August 14, 2012

Freneau: the dangers of the sea

The Scotland-born John Paul Jones was given command of several ships, including his own Bon Homme Richard (named after Benjamin Franklin) as a privateer on August 14, 1779. One of the earliest poetic chroniclers of the young United States, Philip Freneau, wrote a poem about that day, "Captain Jones's Invitation" (later simplified as "The Invitation"):

Thou, who on some dark mountain's brow
Hast toil'd thy life away till now,
And often from that rugged steep
Beheld the vast extended deep,
Come from thy forest, and with me
Learn what it is to go to sea.

There endless plains the eye surveys
As far from land the vessel strays;
No longer hill nor dale is seen,
The realms of death intrude between,
But fear no ill; resolve, with me
To share the dangers of the sea.

But look not there for verdant fields—
Far different prospects Neptune yields;
Green seas shall only greet the eye,
Those seas encircled by the sky,
Immense and deep—come then with me
And view the wonders of the sea.

Yet sometimes groves and meadows gay
Delight the seamen on their way;
From the deep seas that round us swell
With rocks the surges to repel
Some verdant isle, by waves embrac'd,
Swells, to adorn the wat'ry waste.

Though now this vast expanse appear
With glassy surface, calm and clear;
Be not deceiv'd—'tis but a show,
For many a corpse is laid below—
Even Britain's lads—it cannot be—
They were the masters of the sea!

Now combating upon the brine,
Where ships in flaming squadrons join,
At every blast the brave expire
'Midst clouds of smoke, and streams of fire;
But scorn all fear; advance with me—
'Tis but the custom of the sea.

Now we the peaceful wave divide,
On broken surges now we ride,
Now every eye dissolves with woe
As on some lee-ward coast we go—
Half lost, half buried in the main
Hope scarcely beams on life again.

Above us storms distract the sky,
Beneath us depths unfathom'd lie,
Too near we see, a ghastly sight,
The realms of everlasting night,
A wat'ry tomb of ocean green
And only one frail plank between!

But winds must cease, and storms decay,
Not always lasts the gloomy day,
Again the skies are warm and clear,
Again soft zephyrs fan the air,
Again we find the long lost shore,
The winds oppose our wish no more.

If thou hast courage to despise
The various changes of the skies,
To disregard the ocean's rage,
Unmov'd when hostile ships engage,
Come from thy forest, and with me
Learn what it is to go to sea.

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