John Hay

(8 October 1838 – 1 July 1905 / Salem, Indiana)

After You, Pilot Poem by John Hay


Dawn gilded over dunes of sand
That border Mobile Bay
The fleet, which under Farragut
In expectation lay.
For ere that rising sun should set,
Full many a sailor bold
Should perish, leaving but a name
On history's page of gold.

Others have sung and yet shall sing
Of Farragut's renown:
How to the Hartford's maintop lashed
He gained his conqueror's crown.
Let others sing those deeds while we,
In sorrow and in pride,
Tell how one gallant gentleman
With high decorum died.

The Admiral came across the bar
With threescore flags in air,
The Gulf's blue mirror never glassed
A scene so sternly fair.
Over his fleet of eighteen ships
His dark eye proudly ran;
And Craven in the monitor
Tecumseh led the van.

Morgan and Gaines shot forth their fires
From either bellowing shore;
With deeper rage the fleet replied-
One thunderous, volleying roar.
But straight ahead bold Craven dashed
Upon the swelling tide,
To seek and smite the Tennessee,
The foeman's hope and pride.

A noble quarry! Seeking her,
Most worth his knightly steel,
He recked not of the leaking death
Beneath his gliding keel.

One moment in the conning tower
He thought of loved ones dear-
Then at the black foe's lowering bulk
He bade his pilot steer.

A roar, a shock, a shuddering plunge!
Full well did Craven know
No mortal skill might save his ship
Smit by that dastard blow.
The doom impending shrieked and beat
Its fatal wings so nigh
That only one might pass the stair
And one must pause, and die.

"After you, Pilot," Craven said.
O words of flawless fame!
Out of that awful moment bloomed
A pure, immortal name.
The pilot passed, the hero stayed;
Within that turret's round
Met glorious death and endless life
And faith by honor crowned.

The good ship plunged to ocean's ooze.
Forth from the flood and fire
Our reverence sees that gentle soul
To kindred heaven aspire;
And markswhen Craven stands beneath
God's hero-sheltering dome-
The shade of Philip Sidney rise
And bid him welcome home.

Submitted: Saturday, January 4, 2003

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