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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Birds of Passage

Flight the First. The Warden of the Cinque Ports

  • Written in October, 1852. The Warden was the Duke of Wellington, who died September 13.

  • A MIST was driving down the British Channel,

    The day was just begun,

    And through the window-panes, on floor and panel,

    Streamed the red autumn sun.

    It glanced on flowing flag and rippling pennon,

    And the white sails of ships;

    And, from the frowning rampart, the black cannon

    Hailed it with feverish lips.

    Sandwich and Romney, Hastings, Hithe, and Dover

    Were all alert that day,

    To see the French war-steamers speeding over,

    When the fog cleared away.

    Sullen and silent, and like couchant lions,

    Their cannon, through the night,

    Holding their breath, had watched, in grim defiance,

    The sea-coast opposite.

    And now they roared at drum-beat from their stations

    On every citadel;

    Each answering each, with morning salutations,

    That all was well.

    And down the coast, all taking up the burden,

    Replied the distant forts,

    As if to summon from his sleep the Warden

    And Lord of the Cinque Ports.

    Him shall no sunshine from the fields of azure,

    No drum-beat from the wall,

    No morning gun from the black fort’s embrasure,

    Awaken with its call!

    No more, surveying with an eye impartial

    The long line of the coast,

    Shall the gaunt figure of the old Field Marshal

    Be seen upon his post!

    For in the night, unseen, a single warrior,

    In sombre harness mailed,

    Dreaded of man, and surnamed the Destroyer,

    The rampart wall had scaled.

    He passed into the chamber of the sleeper,

    The dark and silent room,

    And as he entered, darker grew, and deeper,

    The silence and the gloom.

    He did not pause to parley or dissemble,

    But smote the Warden hoar;

    Ah! what a blow! that made all England tremble

    And groan from shore to shore.

    Meanwhile, without, the surly cannon waited,

    The sun rose bright o’erhead;

    Nothing in Nature’s aspect intimated

    That a great man was dead.