AS our mother the Frigate, bepainted and fine,
Made play for her bully the Ship of the Line;
So we, her bold daughters by iron and fire,
Accost and destroy to our masters’ desire.
For this is our virtue —to spy and make room,
Abiding as hiding yet guiding to doom.
Surrounding, confounding, we bait and betray
And drive all to battle a seas’ width away.
Now, pray you, consider what toils we endure,
Night—walking wet sea—lanes, a guard and a lure;
Where half of our trade is that same merry sort
As mettlesome wenches do practise in port.
The poor silly trader attending no wrong
With headlight and sidelights he lieth along,
Then, lightless and lightfoot and lurking, leap we
To force him discover his business on sea.
And when we have wakened the lust of the foe,
To draw him by flight to our bullies we go,
Yet never so hasty that he is out run,
And never so halting that we are undone.
Then lurching and lunging, he followeth far,
With hail of long—pieces our beauty to mar,
Till ‘ware of fresh smoke stealing nearer, he flies—
And our bullies close in for to make him good prize.
Anon we return, being gathered again,
Across the grey ridges all drabbled with rain —
Across the keen ridges all crisped and curled —
To join the long dance round the curve of the world.
The bitter salt spindrift, the sun—glare likewise,
The moon on white waters, bewilders our eyes,
Where, linking and lifting, our sisters we hail
'Twixt roll of beam—surges or wrench or headgale.
“What see ye? Their signals, or levin afar?
”What hear ye? God’s thunder, or guns of our war?
“What make ye? Their smoke, or a fog—bank outblown?
”What chase ye? Their lights, or the Daystar low down?"
So, times without number deceived by false shows,
Deceiving we cumber the track of our foes,
For this is our office: to veil and betray;
Preparing great battles a sea’s width away.
Now peace is at end and our people take heart,
For the laws are clean gone that restrained their art;
All about the near headlands and adown the far wind
We are loosed (O be swift!) to the sport of our kind!