The Vindictive

A poem by Alfred Noyes

How should we praise those lads of the old Vindictive
Who looked Death straight in the eyes,
Till his gaze fell,
In those red gates of hell?

England, in her proud history, proudly enrolls them,
And the deep night in her remembering skies
With purer glory
Shall blazon their grim story.

There were no throngs to applaud that hushed adventure.
They were one to a thousand on that fierce emprise.
The shores they sought
Were armoured, past all thought.

O, they knew fear, be assured, as the brave must know it,
With youth and its happiness bidding their last good-byes;
Till thoughts, more dear
Than life, cast out all fear.

For if, as we think, they remembered the brown-roofed homesteads,
And the scent of the hawthorn hedges when daylight dies,
Old happy places,
Young eyes and fading faces;

One dream was dearer that night than the best of their boyhood,
One hope more radiant than any their hearts could prize.
The touch of your hand,
The light of your face, England!

So, age to age shall tell how they sailed through the darkness
Where, under those high, austere, implacable stars,
Not one in ten
Might look for a dawn again.

They saw the ferry-boats, Iris and Daffodil, creeping
Darkly as clouds to the shimmering mine-strewn bars,
Flash into light!
Then thunder reddened the night.

The wild white swords of the search-lights blinded and stabbed them,
The sharp black shadows fought in fantastic wars.
Black waves leapt whitening,
Red decks were washed with lightning.

But, under the twelve-inch guns of the black land-batteries
The hacked bright hulk, in a glory of crackling spars,
Moved to her goal
Like an immortal soul;

That, while the raw rent flesh in a furnace is tortured,
Reigns by a law no agony ever can shake,
And shines in power
Above all shocks of the hour.

O, there, while the decks ran blood, and the star-shells lightened
The old broken ship that the enemy never could break,
Swept through the fire
And grappled her heart's desire.

There, on a wreck that blazed with the soul of England,
The lads that died in the dark for England's sake
Knew, as they died,
Nelson was at their side;

Nelson, and all the ghostly fleets of his island,
Fighting beside them there, and the soul of Drake!--
Dreams, as we knew,
Till these lads made them true.

How should we praise you, lads of the old Vindictive,
Who looked death straight in the eyes,
Till his gaze fell
In those red gates of hell?

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