Admiral Guinea

A poem by William Ernest Henley

By W. E. Henley and R. L. Stevenson, Avenue Theatre, Monday, November 29, 1897.


Once was an Age, an Age of blood and gold,
An Age of shipmen scoundrelly and bold -
An Age which seemed, the while it rolled its quid,
Brave with adventure and doubloons and crime,
Rum and the Ebony Trade: when, time on time,
Real Pirates, right Sea-Highwaymen, could mock
The carrion strung at EXECUTION DOCK;
And the trim Slaver, with her raking rig,
Her cloud of sails, her spars superb and trig,
Held, in a villainous ecstasy of gain,
Her musky course from BENIN to the MAIN,
And back again for niggers:
When, in fine,
Some thought that EDEN bloomed across the Line,
And some, like COWPER'S NEWTON, lived to tell
That through those parallels ran the road to Hell.

Once was a pair of Friends, who loved to chance
Their feet in any by-way of Romance:
They, like two vagabond schoolboys, unafraid
Of stark impossibilities, essayed
To make these Penitent and Impenitent Thieves,
These PEWS and GAUNTS, each man of them with his sheaves
Of humour, passion, cruelty, tyranny, life,
Fit shadows for the boards; till in the strife
Of dream with dream, their Slaver-Saint came true,
And their Blind Pirate, their resurgent PEW
(A figure of deadly farce in his new birth),
Tap-tapped his way from ORCUS back to earth;
And so, their Lover and his Lass made one,
In their best prose this Admiral here was done.

One of this Pair sleeps till the crack of doom
Where the great ocean-rollers plunge and boom:
The other waits and wonders what his Friend,
Dead now, and deaf, and silent, were the end
Revealed to his rare spirit, would find to say
If you, his lovers, loved him for this Play.

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