace, Thrills o’er each man some far echo of England; some glance of some face! —Faces gazing seaward through tears from the ocean-girt shore; Faces that ne’er can be gazed on again till the death-pang is o’er. . . . Lone in his cabin the Admiral kneeling, and all his great heart As a child’s to the mother, goes forth to the loved one, who bade him depart . . . O not for death, but glory! her smile would welcome him home! —Louder and thicker the thunderbolts fall:—and silent they come.