The Captain

A poem by Alfred Tennyson


He that only rules by terror
Doeth grievous wrong.
Deep as hell I count his error.
Let him hear my song.
Brave the Captain was; the seamen
Made a gallant crew,
Gallant sons of English freemen,
Sailors bold and true.
But they hated his oppression;
Stern he was and rash,
So for every light transgression
Doom’d them to the lash.
Day by day more harsh and cruel
Seem’d the Captain’s mood.
Secret wrath like smother’d fuel
Burnt in each man’s blood.
Yet he hoped to purchase glory,
Hoped to make the name
Of his vessel great in story,
Wheresoe’er he came.
So they past by capes and islands,
Many a harbor-mouth,
Sailing under palmy highlands
Far within the South.
On a day when they were going
O’er the lone expanse,
In the north, her canvas flowing,
Rose a ship of France.
Then the Captain’s color heighten’d,
Joyful came his speech;
But a cloudy gladness lighten’d
In the eyes of each.
‘Chase,’ he said; the ship flew forward,
And the wind did blow;
Stately, lightly, went she norward,
Till she near’d the foe.
Then they look’d at him they hated,
Had what they desired;
Mute with folded arms they waited–
Not a gun was fired.
But they heard the foeman’s thunder
Roaring out their doom;
All the air was torn in sunder,
Crashing went the boom,
Spars were splinter’d, decks were shatter’d,
Bullets fell like rain;
Over mast and deck were scatter’d
Blood and brains of men.
Spars were splinter’d; decks were broken;
Every mother’s son–
Down they dropt–no word was spoken–
Each beside his gun.
On the decks as they were lying,
Were their faces grim.
In their blood, as they lay dying,
Did they smile on him.
Those in whom he had reliance
For his noble name
With one smile of still defiance
Sold him unto shame.
Shame and wrath his heart confounded,
Pale he turn’d and red,
Till himself was deadly wounded
Falling on the dead.
Dismal error! fearful slaughter!
Years have wander’d by;
Side by side beneath the water
Crew and Captain lie;
There the sunlit ocean tosses
O’er them mouldering,
And the lonely seabird crosses
With one waft of the wing.

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