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.
 
February 9
How We Burned the “Philadelphia”
By Barrett Eastman (1869–1910)
 
          The destruction of the Philadelphia, which Lord Nelson, then commanding the British blockading fleet off Toulon, called, “the most bold and daring act of the age,” was effected on the night of Feb. 9, 1804. In the party, numbering but seventy-five officers and men all told, were Stephen Decatur, Jr., James Lawrence, Joseph Bainbridge, Thomas MacDonough and many others who rose to distinction.

By the beard of the Prophet the Bashaw swore
  He would scourge us from the seas;
Yankees should trouble his soul no more
By the Prophet’s beard the Bashaw swore,
  Then lighted his hookah, and took his ease,        5
And troubled his soul no more.
 
The moon was dim in the western sky,
  And a mist fell soft on the sea,
As we slipped away from the Siren brig
  And headed for Tripoli.        10
 
Behind us the hulk of the Siren lay,
  Before us the empty night;
And when again we looked behind
  The Siren was gone from our sight.
 
Nothing behind us, and nothing before,        15
  Only the silence and rain,
As the jaws of the sea took hold of our bows
  And cast us up again.
 
Through the rain and the silence we stole along,
  Cautious and stealthy and slow,        20
For we knew the waters were full of those
  Who might challenge the Mastico.
 
But nothing we saw till we saw the ghost
  Of the ship we had come to see,
Her ghostly lights and her ghostly frame        25
  Rolling uneasily.
 
And as we looked, the mist drew up
  And the moon threw off her veil,
And we saw the ship in the pale moonlight,
  Ghostly and drear and pale.        30
 
Then spoke Decatur low and said:
  “To the bulwarks’ shadow all!
But the six who wear the Tripoli dress
  Shall answer the sentinel’s call.”
 
“What ship is that?” cried the sentinel.        35
  “No ship,” was the answer free;
“But only a Malta ketch in distress
  Wanting to moor in your lee.
 
“We have lost our anchor, and wait for day
  To sail into Tripoli town,        40
And the sea rolls fierce and high to-night,
  So cast a cable down.”
 
Then close to the frigate’s side we came,
  Made fast to her unforbid—
Six of us bold in the heathen dress,        45
  The rest of us lying hid.
 
But one who saw us hiding there
  “Americano!” cried.
Then straight we rose and made a rush
  Pellmell up the frigate’s side.        50
 
Less than a hundred men were we,
  And the heathen were twenty score;
But a Yankee sailor in those old days
  Liked odds of one to four.
 
And first we cleaned the quarter deck,        55
  And then from stern to stem
We charged into our enemies
  And quickly slaughtered them.
 
All around was the dreadful sound
  Of corpses striking the sea,        60
And the awful shrieks of dying men
  In their last agony.
 
The heathen fought like devils all,
  But one by one they fell,
Swept from the deck by our cutlasses        65
  To the water, and so to hell.
 
Some we found in the black of the hold,
  Some to the fo’c’s’le fled,
But all in vain; we sought them out
  And left them lying dead;        70
 
Till at last no soul but Christian souls
  Upon that ship was found;
The twenty score were dead, and we,
  The hundred, safe and sound.
 
And, stumbling over the tangled dead,        75
  The deck a crimson tide,
We fired the ship from keel to shrouds
  And tumbled over the side.
 
Then out to sea we sailed once more
  With the world as light as day,        80
And the flames revealed a hundred sail
  Of the heathen there in the bay.
 
All suddenly the red light paled,
  And the rain rang out on the sea;
Then—a dazzling flash, a deafening roar,        85
  Between us and Tripoli!
 
Then, nothing behind us, and nothing before,
  Only the silence and rain;
And the jaws of the sea took hold of our bows
  And cast us up again.        90
 
By the beard of the Prophet the Bashaw swore
  He would scourge us from the seas;
Yankees should trouble his soul no more
By the Prophet’s beard the Bashaw swore,
  Then lighted his hookah and took his ease,        95
  And troubled his soul no more.
 
 
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