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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV. 1876–79.

The Barbary States: Derne

The Storming of Derne

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

  • The storming of the city of Derne, in 1805, by General Eaton, at the head of nine Americans, forty Greeks, and a motley array of Turks and Arabs, was one of those feats of hardihood and daring which have in all ages attracted the admiration of the multitude. The higher and holier heroism of Christian self-denial and sacrifice, in the humble walks of private duty, is seldom so well appreciated.

  • NIGHT on the city of the Moor!

    On mosque and tomb, and white-walled shore,

    On sea-waves, to whose ceaseless knock

    The narrow harbor-gates unlock,

    On corsair’s galley, carack tall,

    And plundered Christian caraval!

    The sounds of Moslem life are still;

    No mule-bell tinkles down the hill;

    Stretched in the broad court of the khan,

    The dusty Bornou caravan

    Lies heaped in slumber, beast and man.

    The Sheik is dreaming in his tent,

    His noisy Arab tongue o’erspent;

    The kiosk’s glimmering lights are gone,

    The merchant with his wares withdrawn:

    Rough pillowed on some pirate breast,

    The dancing-girl has sunk to rest;

    And, save where measured footsteps fall

    Along the Bashaw’s guarded wall,

    Or where, like some bad dream, the Jew

    Creeps stealthily, his quarter through,

    Or counts with fear his golden heaps,

    The City of the Corsair sleeps!

    But where yon prison long and low

    Stands black against the pale star-glow,

    Chafed by the ceaseless wash of waves,

    There watch and pine the Christian slaves;

    Rough-bearded men, whose far-off wives

    Wear out with grief their lonely lives;

    And youth, still flashing from his eyes

    The clear blue of New England skies,

    A treasured lock of whose soft hair

    Now wakes some sorrowing mother’s prayer;

    Or, worn upon some maiden breast,

    Stirs with the loving heart’s unrest!

    A bitter cup each life must drain,

    The groaning earth is cursed with pain,

    And, like the scroll the angel bore,

    The shuddering Hebrew seer before,

    O’erwrit alike, without, within,

    With all the woes which follow sin;

    But, bitterest of the ills beneath,

    Whose load man totters down to death,

    Is that which plucks the regal crown

    Of Freedom from his forehead down,

    And snatches from his powerless hand

    The sceptred sign of self-command,

    Effacing with the chain and rod

    The image and the seal of God;

    Till from his nature, day by day,

    The manly virtues fall away,

    And leave him naked, blind and mute,

    The godlike merging in the brute!

    Why mourn the quiet ones who die

    Beneath affection’s tender eye,

    Unto their household and their kin

    Like ripened corn-sheaves gathered in?

    O weeper, from that tranquil sod,

    That holy harvest-home of God,

    Turn to the quick and suffering,—shed

    Thy tears upon the living dead!

    Thank God above thy dear ones’ graves,

    They sleep with Him,—they are not slaves.

    What dark mass, down the mountain-sides

    Swift-pouring, like a stream divides?

    A long, loose, straggling caravan,

    Camel and horse and arméd man.

    The moon’s low crescent, glimmering o’er

    Its grave of waters to the shore,

    Lights up that mountain cavalcade,

    And glints from gun and spear and blade

    Near and more near!—now o’er them falls

    The shadow of the city walls.

    Hark to the sentry’s challenge, drowned

    In the fierce trumpet’s charging sound!—

    The rush of men, the musket’s peal,

    The short, sharp clang of meeting steel!

    Vain, Moslem, vain thy lifeblood poured

    So freely on thy foeman’s sword!

    Not to the swift nor to the strong

    The battles of the right belong;

    For he who strikes for Freedom wears

    The armor of the captive’s prayers,

    And Nature proffers to his cause

    The strength of her eternal laws;

    While he whose arm essays to bind,

    And herd with common brutes his kind,

    Strives evermore at fearful odds

    With Nature and the jealous gods,

    And dares the dread recoil which late

    Or soon their right shall vindicate.

    ’T is done,—the hornéd crescent falls!

    The star-flag flouts the broken walls!

    Joy to the captive husband! joy

    To thy sick heart, O brown-locked boy!

    In sullen wrath the conquered Moor

    Wide open flings your dungeon-door,

    And leaves ye free from cell and chain,

    The owners of yourselves again.

    Dark as his allies desert-born,

    Soiled with the battle’s stain, and worn

    With the long marches of his band

    Through hottest wastes of rock and sand,—

    Scorched by the sun and furnace-breath

    Of the red desert’s wind of death,

    With welcome words and grasping hands,

    The victor and deliverer stands!

    The tale is one of distant skies;

    The dust of half a century lies

    Upon it; yet its hero’s name

    Still lingers on the lips of Fame.

    Men speak the praise of him who gave

    Deliverance to the Moorman’s slave,

    Yet dare to brand with shame and crime

    The heroes of our land and time,—

    The self-forgetful ones, who stake

    Home, name, and life for Freedom’s sake.

    God mend his heart who cannot feel

    The impulse of a holy zeal,

    And sees not, with his sordid eyes,

    The beauty of self-sacrifice!

    Though in the sacred place he stands,

    Uplifting consecrated hands,

    Unworthy are his lips to tell

    Of Jesus’ martyr-miracle,

    Or name aright that dread embrace

    Of suffering for a fallen race!