JOHN MAYNARD Poetry/Poem by Horatio Alger (1832-1899)

‘TWAS on Lake Erie’s broad expanse
One bright midsummer day,
The gallant steamer Ocean Queen
Swept proudly on her way.
Bright faces clustered on the deck,
Or, leaning o’er the side,
Watched carelessly the feathery foam
That flecked the rippling tide.

Ah, who beneath that cloudless sky,
That smiling bends serene,
Could dream that danger awful, vast,
Impended o’er the scene,–
Could dream that ere an hour had sped
That frame of sturdy oak
Would sink beneath the lake’s blue waves,
Blackened with fire and smoke?

A seaman sought the captain’s side,
A moment whispered low;
The captain’s swarthy face grew pale;
He hurried down below.
Alas, too late! Though quick, and sharp,
And clear his orders came,
No human efforts could avail
To quench the insidious flame.

The bad news quickly reached the deck,
It sped from lip to lip,
And ghastly Faces everywhere
Looked from the doomed ship.
“Is there no hope–no chance of life?”
A hundred lips implore,
“But one,” the captain made reply,
“To run the ship on shore.”

A sailor, whose heroic soul
That hour should yet reveal,
By name John Maynard, eastern-born,
Stood calmly at the wheel.
“Head her south-east!” the captain shouts,
Above the smothered roar,–
“Head her south-east without delay!
Make for the nearest shore!”

No terror pales the helmsman’s cheek,
Or clouds his dauntless eye,
As, in a sailor’s measured tone,
His voice responds, “Ay! ay!”
Three hundred souls, the steamer’s freight,
Crowd forward wild with fear,
While at the stern the dreaded flames
Above the deck appear.

John Maynard watched the nearing flames,
But still with steady hand
He grasped the wheel, and steadfastly
He steered the ship to land.
“John Maynard, can you still hold out?”
He heard the captain cry;
A voice from out the stifling smoke
Faintly responds, “Ay! ay!”

But half a mile! a hundred hands
Stretch eagerly to shore.
But half a mile! That distance sped
Peril shall all be o’er.
But half a mile! Yet stay, the flames
No longer slowly creep,
But gather round that helmsman bold,
With fierce, impetuous sweep.

“John Maynard!” with an anxious voice
The captain cries once more,
“Stand by the wheel five minutes yet,
And we shall reach the shore.”
Through flame and smoke that dauntless heart
Responded firmly still,
Unawed, though face to face with death,–
“With God’s good help I will!”

The flames approach with giant strides,
They scorch his hand and brow;
One arm, disabled, seeks his side,
Ah! he is conquered now!
But no, his teeth are firmly set,
He crushes down his pain,
His knee upon the stanchion pressed,
He guides the ship again.

One moment yet! one moment yet!
Brave heart, thy task is o’er,
The pebbles grate beneath the keel.
The steamer touches shore.
Three hundred grateful voice rise
In praise to God that he
Hath saved them from the fearful fire,
And from the engulphing sea.

But where is he, that helmsman bold?
The captain saw him reel,–
His nerveless hands released their task,
He sank beside the wheel.
The wave received his lifeless corpse,
Blackened with smoke and fire.
God rest him! Never hero had
A nobler funeral pyre!

OF POLITICIANS Poetry/Poem by Thomas Burke (1887-1945)

UPON a time the amiable Bill Hawkins,
Married a fair wife, demure and of chaste repute,
Keeping closely from her, however,
Any knowledge of the manner of man he had been.

Upon the nuptial night,
Awakening and finding himself couched with a woman,
As had happened on divers occasions,
He arose and dressed and departed,
Leaving at the couch’s side four goodly coins.
But in the street,
Remembering the occasion and his present estate of marriage,
He returned with a haste of no–dignity,
Filled with emotions of an entirely disturbing nature,
Fear that his wife should discover his absence,
And place evil construction upon it, being uppermost.

Entering stealthily, then, with the toes of the leopard,
With intention of quickly disrobing,
And rejoining the forsaken bride,
He perceived her sitting erect on the couch,
Biting shrewdly, with a distressing air of experience,
At one of the coins.

THREE DAYS’ RIDE Poetry/Poem by Stephen Vincent Benét

“FROM Belton Castle to Solway side,
Hard by the bridge, is three days’ ride.”

We had fled full fast from her father’s keep,
And the time was come that we must sleep.

