The Admiral's Ghost Poem by Alfred Noyes

The Admiral's Ghost

Rating: 3.7

I tell you a tale to-night
Which a seaman told to me,
With eyes that gleamed in the lanthorn light
And a voice as low as the sea.

You could almost hear the stars
Twinkling up in the sky,
And the old wind woke and moaned in the spars
And the same old waves went by.

Singing the same old song
As ages and ages ago,
While he froze my blood in that deep-sea night
With the things he seemed to know.

A bare foot pattered on deck;
Ropes creaked; then-all grew still,
And he pointed his finger straight in my face
And growled, as a sea-dog will.

'Do 'ee know who Nelson was?
That pore little shrivelled form
With the patch on his eye and the pinned-up sleeve
And a soul like a North Sea storm?

'Ask of the Devonshire men!
They know, and they'll tell you true;
He wasn't the pore little chawed-up chap
That Hardy thought he knew.

'He wasn't the man you think!
His patch was a dern disguise!
For he knew that they'd find him out, d'you see,
If they looked him in both his eyes.

'He was twice as big as he seemed;
But his clothes were cunningly made.
He'd both of his hairy arms alright!
The sleeve was a trick of the trade.

'You've heard of sperrits, no doubt;
Well there's more in the matter than that!
But he wasn't the patch and he wasn't the sleeve,
And he wasn't the laced cocked-hat.

'Nelson was just-a Ghost!
You may laugh! But the Devonshire men
They knew that he'd come when England called,
And they know that he'll come again.

'I'll tell you the way it was
(For none of the landsmen know) ,
And to tell it you right, you must go a-starn
Two hundred years or so.

* * * * * * *

'The waves were lapping and slapping
The same as they are today;
And Drake lay dying aboard his ship
In Nobre Dios Bay.

'The scent of foreign flowers
Came floating all around;
'But I'd give my soul for the smell o' the pitch, '
Says he, 'in Plymouth Sound.

''What shall I do, ' he says,
'When the guns begin to roar,
An' England wants me, and me not there
To shatter 'er fores once more? '

'(You've heard what he said, maybe,
But I'll mark you the p'ints again;
For I want you to box your compass right
And get my story plain.)

' 'You must take my drum', he says,
'To the old sea-wall at home;
And if ever you strike that drum, ' he says,
'Why, strike me blind, I'll come!

''If England needs me, dead
Or living, I'll rise that day!
I'll rise from the darkness under the sea
Ten thousand miles away.'

'That's what he said; and he died;
An' his pirates, listenin' roun'
With their crimson doublets and jewelled swords
That flashed as the sun went down.

'They sewed him up in his shroud
With a round-shot top and toe,
To sink him under the salt-sharp sea
Where all good seamen go.

'They lowered him down in the deep,
And there in the sunset light
They boomed a broadside over his grave,
As meaning to say 'Good night.'

'They sailed away in the dark
To the dear little isle they knew;
And they hung his drum by the old sea-wall
The same as he told them to.

* * * * * * *

'Two hundred years went by,
And the guns began to roar,
And England was fighting hard for her life,
As ever she fought of yore.

''It's only my dead that count, '
She said, as she says today;
'It isn't the ships and it isn't the guns
'Ull sweep Trafalgar's Bay.'

'D'you guess who Nelson was?
You may laugh, but it's true as true!
There was more in that pore little chawed-up chap
Than ever his best friend knew.

'The foe was creepin' close,
In the dark, to our white-cliffed isle;
They were ready to leap at England's throat,
When-O, you may smile, you may smile;

'But-ask of the Devenshire men;
For they heard in the dead of night
The roll of a drum, and they saw him pass
On a ship all shining white.

'He stretched out his dead cold face
And he sailed in the grand old way!
The fishes had taken an eye and his arm,
But he swept Trafalgar's Bay.

'Nelson-was Francis Drake!
O, what matters the uniform,
Or the patch on your eye or your pinned-up sleeve,
If your soul's like a North Sea storm? '

James Boswell 18 March 2009

I used to slip to the back of the room in the seventh grade ca.1952 and read this poem in a book I found there. It inevitably made shivers go up my back as I got to the end of it. For many years, I wished I could find it somewhere and read it again. (I had no idea who had written it.) Due to the wonders of the internet, I was able to find it just by remembering 'if your soul's like a North Sea storm.' Today I find it a wee bit 'doggerel-ish', but it still has power to move me, even if not with all the power of that erstwhile childhood shudder.

8 4 Reply
Ellwood Howard 26 January 2009

I first read this poem in my early teens. I had a collection of old books my mom had in a box and this poem was in one of them. I am surprised the Nelson Society didn't have it. Alfred Noyes was well known and I an sure the poem was well circulated. Its a good hearty story though. One I will always remember.

6 4 Reply
Joanne West Cornish 28 January 2008

This poem was submitted to this forum upon my finding it in an old book of children's verses. I had been looking for it for years, having remembered only a few lines from my childhood. I subsequently submitted it to the prestigious Nelson Society in the UK. They have credited me with finding it on their website, even though Noyes was a Poet Laureate of England and they had not heard of the poem. Their only comment was that Nelson didn't wear a patch but that it was a colourful piece of work. It is a haunting, memorable bit of dramatic poetry.

5 4 Reply
Robert Murray Smith 17 May 2018

This poem speaks to all who don't believe in ghosts. Wonderfully penned and executed.+++10

1 1 Reply
Susan Williams 17 May 2018

What a story! I enjoyed everything about it from a storytelling view point. Then you add in his poetic skills and the story flows from line to line with no bumps and jerks from forcing rhymes. But of course you should expect excellence from the author of The Highwayman!

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Phil Anderson 07 April 2023

One of the more inspiring poets to me. Love his hints of ghosts, horror, and his sense of lore, even for when this was written which makes it timeless.

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Varsha M 18 May 2019

Completely dipped in sea sublime I witness a journey Full of sea tales. Well narrated poetry touching every element.

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Kevin Patrick 17 May 2019

Noyes is an expressive storyteller, he captures that era of mythic hero making, proselytizing Nelson as one of the greatest icons of the British empire (rightfully so) . Nelson comes off as a larger then life being, whose spirit still sails within the British Empire spirit. His strength and nobility come through in Noyes words, making him almost supernatural. Interestingly this poem reminds me of Rime of The Ancient Mariner, its almost a spiritual remake of that classic.

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Ratnakar Mandlik 17 May 2019

A great classic poem dealing with the story of the ghost of admiral Nelson, a fantastic style of narration has made this poem very impressive.

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Kumarmani Mahakul 17 May 2019

Visited this poem for second time which is much interesting to read like a lovely story. I am happy that this poem has been selected as the poem of the day for second time.

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