Herman Melville

(1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891 / New York City, New York)

Bridegroom Dick


1876

Sunning ourselves in October on a day
Balmy as spring, though the year was in decay,
I lading my pipe, she stirring her tea,
My old woman she says to me,
'Feel ye, old man, how the season mellows?'
And why should I not, blessed heart alive,
Here mellowing myself, past sixty-five,
To think o' the May-time o' pennoned young
fellows
This stripped old hulk here for years may
survive.

Ere yet, long ago, we were spliced, Bonny Blue,
(Silvery it gleams down the moon-glade o' time,
Ah, sugar in the bowl and berries in the prime!)
Coxswain I o' the Commodore's crew,--
Under me the fellows that manned his fine gig,
Spinning him ashore, a king in full fig.
Chirrupy even when crosses rubbed me,
Bridegroom Dick lieutenants dubbed me.
Pleasant at a yarn, Bob o' Linkum in a song,
Diligent in duty and nattily arrayed,
Favored I was, wife, and _fleeted_ right along;
And though but a tot for such a tall grade,
A high quartermaster at last I was made.

All this, old lassie, you have heard before,
But you listen again for the sake e'en o' me;
No babble stales o' the good times o' yore
To Joan, if Darby the babbler be.

Babbler?--O' what? Addled brains, they
forget!
O--quartermaster I; yes, the signals set,
Hoisted the ensign, mended it when frayed,
Polished up the binnacle, minded the helm,
And prompt every order blithely obeyed.
To me would the officers say a word cheery--
Break through the starch o' the quarter-deck
realm;
His coxswain late, so the Commodore's pet.
Ay, and in night-watches long and weary,
Bored nigh to death with the navy etiquette,
Yearning, too, for fun, some younker, a cadet,
Dropping for time each vain bumptious trick,
Boy-like would unbend to Bridegroom Dick.
But a limit there was--a check, d' ye see:
Those fine young aristocrats knew their degree.

Well, stationed aft where their lordships
keep,--
Seldom _going_ forward excepting to sleep,--
I, boozing now on by-gone years,
My betters recall along with my peers.
Recall them? Wife, but I see them plain:
Alive, alert, every man stirs again.
Ay, and again on the lee-side pacing,
My spy-glass carrying, a truncheon in show,
Turning at the taffrail, my footsteps retracing,
Proud in my duty, again methinks I go.
And Dave, Dainty Dave, I mark where he
stands,
Our trim sailing-master, to time the high-noon,
That thingumbob sextant perplexing eyes and
hands,
Squinting at the sun, or twigging o' the moon;
Then, touching his cap to Old Chock-a-Block
Commanding the quarter-deck,--'Sir, twelve
o'clock.'

Where sails he now, that trim sailing-master,
Slender, yes, as the ship's sky-s'l pole?
Dimly I mind me of some sad disaster--
Dainty Dave was dropped from the navy-roll!
And ah, for old Lieutenant Chock-a-Block--
Fast, wife, chock-fast to death's black dock!
Buffeted about the obstreperous ocean,
Fleeted his life, if lagged his promotion.
Little girl, they are all, all gone, I think,
Leaving Bridegroom Dick here with lids that
wink.

Where is Ap Catesby? The fights fought of
yore
Famed him, and laced him with epaulets, and
more.
But fame is a wake that after-wakes cross,
And the waters wallow all, and laugh
_Where's the loss?_
But John Bull's bullet in his shoulder bearing
Ballasted Ap in his long sea-faring.
The middies they ducked to the man who had
messed
With Decatur in the gun-room, or forward
pressed
Fighting beside Perry, Hull, Porter, and the
rest.

Humped veteran o' the Heart-o'-Oak war,
Moored long in haven where the old heroes are,
Never on _you_ did the iron-clads jar!
Your open deck when the boarder assailed,
The frank old heroic hand-to-hand then availed.

But where's Guert Gan? Still heads he the van?
As before Vera-Cruz, when he dashed splashing
through
The blue rollers sunned, in his brave gold-and-
blue,
And, ere his cutter in keel took the strand,
Aloft waved his sword on the hostile land!
Went up the cheering, the quick chanticleering;
All hands vying--all colors flying:
'Cock-a-doodle-doo!' and 'Row, boys, row!'
'Hey, Starry Banner!' 'Hi, Santa Anna!'
Old Scott's young dash at Mexico.

