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Bill Thayer

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The Regretted Leap

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Life in a Man-of‑War

by
a Fore‑top-man


published by
Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston and New York
1927

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Reefing Topsails
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p22  The Discontented Marine

It happened on the first of June,

One fine and glorious afternoon,

Old Ironsides in all her pride

Along the ocean swift did glide;

And 'tis well known in prose and song,

That few can swifter sail along

Than this same frigate trim and tight,

Beauteous to view yet dread in fight;

At least last war she proved it so,

Acknowledged even by her foe.

Although the wind it was ahead,

The yards braced up she onwards sped:

With proper dignity and grace,

She moved along with rapid pace; —

Whilst thus our ship pursued her way,

A poor marine, half crazed they say,

In the Ice‑gangway walked alone

And thus his fate did sore bemoan: —

"Cursed be the day that I first joined

The marine corps, and left behind

The dear remembered joys of home

Upon the Ocean thus to roam —

To be obliged to wear these clothes,

Which do not suit me Heaven knows;

I, who broad-cloth coats have dash'd in,

With pantaloons of every fashion,

Amongst the beaux in former days,

And now to put up with these coarse grays,

It will not do; it is too bad;

It is enough to drive one mad;

And then that ever-cursed drill,

Of that I've had more than my fill;

And then the musket, my abhorrence,

I'll shower my curses down in torrents

Upon the wretch who brought to light

Keeping those dreadful engines bright: —

White belts too — there's another evil;

I wish they were all to the devil,

p23 For I've been always in a fluster

To make those things pass off at muster;

They've kept me moving every day,

Either with brick-dust or pipe-clay;

And then this keeping watch at night,

Sailors may call this their delight,

So let them like it; for with me

This exercise does not agree —

Rousing about, now pulling, hauling,

The boatswains'-mates' incessant bawling;

And ungenteely shoved along

By the meanest fellows 'mongst the throng;

And if in this case one but complains,

He may get a drubbing for his pains.

Can I stand this? forbid it Heaven;

The power to mortal man was given

To free himself from persecution,

Could he but pluck up resolution.

So I by a leap determined, bold,

Will free myself from trouble's hold;

And thus do I snap the tender tie

That binds me to my misery:

So farewell shipmates every one,

My die is cast, my race is run:"

And saying this, he gave one leap

And plunged into the mighty deep.

"Man overboard," was now the sound

Throughout the ship that echoed round,

And all was bustle, haste and noise,

'Mongst officers, and men, and boys —

"Quick, quick, the bowlines clear away,

The braces man without delay,

Haul up the mainsail, lads d'ye hear,

And some stand by the boat to clear."

These orders promptly were obeyed,

For every one now lent his aid,

Mariner-like, to try and save

A shipmate from a watery grave:

The life-buoys were quickly cut away,

And on the Ocean's surface lay

Some distance from the poor marine,

Who in the water might be seen

Struggling, with all his might and main,

To try once more the ship to gain —

For he, like Shakspeare's Clarence, found

p24 How mighty "hard it was to drown:"

Though but some minutes in the water,

His courage soon began to totter,

And he prayed loudly, o'er and o'er,

To be on board the ship once more:

"My God, what came into my brain,

To leap thus in the angry main,

And leave yon frigate, which I see

Is fast receding now from me;

What a damn'd ass I must have been,

My error not before to've seen;

I remember reading once, some stuff,

That drowning was a pleasant death enough;

But he who wrote those lines I fear

Was never placed as I am here,

With sharks perhaps at my very shoulder,

(Good God, that thought makes me grow colder,)

And the only hope of my existence

The frigate, at a good long distance:

I say if he were in my place,

He'd that assertion quick retrace;

But Lord! my strength begins to leave me —

What's that? or do my eyes deceive me;

No, no, it is the boat I see

Moving with rapid haste towards me;

Pull out my lads, and give way stronger,

For I cannot hold out much longer."

The boat now moved with rapid pace

And very quickly reached the place

Where our poor soldier lay hard struggling,

And from his mouth the water gurgling:

The hardy crew soon grappled fast,

He quickly in the boat was pass'd,

And ere ten minutes had flew o'er

He was on board the ship once more.

The sails were trimmed, our bark again

Moved swiftly o'er the azure main,

And the half-drowned soldier, 'mongst the rest,

Agreed that second thoughts were best.


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Page updated: 15 Aug 21