The Fighting Téméraire, 1859 engraving by James Tibbitts Willmore (British, 1800–1863); after Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775–1851)
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Eulogies are not only for dead heroes. Moved by the demise of the HMS Temeraire after a 40-year career, three poets paid tribute to the gallant ship. One was English and the other two were Americans, which goes to show that the Temeraire’s fame extended beyond the shores of Great Britain. Their elegies, the full texts of which are reproduced below, are interesting reading for anyone who loves poetry and naval history.

The Fighting Temeraire

by Sir Henry John Newbolt (English, 1862–1938)

It was eight bells ringing,
For the morning watch was done,
And the gunner’s lads were singing
As they polished every gun.
It was eight bells ringing,
And the gunner’s lads were singing,
For the ship she rode a-swinging,
As they polished every gun.

Oh! to see the linstock lighting,
Téméraire! Téméraire!
Oh! to hear the round shot biting,
Téméraire! Téméraire!
Oh! to see the linstock lighting,
And to hear the round shot biting,
For we’re all in love with fighting
On the fighting Téméraire.

It was noontide ringing,
And the battle just begun,
When the ship her way was winging,
As they loaded every gun.
It was noontide ringing,
When the ship her way was winging,
And the gunner’s lads were singing
As they loaded every gun.

There’ll be many grim and gory,
Téméraire! Téméraire!
There’ll be few to tell the story,
Téméraire! Téméraire!
There’ll be many grim and gory,
There’ll be few to tell the story,
But we’ll all be one in glory
With the Fighting Téméraire.

There’s a far bell ringing
At the setting of the sun,
And a phantom voice is singing
Of the great days done.
There’s a far bell ringing,
And a phantom voice is singing
Of renown for ever clinging
To the great days done.

Now the sunset breezes shiver,
Téméraire! Téméraire!
And she’s fading down the river,
Téméraire! Téméraire!
Now the sunset’s breezes shiver,
And she’s fading down the river,
But in England’s song for ever
She’s the Fighting Téméraire.

The Temeraire

by Herman Melville (American, 1819–1891)

The gloomy hulls in armor grim,
Like clouds o’er moors have met,
And prove that oak, and iron, and man
Are tough in fibre yet.

But Splendors wane. The sea-fight yields
No front of old display;
The garniture, emblazonment,
And heraldry all decay.

Towering afar in parting light,
The fleets like Albion’s forelands shine–
The full-sailed fleets, the shrouded show
Of Ships-of-the-Line.

The fighting Temeraire,
Built of a thousand trees,
Lunging out her lightnings,
And beetling o’er the seas–
O Ship, how brave and fair,
That fought so oft and well,

On open decks you manned the gun
What cheerings did you share,
Impulsive in the van,
When down upon leagued France and
We English ran–
The freshet at your bowsprit
Like the foam upon the can.
Bickering, your colors
Licked up the Spanish air,
You flapped with flames of battle-flags–
Your challenge, Temeraire!
The rear ones of our fleet
They yearned to share your place,
Still vying with the Victory
Throughout that earnest race–
The Victory, whose Admiral,
With orders nobly won,
Shone in the globe of the battle glow–
The angel in that sun.
Parallel in story,
Lo, the stately pair,
As late in grapple ranging,
The foe between them there–
When four great hulls lay tiered,
And the fiery tempest cleared,
And your prizes twain appeared,

But Trafalgar is over now,
The quarter-deck undone;
The carved and castled navies fire
Their evening-gun.
O, Titan Temeraire,
Your stern-lights fade away;
Your bulwarks to the years must yield,
And heart-of-oak decay.
A pigmy steam-tug tows you,
Gigantic, to the shore–
Dismantled of your guns and spars,
And sweeping wings of war.
The rivets clinch the iron clads,
Men learn a deadlier lore;
But Fame has nailed your battle-flags–
Your ghost it sails before:
O, the navies old and oaken,
O, the Temeraire no more!

Turner’s Old Temeraire

by James Russell Lowell (American, 1819-1891)


Thou wast the fairest of all man-made things;
The breath of heaven bore up thy cloudy wings,
And, patient in their triple rank,
The thunders crouched about thy flank,
Their black lips silent with the doom of kings.

The storm-wind loved to rock him in thy pines,
And swell thy vans with breath of great designs;
Long-wildered pilgrims of the main
By thee relaid their course again,
Whose prow was guided by celestial signs.

How didst thou trample on tumultuous seas,
Or, like some basking sea-beast stretched at ease,
Let the bull-fronted surges glide
Caressingly along thy side,
Like glad hounds leaping by the hunts-man’s knees!

Heroic feet, with fire of genius shod,
In battle’s ecstasy thy deck have trod,
While from their touch a fulgor ran
Through plank and spar, from man to man,
Welding thee to a thunderbolt of God.

Now a black demon, belching fire and steam,
Drags thee away, a pale, dismantled dream,
And all thy desecrated bulk
Must landlocked lie, a helpless hulk,
To gather weeds in the regardless stream.

Woe’s me, from Ocean’s sky-horizoned air
To this! Better, the flame-cross still aflare,
Shot-shattered to have met thy doom
Where thy last lightnings cheered the gloom,
Than here be safe in dangerless despair.

Thy drooping symbol to the flagstaff clings,
Thy rudder soothes the tide to lazy rings,
Thy thunders now but birthdays greet,
Thy planks forget the martyrs’ feet,
Thy masts what challenges the sea-wind brings.

Thou a mere hospital, where human wrecks,
Like winter-flies, crawl those renownid decks,
Ne’er trodden save by captive foes,
And wonted sternly to impose
God’s will and thine on bowed imperial necks!

Shall nevermore, engendered of thy fame,
A new sea-eagle heir thy conqueror name,
And with commissioned talons wrench
From thy supplanter’s grimy clench
His sheath of steel, his wings of smoke and flame?

This shall the pleased eyes of our children see;
For this the stars of God long even as we;
Earth listens for his wings; the Fates
Expectant lean; Faith cross-propt waits,
And the tired waves of Thought’s insurgent sea.

~ Barista Uno

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