As some spent gladiator, struck by Death,
Whose reeling vision scarce a foe defines,
For one last effort gathers all his breath,
England draws in her lines.
Her blood-red flag floats out full fair, but flows
O'er crumbling bastions, in fictitious state:
Who stands a siege Cornwallis full well knows,
Plays at a game with Fate.
Siege means surrender at the bitter end,
From Ilium downward such the sword-made rule,
With few exceptions, few indeed amend
This law in any school!
The student who for these has ever sought
'Mid his exceptions Cæsar counts as one,
Besieger and besieged he, victor, fought
Under a Gallic sun.
For Vircinget'rex failed, but at the wall:
He strove and failed gilded by Glory's rays
So that true soldiership describes that Gaul
In terms of honest praise.
But there was not a Julius in the lines
Round which our Chief the fatal leaguer drew,
The noble Earl, though valiant, never shines
'Mid War's majestic few.
By hopes and fears in agonies long tossed -
[Clinton hard fixed in method's rigid groove]
The British Leader saw the game was lost;
But, still, it had one move!
Could he attain yon spreading Gloucester shore;
Could he and his cross York's majestic tide;
He, then, might laugh to hear the cannon roar
And far for safety ride.
Bold was the plan! and generous Light Horse Lee
Gives it full measure of unstinted praise;
But PROVIDENCE declared this should not be
In its own wondrous ways.
Loud roared the storm! The rattling thunders rang!
Against the blast his rowers could not row!
White waves like hoary-headed Homers sang
Hexameters of woe.
Then came the time to end the mighty Play,
To drop the curtain and to quench the lamps,
And soon the story took its jocund way
Through all the Allied camps.
"Measure for measure" then was righteous law,
The cup of Lincoln, bowed Cornwallis pressed,
And as he drank the wondering Nations saw
A sunrise - in the West!
Death fell upon the Royal cause that day,
The King stood like Swift's oak with blighted crest,
Headpiece and Crown both cleft he drooped away:
Hic jacet - tells the rest!
And patriots stood where traitors late were jeered,
Transformed from rebels into freemen bold,
What seemed Membrino's helmet now appeared
A real casque of gold!