Verse > Anthologies > James and Mary Ford, eds. > Every Day in the Year
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James and Mary Ford, eds.  Every Day in the Year.  1902.
 
July 30
The Siege of Derry
By Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895)
 
          Londonderry was besieged for nearly four months by the troops of James II., but held out until relief arrived on July 30, 1689.

O MY daughter! lead me forth to the bastion on the north,
  Let me see the water running from the green hills of Tyrone,
Where the woods of Mountjoy quiver above the changeful river,
  And the silver trout lie hidden in the pools that I have known.
 
There I wooed your mother, dear! in the days that are so near        5
  To the old man who lies dying in this sore-beleaguered place;
For time’s long years may sever, but love that liveth ever,
  Calls back the early rapture—lights again the angel face.
 
Ah, well! she lieth still on our wall-engirdled hill,
  Our own Cathedral holds her till God shall call His dead;        10
And the Psalter’s swell and wailing, and the cannon’s loud assailing,
  And the preacher’s voice and blessing, pass unheeded o’er her head.
 
’Twas the Lord who gave the word when his people drew the sword
  For the freedom of the present, for the future that awaits.
O child! thou must remember that bleak day in December        15
  When the Prentice-Boys of Derry rose up and shut the gates.
 
There was tumult in the street, and a rush of many feet—
  There was discord in the Council, and Lundy turned to fly,
For the man had no assurance of Ulstermen’s endurance,
  Nor the strength of him who trusteth in the arm of God Most High.        20
 
These limbs that now are weak, were strong then, and thy cheek
  Held roses that were red as any rose in June—
That now are wan, my daughter! as the light on the Foyle water
  When all the sea and all the land are white beneath the moon.
 
Then the foemen gathered fast—we could see them marching past—        25
  The Irish from his barren hills, the Frenchman from his wars,
With their banners bravely beaming, and to our eyes their seeming
  Was fearful as a locust band, and countless as the stars.
 
And they bound us with a cord from the harbour to the ford,
  And they raked us with their cannon, and sallying was hot;        30
But our trust was still unshaken, though Culmore fort was taken,
  And they wrote our men a letter, and and they sent it in a shot.
 
They were soft words that they spoke, how we need not fear their yoke,
  And they pleaded by our homesteads, and by our children small,
And our women fair and tender; but we answered: “No surrender!”        35
  And we called on God Almighty, and we went to man the wall.
 
There was wrath in the French camp; we could hear their Captain’s stamp,
  And Rosen, with his hand on his crossed hilt, swore
That little town of Derry, not a league from Culmore ferry,
  Should lie a heap of ashes on the Foyle’s green shore.        40
 
Like a falcon on her perch, our fair Cathedral Church
  Above the tide-vext river looks eastward from the bay—
Dear namesake of St. Columb, and each morning, sweet and solemn,
  The bells, through all the tumult, have called us in to pray.
 
Our leader speaks the prayer—the captains are all there—        45
  His deep voice never falters, though his look be sad and grave
On the women’s pallid faces, and the soldiers in their places,
  And the stones above our brothers that lie buried in the nave.
 
They are closing round us still by the river; on the hill
  You can see the white pavilions round the standard of their chief;        50
But the Lord is up in heaven, though the chances are uneven,
  Though the boom is in the river whence we looked for our relief.
 
And the faint hope dies away at the close of each long day,
  As we see the eyes grow lustreless, the pulses beating low;
As we see our children languish. Was ever martyr’s anguish,        55
  At the stake or in the dungeon, like this anguish that we know?
 
With the foemen’s closing line, while the English make no sign,
  And the daily lessening ration, and the fall of staggering feet,
And the wailing low and fearful, and the women, stern and tearful,
  Speaking bravely to their husbands and their lovers in the street.        60
 
There was trouble in the air when we met this day for prayer,
  And the joyous July morning was heavy in our eyes;
Our arms were by the altar as we sang aloud the Psalter,
  And listened in the pauses for the enemy’s surprise.
 
“Praise the Lord God in the height, for the glory of His might!”        65
  It rang along the arches and it went out to the town:
“In His strength He hath arisen, He hath loosed the souls in prison,
  The wronged one He hath righted, and raised the fallen-down.”
 
And the preacher’s voice was bold as he rose up then and told
  Of the triumph of the righteous, of the patience of the saints,        70
And the hope of God’s assistance, and the greatness of resistance,
  Of the trust that never wearies and the heart that never faints.
 
Where the river joins the brine, canst thou see the ships in line?
  And the plenty of our craving just beyond the cruel boom?
Through the dark mist of the firing canst thou see the masts aspiring,        75
  Dost thou think of one who loves thee on that ship amidst the gloom?
 
She was weary, she was wan, but she climbed the rampart on,
  And she looked along the water where the good ships lay afar:
Oh! I see on either border their cannon ranged in order,
  And the boom across the river, and the waiting men-of-war.        80
 
There’s death in every hand that holds a lighted brand,
  But the gallant little Mountjoy comes bravely to the front.
Now, God of Battles, hear us! Let that good ship draw near us.
  Ah! the brands are at the touch-holes—will she bear the cannon’s brunt?
 
She makes a forward dash. Hark! hark! the thunder-crash!        85
  O father, they have caught her—she is lying on the shore.
Another crash like thunder—will it tear her ribs asunder?
  No, no! the shot has freed her—she is floating on once more.
 
She pushes her white sail through the bullets leaden hail—
  Now blessings on her captain and on her seamen bold!—        90
Crash! crash! the boom is broken; I can see my true love’s token—
  A lily in his bonnet, a lily all of gold.
 
She sails up to the town, like a queen in a white gown
  Red golden are her lilies, true gold are all her men.
Now the Phoenix follows after—I can hear the women’s laughter,        95
  And the shouting of the soldiers, till the echoes ring again.
*        *        *        *        *
She has glided from the wall, on her lover’s breast to fall,
  As the white bird of the ocean drops down into the wave;
And the bells are madly ringing, and a hundred voices singing,
  And the old man on the bastion has joined the triumph stave.        100
 
Sing ye praises through the land; the Lord with His right hand,
  With His mighty arm hath gotten Himself the victory now.
He hath scattered their forces, both the riders and their horses.
  There is none that fighteth for us, O God! but only Thou.
 
 
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