The Ballad of the ‘Calliope’ by A B “Banjo” Paterson

By the far Samoan shore,
Where the league-long rollers pour
All the wash of the Pacific on the coral-guarded bay,
Riding lightly at their ease,
In the calm of tropic seas,
The three great nations’ warships at their anchors proudly lay.

Riding lightly, head to wind,
With the coral reefs behind,
Three Germans and three Yankee ships were mirrored in the blue;
And on one ship unfurled
Was the flag that rules the world —
For on the old `Calliope’ the flag of England flew.

When the gentle off-shore breeze,
That had scarcely stirred the trees,
Dropped down to utter stillness, and the glass began to fall,
Away across the main
Lowered the coming hurricane,
And far away to seaward hung the cloud wrack like a pall.

If the word had passed around,
`Let us move to safer ground;
Let us steam away to seaward’ — then this tale were not to tell!
But each Captain seemed to say
`If the others stay, I stay!’
And they lingered at their moorings till the shades of evening fell.

Then the cloud wrack neared them fast,
And there came a sudden blast,
And the hurricane came leaping down a thousand miles of main!
Like a lion on its prey,
Leapt the storm fiend on the bay,
And the vessels shook and shivered as their cables felt the strain.

As the surging seas came by,
That were running mountains high,
The vessels started dragging, drifting slowly to the lee;
And the darkness of the night
Hid the coral reefs from sight,
And the Captains dared not risk the chance to grope their way to sea.

In the dark they dared not shift!
They were forced to wait and drift;
All hands stood by uncertain would the anchors hold or no.
But the men on deck could see
If a chance of hope might be —
There was little chance of safety for the men who were below.

Through that long, long night of dread,
While the storm raged overhead,
They were waiting by their engines, with the furnace fires aroar.
So they waited, staunch and true,
Though they knew, and well they knew,
They must drown like rats imprisoned if the vessel touched the shore.

When the grey dawn broke at last,
And the long, long night was past,
While the hurricane redoubled, lest its prey should steal away,
On the rocks, all smashed and strewn,
Were the German vessels thrown,
While the Yankees, swamped and helpless, drifted shorewards down the bay.

Then at last spoke Captain Kane,
`All our anchors are in vain,
And the Germans and the Yankees they have drifted to the lee!
Cut the cables at the bow!
We must trust the engines now!
Give her steam, and let her have it, lads, we’ll fight her out to sea!’

And the answer came with cheers
From the stalwart engineers,
From the grim and grimy firemen at the furnaces below;
And above the sullen roar
Of the breakers on the shore
Came the throbbing of the engines as they laboured to and fro.

If the strain should find a flaw,
Should a bolt or rivet draw,
Then — God help them! for the vessel were a plaything in the tide!
With a face of honest cheer,
Quoth an English engineer,
`I will answer for the engines that were built on old Thames side!

`For the stays and stanchions taut,
For the rivets truly wrought,
For the valves that fit their faces as a glove should fit the hand.
Give her every ounce of power,
If we make a knot an hour
Then it’s way enough to steer her and we’ll drive her from the land.’

Like a foam flake tossed and thrown,
She could barely hold her own,
While the other ships all helplessly were drifting to the lee.
Through the smother and the rout
The `Calliope’ steamed out —
And they cheered her from the Trenton that was foundering in the sea.

Aye! drifting shoreward there,
All helpless as they were,
Their vessel hurled upon the reefs as weed ashore is hurled.
Without a thought of fear
The Yankees raised a cheer —
A cheer that English-speaking folk should echo round the world.

5 thoughts on “The Ballad of the ‘Calliope’ by A B “Banjo” Paterson

  1. Cesar 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    Hey Ian, is this poem yours? It's pretty good. There's no author's name so I figure it's yours. Job well done.


  2. Cesar 30 November 1999 / 8:10 am

    Sorry, there IS an author's name. Oh well, (embarrassment-bearing) it's a nice poem anyways. Thanks for sharing.


  3. thomo the lost 30 November 1999 / 8:20 am

    No problem Cesar – and yes, the poem is really neat – if you like naval wargaming as a hobby, it really sets the mode for pre-dreadnought naval matters. I'm sure it would have made a great movie in the 1950s as well – Charlton Heston perhaps as the captain of the Trenton, David Niven as Captain Kane and perhaps Max von Sydow as the Kaptain of one of the German vessels.


  4. Richard Bruce 19 April 2017 / 5:32 pm

    Great poem, read also “the epic of HMS Calliope NHSA dec 1974 edition& “Well Done Calliope “Poem D H Rawnsley Recite these out loud & see if you don’t drop a tear! Brave days shows what the monkeys can rise to given real Leaders!


  5. Keith Anker 27 July 2017 / 10:53 pm

    Great poem! — even if “a bit of a jingo”
    Of course, the Banjp could hardly go wrong!
    Another of his more contemplative poems is “Black Swans”; delightful stuff, which re-connected me to poetry at age 10.


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