Prose & Poetry - The Muse in Arms - The Old Way

"The Old Way" by Ronald Hopwood First published in London in November 1917 and reprinted in February 1918 The Muse in Arms comprised, in the words of editor E. B. Osborne:

"A collection of war poems, for the most part written in the field of action, by seamen, soldiers, and flying men who are serving, or have served, in the Great War".

Below is one of eight poems featured within the Sea Affair section of the collection.  You can access other poems within the section via the sidebar to the right.

The Old Way
by Ronald Hopwood

I deeply regret to report the loss of H.M. ships..." - Sir John Jellicoe's Despatch ("The Times", 7 July 1916)

There's a sea that lies uncharted far beyond the setting sun,
And a gallant fleet was sailing there whose fighting days are done,
Sloop and galleon, brig and pinnace, all the rigs you never met,
Fighting frigate, grave three-decker with their snowy canvas set;
Dozed and dreamed, when, on a sudden, ev'ry sail began to swell,
For the breeze has spoken strangers, with a stirring tale to tell,
And a thousand eager voices flung the challenge out to sea:
"Come they hither in the old way, in the only way that's free?"

And the flying breeze called softly: "In the old way,
Through the winters and the waters of the North,
They have waited, ah the waiting! in the old way,
Strong and patient, from the Pentlands to the Forth.
There was fog to blind and baffle off the headlands,
There were gales to beat the worst that ever blew,
But they took it, as they found it, in the old way,
And I know it often helped to think of you."

'Twas a frigate, under stun-sails, as she gently gathered way
Spoke in jerks, like all the frigates, who have little time to stay:
"We'd to hurry, under Nelson, thank my timbers I was tough,
For he worked us as he loved us, and he never had enough.
Are the English mad as ever? Were the frigates just as few?
(Will their sheets be always stranding, ere the rigging's rove anew?)
Just as Saxon slow at starting, just as weirdly wont to win?
Had they frigates out and watching? Did they pass the signals in?"

And the laughing Breeze made answer: " In the old way;
You should see the little cruisers spread and fly,
Peering over the horizon, in the old way,
And a seaplane up and wheeling in the sky.
When the wireless snapped 'The enemy is sighted,'
If his accents were comparatively new,
Why, the sailor-men were cheering, in the old way,
So I naturally smiled, and thought of you."

Then a courtly voice and stately from a tall three-decker came -
She'd the manners of a monarch and a story in her name:
"We'd a winter gale at even, and my shrouds are aching yet,
It was more than time for reefing when the upper sails were set.
So we chased in woeful weather, till we closed in failing light,
Then we fought them, as we caught them, just as Hawke had bid us fight;
And we swept the sea by sunrise, clear and free beyond a doubt.
Was it thus the matter ended when the enemy was out?"

Cried the Breeze: "They fought and followed in the old way,
For they raced to make a record all the while,
With a knot to veer and haul on, in the old way,
That had never even met the measured mile -
And the guns were making merry in the twilight.
That the enemy was victor may be true,
Still - he hurried into harbour - in the old way -
And I wondered if he'd ever heard of you."

Came a gruff and choking chuckle, and a craft as black as doom
Lumbered laughing down to leeward, as the bravest gave her room.
"Set 'un blazin', good your Lordships, for the tide be makin' strong,
Proper breeze to fan a fireship, set 'un drivin' out along!
'Tis the 'Torch,' wi' humble duty, from Lord Howard 'board the 'Ark.'
We'm a laughin'-stock to Brixham, but a terror after dark.
Hold an' bilge a-nigh to burstin', pitch and sulphur, tar an' all,
Was it so, my dear, they'm fashioned for my Lord High Admiral?"

Cried the Breeze: "You'd hardly know it from the old way
(Gloriana, did you waken at the fight?).
Stricken shadows, scared and flying in the old way
From the swift destroying spectres of the night,
There were some that steamed and scattered south for safety,
From the mocking western echo 'Where be tu?'
There were some that - got the message - in the old way,
And the flashes in the darkness spoke of you."

There's a wondrous Golden Harbour, far beyond the setting sun,
Where a gallant ship may anchor when her fighting days are done,
Free from tempest, rock and battle, toil and tumult safely o'er,
Where the breezes murmur softly and there's peace for evermore.
They have climbed the last horizon, they are standing in from sea,
And the Pilot makes the Haven where a ship is glad to be.
Comes at last the glorious greeting, strangely new and ages old,
See the sober grey is shining like the Tudor green and gold!

And the waiting jibs are hoisted, in the old way,
As the guns begin to thunder down the line;
Hear the silver trumpets calling, in the old way!
Over all the silken pennons float and shine -
"Did you voyage all unspoken, small and lonely?
Or with fame, the happy fortune of the few?
So you win the Golden Harbour, in the old way,
There's the old sea welcome waiting there for you."

'Billy' was the Australian nickname for a cooking-pot or can.

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