Fine forces o' the land, fine forces o' the sea,
Fleet, army, and flotilla--tell, heart o' me,
Tell, if you can, whereaway now they be!

But ah, how to speak of the hurricane
unchained--
The Union's strands parted in the hawser
over-strained;
Our flag blown to shreds, anchors gone
altogether--
The dashed fleet o' States in Secession's foul
weather.

Lost in the smother o' that wide public stress,
In hearts, private hearts, what ties there were
snapped!
Tell, Hal--vouch, Will, o' the ward-room mess,
On you how the riving thunder-bolt clapped.
With a bead in your eye and beads in your glass,
And a grip o' the flipper, it was part and pass:
'Hal, must it be: Well, if come indeed the
shock,
To North or to South, let the victory cleave,
Vaunt it he may on his dung-hill the cock,
But _Uncle Sam's_ eagle never crow will,
believe.'

Sentiment: ay, while suspended hung all,
Ere the guns against Sumter opened there
the ball,
And partners were taken, and the red dance
began,
War's red dance o' death!--Well, we, to a man,
We sailors o' the North, wife, how could we
lag?--
Strike with your kin, and you stick to the flag!
But to sailors o' the South that easy way was
barred.
To some, dame, believe (and I speak o' what I
know),
Wormwood the trial and the Uzzite's black
shard;
And the faithfuller the heart, the crueller the
throe.
Duty? It pulled with more than one string,
This way and that, and anyhow a sting.
The flag and your kin, how be true unto both?
If either plight ye keep, then ye break the other
troth.
But elect here they must, though the casuists
were out;
Decide--hurry up--and throttle every doubt.

Of all these thrills thrilled at keelson, and
throes,
Little felt the shoddyites a-toasting o' their
toes;
In mart and bazar Lucre chuckled the huzza,
Coining the dollars in the bloody mint of war.

But in men, gray knights o' the Order o' Scars,
And brave boys bound by vows unto Mars,
Nature grappled honor, intertwisting in the
strife:--
But some cut the knot with a thoroughgoing
knife.
For how when the drums beat? How in the fray
In Hampton Roads on the fine balmy day?

There a lull, wife, befell--drop o' silent in the
din.
Let us enter that silence ere the belchings
re-begin.
Through a ragged rift aslant in the cannonade's
smoke
An iron-clad reveals her repellent broadside
Bodily intact. But a frigate, all oak,
Shows honeycombed by shot, and her deck
crimson-dyed.
And a trumpet from port of the iron-clad hails,
Summoning the other, whose flag never trails:
'Surrender that frigate, Will! Surrender,
Or I will sink her--_ram_, and end her!'

'T was Hal. And Will, from the naked heart-o'-oak,
Will, the old messmate, minus trumpet, spoke,
Informally intrepid,--'Sink her, and be
damned!'* [* Historic.]
Enough. Gathering way, the iron-clad _rammed_.
The frigate, heeling over, on the wave threw a
dusk.
Not sharing in the slant, the clapper of her bell
The fixed metal struck--uinvoked struck the
knell
Of the _Cumberland_ stillettoed by the
_Merrimac's_ tusk;
While, broken in the wound underneath the
gun-deck,
Like a sword-fish's blade in leviathan waylaid,
The tusk was left infixed in the fast-foundering
wreck.
There, dungeoned in the cockpit, the wounded
go down,
And the chaplain with them. But the surges
uplift
The prone dead from deck, and for moment
they drift
Washed with the swimmers, and the spent
swimmers drown.
Nine fathom did she sink,--erect, though hid
from light
Save her colors unsurrendered and spars that
kept the height.

Nay, pardon, old aunty! Wife, never let it fall,
That big started tear that hovers on the brim;
I forgot about your nephew and the _Merrimac's_
ball;
No more then of her, since it summons up him.
But talk o' fellows' hearts in the wine's genial
cup:--
Trap them in the fate, jam them in the strait,
Guns speak their hearts then, and speak
right up.
The troublous colic o' intestine war
It sets the bowels o' affection ajar.
But, lord, old dame, so spins the whizzing world,
A humming-top, ay, for the little boy-gods
Flogging it well with their smart little rods,
Tittering at time and the coil uncurled.

