The Great War

from A Treasury of War Poetry, an electronic edition

The "William P. Frye"

I saw her first abreast the Boston Light

At anchor; she had just come in, turned head,

And sent her hawsers creaking, clattering down.

I was so near to where the hawse-pipes fed

The cable out from her careening bow,

I moved up on the swell, shut steam and lay

Hove to in my old launch to look at her.

She'd come in light, a-skimming up the Bay

Like a white ghost with topsails bellying full;

And all her noble lines from bow to stern

Made music in the wind; it seemed she rode

The morning air like those thin clouds that turn

Into tall ships when sunrise lifts the clouds

From calm sea-courses.

There, in smoke-smudged coats,

Lay funnelled liners, dirty fishing-craft,

Blunt cargo-luggers, tugs, and ferry-boats.

Oh, it was good in that black-scuttled lot

To see the Frye come lording on her way

Like some old queen that we had half forgot

Come to her own. A little up the Bay

The Fort lay green, for it was springtime then;

The wind was fresh, rich with the spicy bloom

Of the New England coast that tardily

Escapes, late April, from an icy tomb.

The State-house glittered on old Beacon Hill,

Gold in the sun.... 'T was all so fair awhile;

But she was fairest -- this great square-rigged ship

That had blown in from some far happy isle

On from the shores of the Hesperides.

They caught her in a South Atlantic road

Becalmed, and found her hold brimmed up with wheat;

"Wheat's contrabrand," they said, and blew her hull

To pieces, murdered one of our staunch fleet,

Fast dwindling, of the big old sailing ships

That carry trade for us on the high sea

And warped out of each harbor in the States.

It was n't law, so it seems strange to me --

A big mistake. Her keel's struck bottom now

And her four masts sunk fathoms, fathoms deep

To Davy Jones. The dank seaweed will root

On her oozed decks, and the cross-surges sweep

Through the set sails; but never, never more

Her crew will stand away to brace and trim,

Nor sea-blown petrels meet her thrashing up

To windward on the Gulf Stream's stormy rim;

Never again she'll head a no'theast gale

Or like a spirit loom up, sliding dumb,

And ride in safe beyond the Boston Light,

To make the harbor glad because she's come.