The first day was an ecstasy,
A golden mist, a burgeoning tree;
We rode like gods through a world new-made,
The hawthorn scented hill and glade,
A faint, still sweetness in the air–
And, oh, her face and the wind in her hair!
And the steady beat of our good steeds’ hooves,
Bearing us northward, strong and fast,
To my high black tower, stark to the blast,
Like a swimmer stripped where the Solway moves.

And ever, riding, we chanted a song,
Challenging Fortune, loud and long,
“From Belton Castle to Solway side,
Strive as you may, is three days’ ride!”

She slept for an hour, wrapped in my cloak,
And I watched her till the morning broke;
The second day–and a harsher land,
And grey bare hills on either hand;
A surly land and a sullen folk,
And a fog that came like bitter smoke.

The road wound on like a twisted snake,
And our horses sobbed as they topped the brake.
Till we sprang to earth at Wyvern Fen,
Where fresh steeds stamped, and were off again.

Weary and sleepless, bruised and worn,
We still had strength for laughter and scorn;
Love held us up through the mire and mist,
Love fed us, while we clasped and kissed,
And still we sang as the night closed in,
Stealthy and slow as a hidden sin,
“From Belton Castle to Solway side,
Ride how you will, is three days’ ride.”

My love drooped low on the black mare’s back,
Drowned in her hair . . . the reins went slack . . .
Yet she could not sleep, save to dream bad dreams
And wake all trembling, till at last
Her golden head lay on my breast.

At last we saw the first faint gleams
Of day. Dawn broke. A sickly light
Came from the withered sun–a blight
Was on the land, and poisonous mist
Shrouded the rotting trees, unkissed
By any wind, and the black crags glared
Like sightless, awful faces, spared
From death to live accursed for aye.

Dragging slow chains the hours went by.
We rode on, drunk and drugged with sleep,
Too deadly weary now to say
Whether our horses kept the way
Or no–like slaves stretched on a heap
Of poisoned arrows. Every limb
Shot with sharp pain; pain seemed to swim
Like a red cloud before our eyes. . . .

The mist broke, and a moment showed,
Sharp as the Devil’s oxen-goad,
The spear-points where the hot chase rode.

Idly I watched them dance and rise
Till white wreaths wiped them out again . . .
My love jerked at the bridle rein;
The black mare, dying, broke her heart
In one swift gallop; for my part
I dozed; and ever in my brain,
Four hoofs of fire beat out refrain,
A dirge to light us down to death,
A silly rhyme that saith and saith,
“From Belton Castle to Solway side,
Though great hearts break, is three days’ ride!”
The black mare staggered, reeled and fell,
Bearing my love down . . . a great bell
Began to toll . . . and sudden fire
Flared at me from the road, a pyre
It seemed, to burn our bodies in . . .
And I fell down, far down, within
The pit’s mouth . . . and my brain went blind. . . .

I woke–a cold sun rose behind
Black evil hills–my love knelt near
Beside a stream, her golden hair
Streaming across the grass–below
The Solway eddied to and fro,
White with fierce whirlpools . . . my love turned. . . .
Thank God, some hours of joy are burned
Into the mind, and will remain,
Fierce-blazing still, in spite of pain!

They came behind us as we kissed,
Stealthily from the dripping mist,
Her brothers and their evil band.
They bound me fast and made me stand.
They forced her down upon her knees.
She did not strive or cry or call,
But knelt there dumb before them all–
I could not turn away my eyes–
There was no fear upon her face,
Although they slew her in that place.
The daggers rent and tore her breast
Like dogs that snarl above a kill,
Her proud face gazed above them still,
Seeking rest–Oh, seeking rest!
The blood swept like a crimson dress
Over her bosom’s nakedness,
A curtain for her weary eyes,
A muffling-cloth to stop her sighs . . .

And she was gone–and a red thing lay
Silent on the trampled clay.

Beneath my horse my feet are bound,
My hands are bound behind my back,
I feel the sinews start to crack–
And ever to the hoof-beats’ sound,
As we draw near the gallows-tree,
Where I shall hang right speedily,
A crazy tune rings in my brain,
Four hoofs of fire tramp the refrain,
Crashing clear o’er the roaring crowd,
Steadily galloping, strong and loud,
“From Belton Castle to Solway side,
Hard by the bridge, is three days’ ride!”


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