Now, now, sweetheart, you sidle away,
No, never you like _that_ kind o' _gay;_
But sour if I get, giving truth her due,
Honey-sweet forever, wife, will Dick be to you!

But avast with the War! 'Why recall racking
days
Since set up anew are the slip's started stays?
Nor less, though the gale we have left behind,
Well may the heave o' the sea remind.
It irks me now, as it troubled me then,
To think o' the fate in the madness o' men.
If Dick was with Farragut on the night-river,
When the boom-chain we burst in the fire-raft's
glare,
That blood-dyed the visage as red as the liver;
In the _Battle for the Bay_ too if Dick had a
share,
And saw one aloft a-piloting the war--
Trumpet in the whirlwind, a Providence in
place--
Our Admiral old whom the captains huzza,
Dick joys in the man nor brags about the race.

But better, wife, I like to booze on the days
Ere the Old Order foundered in these very
frays,
And tradition was lost and we learned strange
ways.
Often I think on the brave cruises then;
Re-sailing them in memory, I hail the press o'
men
On the gunned promenade where rolling they
go,
Ere the dog-watch expire and break up the
show.
The Laced Caps I see between forward guns;
Away from the powder-room they puff the
cigar;
'Three days more, hey, the donnas and the
dons!'
'Your Zeres widow, will you hunt her up,
Starr?'
The Laced Caps laugh, and the bright waves
too;
Very jolly, very wicked, both sea and crew,
Nor heaven looks sour on either, I guess,
Nor Pecksniff he bosses the gods' high mess.
Wistful ye peer, wife, concerned for my head,
And how best to get me betimes to my bed.

But king o' the club, the gayest golden spark,
Sailor o' sailors, what sailor do I mark?
Tom Tight, Tom Tight, no fine fellow finer,
A cutwater nose, ay, a spirited soul;
But, bowsing away at the well-brewed bowl,
He never bowled back from that last voyage to
China.

Tom was lieutenant in the brig-o'-war famed
When an officer was hung for an arch-mutineer,
But a mystery cleaved, and the captain was
blamed,
And a rumpus too raised, though his honor
it was clear.
And Tom he would say, when the mousers
would try him,
And with cup after cup o' Burgundy ply him:
'Gentlemen, in vain with your wassail you
beset,
For the more I tipple, the tighter do I get.'
No blabber, no, not even with the can--
True to himself and loyal to his clan.

Tom blessed us starboard and d--d us larboard,
Right down from rail to the streak o' the
garboard.
Nor less, wife, we liked him.--Tom was a man
In contrast queer with Chaplain Le Fan,
Who blessed us at morn, and at night yet again,
D--ning us only in decorous strain;
Preaching 'tween the guns--each cutlass in its
place--
From text that averred old Adam a hard case.
I see him--Tom--on _horse-block_ standing,
Trumpet at mouth, thrown up all amain,
An elephant's bugle, vociferous demanding
Of topmen aloft in the hurricane of rain,
'Letting that sail there your faces flog?
Manhandle it, men, and you'll get the good
grog!'
O Tom, but he knew a blue-jacket's ways,
And how a lieutenant may genially haze;
Only a sailor sailors heartily praise.

Wife, where be all these chaps, I wonder?
Trumpets in the tempest, terrors in the fray,
Boomed their commands along the deck like
thunder;
But silent is the sod, and thunder dies away.
But Captain Turret, _'Old Hemlock'_ tall,
(A leaning tower when his tank brimmed all,)
Manoeuvre out alive from the war did he?
Or, too old for that, drift under the lee?
Kentuckian colossal, who, touching at Madeira,
The huge puncheon shipped o' prime
_Santa-Clara;_
Then rocked along the deck so solemnly!
No whit the less though judicious was enough
In dealing with the Finn who made the great
huff;
Our three-decker's giant, a grand boatswain's
mate,
Manliest of men in his own natural senses;
But driven stark mad by the devil's drugged
stuff,
Storming all aboard from his run-ashore late,
Challenging to battle, vouchsafing no pretenses,
A reeling King Ogg, delirious in power,
The quarter-deck carronades he seemed to
make cower.
'Put him in _brig_ there!' said Lieutenant
Marrot.
'Put him in _brig!_' back he mocked like a
parrot;
'Try it, then!' swaying a fist like Thor's
sledge,
And making the pigmy constables hedge--
Ship's corporals and the master-at-arms.
'In _brig_ there, I say!'--They dally no more;
Like hounds let slip on a desperate boar,
Together they pounce on the formidable Finn,
Pinion and cripple and hustle him in.
Anon, under sentry, between twin guns,
He slides off in drowse, and the long night runs.

