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The Captured Flag

Arthur Weir

Loudly roared the English cannon, loudly thundered back our own,
Pouring down a hail of iron from their battlements of stone,
Giving Frontenac’s proud message to the clustered British ships:
“I will answer your commander only by my cannons’ lips.”
Through the sulphurous smoke below us, on the Admiral’s ship of war,
Faintly gleamed the British ensign, as through cloudwrack gleams a
  star,
And above our noble fortress, on Cape Diamond’s rugged crest—
Like a crown upon a monarch, like an eagle in its nest—
Streamed our silken flag emblazoned with the royal fleur de lys,
Flinging down a proud defiance to the rulers of the sea.
As we saw it waving proudly, and beheld the crest it bore,
Fiercely throbbed our hearts within us, and with bitter words we swore,
While the azure sky was reeling at the thunder of our guns,
We would strike that standard never, while Old France had gallant sons.

Long and fiercely raged the struggle, oft our foes had sought to land,
But with shot and steel we met them, met and drove them from the
  strand,
Though they owned them not defeated, and the stately Union Jack,
Streaming from the slender topmast, seemed to wave them proudly back.
Louder rose the din of combat, thicker rolled the battle smoke,
Through whose murky folds the crimson tongues of thundering cannon
  broke,
And the ensign sank and floated in the smoke-clouds on the breeze,
As a wounded, fluttering sea-bird floats upon the stormy seas.
While we looked upon it sinking, rising through the sea of smoke,
Lo! it shook, and bending downwards, as a tree beneath a stroke,
Hung one moment o’er the river, then precipitously fell
Like proud Lucifer descending from high heaven into hell.
As we saw it flutter downwards, till it reached the eager wave,
Not Cape Diamond’s loudest echo could have matched the cheer we gave;
Yet the English, still undaunted, sent an answering echo back:
Though their flag had fallen conquered, still their fury did not slack,
And with louder voice their cannon to our cannonade replied,
As their tattered ensign drifted slowly shoreward with the tide.

There was one who saw it floating, and within his heart of fire,
Beating in a Frenchman’s bosom, rose at once a fierce desire,
That the riven flag thus resting on the broad St. Lawrence tide
Should, for years to come, betoken how France humbled England’s pride.
As the stag leaps down the mountain, with the baying hounds in chase,
So the hero, swift descending, sought Cape Diamond’s rugged base,
And within the water, whitened by the bullets’ deadly hail,
Springing, swam towards the ensign with a stroke that could not fail.
From the shore and from the fortress we looked on with bated breath,
For around him closer, closer, fell the messengers of death,
And as nearer, ever nearer, to the floating flag he drew,
Thicker round his head undaunted still the English bullets flew.
He has reached and seized the trophy. Ah! what cheering rent the skies,
Mingled with deep English curses, as he shoreward brought his prize!
Slowly, slowly, almost sinking, still he struggled to the land,
And we hurried down to meet him, as he reached the welcome strand.
Proudly up the rock we bore him, with the flag that he had won,
And that night the English vessels left us with the setting sun.
Online text © 1998-2014 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From Fleurs De Lys and Other Poems | 1887
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