Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume III by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume III by  Mara L. Pratt

The Lost War-Sloop

("The Wasp," 1814)

O, the pride of Portsmouth water,

Toast of every brimming beaker,—

Eighteen hundred and fourteen on land and sea—

Was the "Wasp," the gallant war-sloop,

Built of oaks Kearsarge had guarded,

Pines of Maine to lift her colors high and free!

Every timber scorning cowards:

Every port alert for foemen

From the masthead seen on weather-side or lee;—

With eleven guns to starboard,

And eleven guns to larboard,

All for glory on a morn of May sailed she.

British ships were in the offing;

Swift and light she sped between them,—

Well her daring crew knew shoal and wind and tide;

They had come from Portsmouth river,

Sea-girt Marblehead and Salem,

Bays and islands where the fisher-folk abide;

Come for love of home and country,

Come with wrongs that cried for vengeance,—

Every man among them brave and true and tried.

"Hearts of oak" are British seamen?

Hearts of fire were these their kindred,

Flaming till the haughty foe should be descried!

From the mountains, from the prairies

Blew the west winds glad to waft her;—

Ah, what goodly ships before her guns went down!

Ships with wealth of London laden,

Ships with treasures of the Indies,

Till her name brought fear to British wharf and town;

Till the war-sloops "Reindeer," "Avon,"

To her valor struck their colors,

Making coast and ocean ring with her renown;

While her captain cried exultant,

"Britain, to the bold Republic,

Of the empire of the seas shall yield the crown!"

Oh, the woeful, woeful ending

Of the pride of Portsmouth's water!

Never more to harbor or to shore came she?

Springs returned but brought no tidings;

Mothers, maidens broken-hearted

Wept the gallant lads that sailed away in glee.

Did the bolts of heaven blast her?

Did the hurricanes o'erwhelm her

With her starry banner and her tall masts three?

Was a pirate fleet her captor?

Did she drift to polar oceans?

Who shall tell the awful secret of the sea?

Who shall tell? yet many a sailor

In his watch at dawn or midnight,

When the wind is wildest and the black waves moan,

Sees a staunch three-master looming;

Hears the hurried calls to quarters,

The drum's quick beat and the bugle fiercely blown;—

Then the cannon's direful thunder

Echoes far along the billows;

Then the victor's shout for the foe overthrown;—

And the watcher knows the phantom

Is the "Wasp," the gallant war-sloop,

Still a rover of the seas and glory's own!

—Edna Dean Proctor.

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