Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
The Jersey Prison Ship
By John W. Whitman
THEY 1 died—the young—the loved, the brave,
  The death barge came for them.
And where the seas yon crag rocks lave
  Their nightly requiem,
They buried them all, and threw the sand        5
Unhallow’dly o’er that patriot band.
The black ship, like a demon sate,
  Upon the prowling deep;
From her, came fearful sounds of hate,
  Till pain still’d all in sleep—        10
It was the sleep that victims take,
Tied, tortured, dying, at the stake.
Yet some, the deep has now updug,
  Their bones are in the sun;
And whether by sword, or deadly drug,        15
  They died—yes—one by one.
Was it not strange to mortal eye,
To see them all so strangely die?
No death upon the field was theirs,
  No war-peal o’er their graves,        20
They who were born as Freedom’s heirs,
  Were stabb’d like traitor slaves.
Their patriot hearts were doom’d to feel
Dishonor—with the victor’s steel.
*      *      *      *
There come upon the stilly eve,        25
  Wild songs from yon wild shore;
And then the surges more wildly heave
  Their hoarse and growling roar,
When dead men sing unearthly glees,
And shout in laughing revelries.        30
The corpse-light shines, like some pale star,
  From out the dead men’s cliff;
And the sea nymphs sail in their coral car,
  With those that are cold and stiff.
And they sail near the spot of treachery, where        35
The tide has left the dark ship bare.
Are they those ancient ones, who died
  For freedom, and for me?
They are—they point in martyr’d pride,
  To that spot upon the sea,        40
From whence came once the dying yell,
From out that wreck—that prison’d hell.
Hark! hear their chant—it starts the hair
  It makes the blood turn cold;
’T would make the tiger forsake his lair,        45
  The miser leave his gold.
And see yon harper! he doth try
A dead man’s note of melody.
Soundly sleep we in the day,
  And yet we trip it nightly,        50
We sail with the nymphs around each bay,
  When the moon peers out most brightly.
And we chase our foes to their distant graves,
  For they, like us, are sleeping;
But they dare not come o’er our bonny waves,        55
  For our nightly watch we ’re keeping.
Our spectres visit their foreign homes,
  And pluck right merrily
Their bones which whiten within their tombs,
  And plant them here, aye, cheerily,—        60
For cheerily then we dance and sing,
  With our spectre band around them,
And the curse and the laugh of scorn we fling,
  As we tell where our shadows found them.
And then we go to the rotting wreck,        65
  Where we drank the cup of poison,
We laugh and we quaff upon her deck,
  Till morn comes up the horizon.
But skip ye, skip ye, beneath the cliff,
  For the sun comes up like a fiery skiff,        70
Ploughing the waves of yon blue sky—
Hie—laughing spectres, to your homes, haste—hie.
Note 1. Whitman, of Boston, was the editor of The Bachelor’s Journal. He is now a lawyer. [back]

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