Saturday, August 09, 2008


The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.

The flames roll'd on...he would not go
Without his father's word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He call'd aloud..."Say, father, say
If yet my task is done!"
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

"Speak, father!" once again he cried
"If I may yet be gone!"
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames roll'd on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death,
In still yet brave despair;

And shouted but one more aloud,
"My father, must I stay?"
While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud
The wreathing fires made way,

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And stream'd above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound...
The boy-oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea.

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part;
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.

Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1826)


  1. I haven't read that poem for a long time. It is in my copy of The Best Loved Poems of the American People, a book that my dad used to read to us when we were kids.

  2. This really isn't trying to make a point - it's sheer curiosity: how many other of The Best Loved Poems of the American People were British?

    I could imagine a similar British popular anthology (this means assembled between 1900 and 1955 when people still read decent poetry) containing Longfellow and Poe, and maybe Emerson if in the early part of the period. All three later, plus Whitman and Emily Dickenson. But nothing later.

    I'm amazed (heartened, but amazed) that an American living today would know Capabianca not from study, but from oral tradition.

    PS: By Wendy Cope (from memory)

    Higgledy-piggledy, Emily Dickenson
    Liked to use dashes instead of full stops.
    Nowadays faced with such idiosyncracy
    Critics and Editors call for the cops.

  3. ttony, I'm Canadian, and that book was my favourite poetry book as a child. I searched it out and bought several copies of it as an adult, and gave one to my dad. Our house had burnt down when I was a teenager and all was lost. I was glad to be able to find that it was still in print.