Morning brings a summons. Whistling it calls,
Shrilled through the pipes of the boatswain's
four aids;
Trilled down the hatchways along the dusk
halls:
_Muster to the Scourge!_--Dawn of doom and
its blast!
As from cemeteries raised, sailors swarm before
the mast,
Tumbling up the ladders from the ship's nether
shades.

Keeping in the background and taking small
part,
Lounging at their ease, indifferent in face,
Behold the trim marines uncompromised in
heart;
Their Major, buttoned up, near the staff finds
room--
The staff o' lieutenants standing grouped in
their place.
All the Laced Caps o' the ward-room come,
The Chaplain among them, disciplined and
dumb.
The blue-nosed boatswain, complexioned like
slag,
Like a blue Monday lours--his implements in
bag.
Executioners, his aids, a couple by him stand,
At a nod there the thongs to receive from his hand.
Never venturing a caveat whatever may betide,
Though functionally here on humanity's side,
The grave Surgeon shows, like the formal
physician
Attending the rack o' the Spanish Inquisition.

The angel o' the 'brig' brings his prisoner up;
Then, steadied by his old _Santa-Clara_, a sup,
Heading all erect, the ranged assizes there,
Lo, Captain Turret, and under starred
bunting,
(A florid full face and fine silvered hair,)
Gigantic the yet greater giant confronting.

Now the culprit he liked, as a tall captain can
A Titan subordinate and true _sailor-man;_
And frequent he'd shown it--no worded
advance,
But flattering the Finn with a well-timed glance.
But what of that now? In the martinet-mien
Read the _Articles of War_, heed the naval
routine;
While, cut to the heart a dishonor there to win,
Restored to his senses, stood the Anak Finn;
In racked self-control the squeezed tears
peeping,
Scalding the eye with repressed inkeeping.
Discipline must be; the scourge is deemed due.
But ah for the sickening and strange heart-
benumbing,
Compassionate abasement in shipmates that view;
Such a grand champion shamed there succumbing!
'Brown, tie him up.'--The cord he brooked:
How else?--his arms spread apart--never
threaping;
No, never he flinched, never sideways he looked,
Peeled to the waistband, the marble flesh
creeping,
Lashed by the sleet the officious winds urge.

In function his fellows their fellowship merge--
The twain standing nigh--the two boatswain's
mates,
Sailors of his grade, ay, and brothers of his
mess.
With sharp thongs adroop the junior one
awaits
The word to uplift.
'Untie him--so!
Submission is enough, Man, you may go.'
Then, promenading aft, brushing fat Purser
Smart,
'Flog? Never meant it--hadn't any heart.
Degrade that tall fellow? '--Such, wife, was he,
Old Captain Turret, who the brave wine could
stow.
Magnanimous, you think?--But what does
Dick see?
Apron to your eye! Why, never fell a blow;
Cheer up, old wifie, 't was a long time ago.

But where's that sore one, crabbed and-severe,
Lieutenant Lon Lumbago, an arch scrutineer?
Call the roll to-day, would he answer--_Here!_
When the _Blixum's_ fellows to quarters
mustered
How he'd lurch along the lane of gun-crews
clustered,
Testy as touchwood, to pry and to peer.
Jerking his sword underneath larboard arm,
He ground his worn grinders to keep himself
calm.
Composed in his nerves, from the fidgets set
free,
Tell, Sweet Wrinkles, alive now is he,
In Paradise a parlor where the even
tempers be?

Where's Commander All-a-Tanto?
Where's Orlop Bob singing up from below?
Where's Rhyming Ned? has he spun his last
canto?
Where's Jewsharp Jim? Where's Ringadoon
Joe?
Ah, for the music over and done,
The band all dismissed save the droned
trombone!
Where's Glenn o' the gun-room, who loved
Hot-Scotch--
Glen, prompt and cool in a perilous watch?
Where's flaxen-haired Phil? a gray lieutenant?
Or rubicund, flying a dignified pennant?

