James Jeffrey Roche

(1847-1908 / Ireland)

The Constitution's Last Fight - Poem by James Jeffrey Roche

A Yankee ship and a Yankee crew—

Constitution
, where ye bound for?
Wherever, my lad, there's fight to be had,
Acrost the Western Ocean.

Our captain was married in Boston town,
And sailed next day to sea;
For all must go when the State says so;
Blow high, blow low, sailed we.

“Now what shall I bring for a bridal gift
When my home-bound pennant flies?
The rarest that be on land or sea
It shall be my lady’s prize.”

“There's never a prize on sea or land
Could bring such joy to me
As my true love sound and homeward bound
With a king’s ship under his lee.”

The Western Ocean is wide and deep,
And wild its tempests blow,
But bravely rides “Old Ironsides,”
A-cruising to and fro.

We cruised to the east and we cruised to the north,
And southing far went we,
And at last off Cape de Verd we raised
Two frigates sailing free.

Oh, God made man, and man made ships,
But God makes very few
Like him who sailed our ship that day,
And fought her, one to two.

He gained the weather-gage of both,
He held them both a-lee;
And gun for gun, till set of sun,
He spoke them fair and free;

Till the night-fog fell on spar and sail,
And ship and sea and shore,
And our only aim was the bursting flame,
And the hidden cannon’s roar.

Then a lifting rift in the mist showed up
The stout
Cyane
close-hauled
To swing in our wake and our quarter rake,
And a boasting Briton bawled:

“Starboard and larboard we've got him fast
Where his heels won’t take him through;
Let him luff or wear, he'll find us there—
Ho, Yankee, which will you do?”

We did not luff and we did nor wear,
But braced our topsails back,
Till the steinway drew us fair and true
Broadsides athwart her track.

Athwart her track and across her bows
We raked her fore and aft,
And out of the fight and into the night
Drifted the beaten craft.

The slow
Levant
came up too late;
No need had we to stir.
Her decks we swept with fire, and kept
The flies from troubling her.

We raked her again, and her flag came down,
The haughtiest flag that floats,
And the lime-juice dogs lay there like logs,
With never a bark in their throats.

With never a bark and never a bite,
But only an oath, to break,
As we squared away for Praya Bay
With our prizes in our wake.

Parole they gave and parole they broke,
What matters the cowardly cheat,
If the captain’s bride was satisfied
With the one prize laid at her feet?

A Yankee ship and a Yankee crew—

Constitution
, where ye bound for?
Wherever the British prizes be,
Though it's one to two, or one to three —
“Old Ironsides” means victory,
Acrost the Western Ocean!


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Poem Submitted: Friday, September 17, 2010



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