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Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed.  The Book of New York Verse.  1917.
 
The Prison Ships, 1776 (abridged)
By Thomas Walsh
 
          Ode read at the Dedicatory exercises of the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument on Fort Greene, Washington Park, Brooklyn, New York, November 14, 1908.


O MARTYRDOM of hope!—to lie
In youth and strength—and die
’Mid rotting hulks that once by every sea
And star swung carelessly—
To die becalmed in war’s black hell,        5
Where in the noon’s wide blaze your hearts could soar
With gull and eagle by each cherished shore
Of home—where ye had sworn to dwell
The fathers of the free.
 
Blessed and radiant now!—look down        10
In consecration of the solemn deed
Which here commemorates this iron breed
Of martyrs nameless in the clay
As the true heroes of our newer day—
World heroes—patterned not on king and demi-god        15
Of charioted splendor or of crown
Blood crusted—but on toilers in the sod,
On reapers of the sea, on lovers of mankind,
Whose bruisèd shoulders bear
The lumbering wain of progress—all who share        20
The crust and sorrows of our mortal lot—
Lamps of the soul The Christ hath left behind
To light the path whereon He faltered not.
 
And ye, O sailors faring buoyant forth,
Bear ye the tidings of this joy-swept main        25
Where round the coasts of Celt or Dane
Ye brave the sleet-mouthed north
Or track the moon on some Sicilian wave
Or lonely cape of Spain;
Take ye the story of these comrades true        30
Whose prison hulks sank here
Where now such tides of men are poured
As never surged o’er crag or fiord
To stay the gulls with fear—
Who yet such quest of glory know        35
As never Argonaut of old
Seeking the shores of gold—
As never knight from wound and vigil pale
Tracing o’er sunset worlds his Holy Grail.
 
And lo!—to all the seas a pharos set        40
In sign memorial! Through the glooms of Time
’Twill teach a sacrifice of self sublime
O’er lash of storms as through corroding calms,
Nor e’er alone shall shine
Its love-bright parapet;        45
But every star shall bring a golden alms;—
The seething harbour line
Glow ’neath its star-fed hives, its swing and flare
Of Bridges;—while with pilgrim lamps from sea
Shall grope the Dreadnought fleets;—while endless prayer        50
Of dawns and sunsets floods the faces far
Uplifted, tear-stained, to this Martyr shrine—
Whose sister torch shall greet what Liberty
Holds back to God,—earth’s brightest answering star.
 
 
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