But where sleeps his brother?--the cruise it was
o'er,
But ah, for death's grip that welcomed him
ashore!
Where's Sid, the cadet, so frank in his brag,
Whose toast was audacious--'_Here's Sid, and
Sid's flag!_'
Like holiday-craft that have sunk unknown,
May a lark of a lad go lonely down?
Who takes the census under the sea?
Can others like old ensigns be,
Bunting I hoisted to flutter at the gaff--
Rags in end that once were flags
Gallant streaming from the staff?

Such scurvy doom could the chances deal
To Top-Gallant Harry and Jack Genteel?
Lo, Genteel Jack in hurricane weather,
Shagged like a bear, like a red lion roaring;
But O, so fine in his chapeau and feather,
In port to the ladies never once _jawing;_
All bland _politesse,_ how urbane was he--
_'Oui, mademoiselle'--'Ma chere amie!'_

'T was Jack got up the ball at Naples,
Gay in the old _Ohio_ glorious;
His hair was curled by the berth-deck barber,
Never you'd deemed him a cub of rude Boreas;
In tight little pumps, with the grand dames in
rout,
A-flinging his shapely foot all about;
His watch-chain with love's jeweled tokens
abounding,
Curls ambrosial shaking out odors,
Waltzing along the batteries, astounding
The gunner glum and the grim-visaged loaders.

Wife, where be all these blades, I wonder,
Pennoned fine fellows, so strong, so gay?
Never their colors with a dip dived under;
Have they hauled them down in a lack-lustre
day,
Or beached their boats in the Far, Far Away?
Hither and thither, blown wide asunder,
Where's this fleet, I wonder and wonder.
Slipt their cables, rattled their adieu,
(Whereaway pointing? to what rendezvous?)
Out of sight, out of mind, like the crack
_Constitution,_
And many a keel time never shall renew--
_Bon Homme Dick_ o' the buff Revolution,
The _Black Cockade_ and the staunch _True-Blue._

Doff hats to Decatur! But where is his blazon?
Must merited fame endure time's wrong--
Glory's ripe grape wizen up to a raisin?
Yes! for Nature teems, and the years are
strong,
And who can keep the tally o' the names that
fleet along!

But his frigate, wife, his bride? Would
blacksmiths brown
Into smithereens smite the solid old renown?
Rivetting the bolts in the iron-clad's shell,
Hark to the hammers with _a rat-tat-tat;_
'Handier a _derby_ than a laced cocked hat!
The _Monitor_ was ugly, but she served us right
well,
Better than the _Cumberland,_ a beauty and the
belle.'

_Better than the Cumberland!_--Heart alive
in me!
That battlemented hull, Tantallon o' the sea,
Kicked in, as at Boston the taxed chests o' tea!
Ay, spurned by the _ram,_ once a tall, shapely
craft,
But lopped by the Rebs to an iron-beaked
raft--
A blacksmith's unicorn in armor _cap-a-pie_.

Under the water-line a _ram's_ blow is dealt:
And foul fall the knuckles that strike below the
belt.
Nor brave the inventions that serve to replace
The openness of valor while dismantling the
grace.

Aloof from all this and the never-ending game,
Tantamount to teetering, plot and counterplot;
Impenetrable armor--all-perforating shot;
Aloof, bless God, ride the war-ships of old,
A grand fleet moored in the roadstead of fame;
Not submarine sneaks with _them_ are enrolled;
Their long shadows dwarf us, their flags are as
flame.

Don't fidget so, wife; an old man's passion
Amounts to no more than this smoke that I
puff;
There, there, now, buss me in good old fashion;
A died-down candle will flicker in the snuff.

But one last thing let your old babbler say,
What Decatur's coxswain said who was long
ago hearsed,
'Take in your flying-kites, for there comes a
lubber's day
When gallant things will go, and the three-
deckers first.'

My pipe is smoked out, and the grog runs
slack;
But bowse away, wife, at your blessed Bohea;
This empty can here must needs solace me--
Nay, sweetheart, nay; I take that back;
Dick drinks from your eyes and he finds no
lack!

Submitted: Saturday, April 17, 2010

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