At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay
And a pinnace like a flutter’d bird came flying from far away;
“Spanish ships of war at sea! we have sighted fifty-three!”
Then sware Lord Thomas Howard: “’Fore God I am no coward;
But I cannot meet them here for my ships are out of gear
And the half my men are sick. I must fly but follow quick.
We are six ships of the line; can we fight with fifty-three?”
Then spake Sir Richard Grenville: “I know you are no coward;
You fly them for a moment to fight with them again.
But I’ve ninety men and more that are lying sick ashore.
I should count myself the coward if I left them my Lord Howard
To these Inquisition dogs and the devildoms of Spain.”
So Lord Howard past away with five ships of war that day
Till he melted like a cloud in the silent summer heaven;
But Sir Richard bore in hand all his sick men from the land
Very carefully and slow
Men of Bideford in Devon
And we laid them on the ballast down below:
For we brought them all aboard
And they blest him in their pain that they were not left to Spain
To the thumb-screw and the stake for the glory of the Lord.
He had only a hundred seamen to work the ship and to fight
And he sailed away from Flores till the Spaniard came in sight
With his huge sea-castles heaving upon the weather bow.
“Shall we fight or shall we fly?
Good Sir Richard tell us now
For to fight is but to die!
There’ll be little of us left by the time this sun be set.”
And Sir Richard said again: “We be all good Englishmen.
Let us bang these dogs of Seville the children of the devil
For I never turn’d my back upon Don or devil yet.”
Sir Richard spoke and he laugh’d and we roar’d a hurrah and so
The little Revenge ran on sheer into the heart of the foe
With her hundred fighters on deck and her ninety sick below;
For half of their fleet to the right and half to the left were seen
And the little Revenge ran on thro’ the long sea-lane between.
Thousands of their soldiers look’d down from their decks and laugh’d
Thousands of their seamen made mock at the mad little craft
Running on and on till delay’d
By their mountain-like San Philip that of fifteen hundred tons
And up-shadowing high above us with her yawning tiers of guns
Took the breath from our sails and we stay’d.
And while now the great San Philip hung above us like a cloud
Whence the thunderbolt will fall
Long and loud
Four galleons drew away
From the Spanish fleet that day.
And two upon the larboard and two upon the starboard lay
And the battle-thunder broke from them all.
But anon the great San Philip she bethought herself and went
Having that within her womb that had left her ill content;
And the rest they came aboard us and they fought us hand to hand
For a dozen times they came with their pikes and musqueteers
And a dozen times we shook ’em off as a dog that shakes his ears
When he leaps from the water to the land.
And the sun went down and the stars came out far over the summer sea
But never a moment ceased the fight of the one and the fifty-three.
Ship after ship the whole night long their high-built galleons came
Ship after ship the whole night long with her battle-thunder and flame;
Ship after ship the whole night long drew back with her dead and her shame.
For some were sunk and many were shatter’d and so could fight us no more—
God of battles was ever a battle like this in the world before?
For he said “Fight on! fight on!”
Tho’ his vessel was all but a wreck;
And it chanced that when half of the short summer night was gone
With a grisly wound to be drest he had left the deck
But a bullet struck him that was dressing it suddenly dead
And himself he was wounded again in the side and the head
And he said “Fight on! fight on!”
And the night went down and the sun smiled out far over the summer sea
And the Spanish fleet with broken sides lay round us all in a ring;
But they dared not touch us again for they fear’d that we still could sting
So they watch’d what the end would be.
And we had not fought them in vain
But in perilous plight were we
Seeing forty of our poor hundred were slain
And half of the rest of us maim’d for life
In the crash of the cannonades and the desperate strife;
And the sick men down in the hold were most of them stark and cold
And the pikes were all broken or bent and the powder was all of it spent;
And the masts and the rigging were lying over the side;
But Sir Richard cried in his English pride:
“We have fought such a fight for a day and a night
As may never be fought again!
We have won great glory my men!
And a day less or more
At sea or ashore
We die—does it matter when?
Sink me the ship Master Gunner—sink her split her in twain!
Fall into the hands of God not into the hands of Spain!”
And the gunner said “Ay ay” but the seamen made reply:
“We have children we have wives
And the Lord hath spared our lives.
We will make the Spaniard promise if we yield to let us go;
We shall live to fight again and to strike another blow.”
And the lion there lay dying and they yielded to the foe.
And the stately Spanish men to their flagship bore him then
Where they laid him by the mast old Sir Richard caught at last
And they praised him to his face with their courtly foreign grace;
But he rose upon their decks and he cried: 100
“I have fought for Queen and Faith like a valiant man and true;
I have only done my duty as a man is bound to do.
With a joyful spirit I Sir Richard Grenville die!”
And he fell upon their decks and he died.
And they stared at the dead that had been so valiant and true
And had holden the power and glory of Spain so cheap
That he dared her with one little ship and his English few;
Was he devil or man? He was devil for aught they knew
But they sank his body with honor down into the deep.
And they mann’d the Revenge with a swarthier alien crew
And away she sail’d with her loss and long’d for her own;
When a wind from the lands they had ruin’d awoke from sleep
And the water began to heave and the weather to moan
And or ever that evening ended a great gale blew
And a wave like the wave that is raised by an earthquake grew
Till it smote on their hulls and their sails and their masts and their flags
And the whole sea plunged and fell on the shot-shatter’d navy of Spain
And the little Revenge herself went down by the island crags
To be lost evermore in the main.
“The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet”
—written by Lord Alfred Tennyson, narrated by Jordan Harling.
Full poem text, public domain (also available in subtitles).