Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of English Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.
Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset. 1638–1706
408. Song
Written at Sea, in the First Dutch War (1665),
the night before an Engagement.
TO all you ladies now at land 
  We men at sea indite; 
But first would have you understand 
  How hard it is to write: 
The Muses now, and Neptune too,         5
We must implore to write to you— 
    With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
For though the Muses should prove kind, 
  And fill our empty brain, 
Yet if rough Neptune rouse the wind  10
  To wave the azure main, 
Our paper, pen, and ink, and we, 
Roll up and down our ships at sea— 
    With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
Then if we write not by each post,  15
  Think not we are unkind; 
Nor yet conclude our ships are lost 
  By Dutchmen or by wind: 
Our tears we'll send a speedier way, 
The tide shall bring them twice a day—  20
    With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
The King with wonder and surprise 
  Will swear the seas grow bold, 
Because the tides will higher rise 
  Than e'er they did of old:  25
But let him know it is our tears 
Bring floods of grief to Whitehall stairs— 
    With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
Should foggy Opdam chance to know 
  Our sad and dismal story,  30
The Dutch would scorn so weak a foe, 
  And quit their fort at Goree: 
For what resistance can they find 
From men who've left their hearts behind?— 
    With a fa, la, la, la, la.  35
Let wind and weather do its worst, 
  Be you to us but kind; 
Let Dutchmen vapour, Spaniards curse, 
  No sorrow we shall find: 
'Tis then no matter how things go,  40
Or who 's our friend, or who 's our foe— 
    With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
To pass our tedious hours away 
  We throw a merry main, 
Or else at serious ombre play;  45
  But why should we in vain 
Each other's ruin thus pursue? 
We were undone when we left you— 
    With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
But now our fears tempestuous grow  50
  And cast our hopes away; 
Whilst you, regardless of our woe, 
  Sit careless at a play: 
Perhaps permit some happier man 
To kiss your hand, or flirt your fan—  55
    With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
When any mournful tune you hear, 
  That dies in every note 
As if it sigh'd with each man's care 
  For being so remote,  60
Think then how often love we've made 
To you, when all those tunes were play'd— 
    With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
In justice you cannot refuse 
  To think of our distress,  65
When we for hopes of honour lose 
  Our certain happiness: 
All those designs are but to prove 
Ourselves more worthy of your love— 
    With a fa, la, la, la, la.  70
And now we've told you all our loves, 
  And likewise all our fears, 
In hopes this declaration moves 
  Some pity for our tears: 
Let 's hear of no inconstancy—  75
We have too much of that at sea— 
  With a fa, la, la, la, la. 
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