A Word for the Navy

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Queen born of the sea, that hast borne her
The mightiest of seamen on earth,
Bright England, whose glories adorn her
And bid her rejoice in thy birth
As others made mothers
Rejoice in births sublime,
She names thee, she claims thee,
The lordliest child of time.

All hers is the praise of thy story,
All thine is the love of her choice
The light of her waves is thy glory,
The sound of thy soul is her voice.
They fear it who hear it
And love not truth nor thee:
They sicken, heart-stricken,
Who see and would not see.

The lords of thy fate, and thy keepers
Whose charge is the strength of thy ships,
If now they be dreamers and sleepers,
Or sluggards with lies at their lips,
Thy haters and traitors,
False friends or foes descried,
Might scatter and shatter
Too soon thy princely pride.

Dark Muscovy, reptile in rancour,
Base Germany, blatant in guile,
Lay wait for thee riding at anchor
On waters that whisper and smile.
They deem thee or dream thee
Less living now than dead,
Deep sunken and drunken
With sleep whence fear has fled.

And what though thy song as thine action
Wax faint, and thy place be not known,
While faction is grappling with faction,
Twin curs with thy corpse for a bone?
They care not, who spare not
The noise of pens or throats;
Who bluster and muster
Blind ranks and bellowing votes.

Let populace jangle with peerage
And ministers shuffle their mobs;
Mad pilots who reck not of steerage
Though tempest ahead of them throbs.
That throbbing and sobbing
Of wind and gradual wave
They hear not and fear not
Who guide thee toward thy grave.

No clamour of cries or of parties
Is worth but a whisper from thee,
While only the trust of thy heart is
At one with the soul of the sea.
In justice her trust is
Whose time her tidestreams keep;
They sink not, they shrink not,
Time casts them not on sleep.

Sleep thou: for thy past was so royal,
Love hardly would bid thee take heed
Were Russia not faithful and loyal
Nor Germany guiltless of greed.
No nation, in station
Of story less than thou,
Re-risen from prison,
Can stand against thee now.

Sleep on: is the time not a season
For strong men to slumber and sleep,
And wise men to palter with treason?
And that they sow tares, shall they reap?
The wages of ages
Wherein men smiled and slept,
Fame fails them, shame veils them,
Their record is not kept.

Nay, whence is it then that we know it,
What wages were theirs, and what fame?
Deep voices of prophet and poet
Bear record against them of shame.
Death, starker and darker
Than seals the graveyard grate,
Entombs them and dooms them
To darkness deep as fate.

But thou, though the world should misdoubt thee,
Be strong as the seas at thy side;
Bind on but thine armour about thee,
That girds thee with power and with pride.
Where Drake stood, where Blake stood,
Where fame sees Nelson stand,
Stand thou too, and now too
Take thou thy fate in hand.

At the gate of the sea, in the gateway,
They stood as the guards of thy gate;
Take now but thy strengths to thee straightway,
Though late, we will deem it not late.
Thy story, thy glory,
The very soul of thee,
It rose not, it grows not,
It comes not save by sea.

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