1823
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On the Death of Commodore Oliver H. Perry.

Connecticut Mirror (4 August 1823).

John G. C. Brainard


Six Spenserians: an elegy for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819), who upon defeating the British on Lake Erie in 1813, uttered what became a proverbial phrase: "We have met the enemy and they are ours." Oliver Perry, who died while descending the Orinoco in Venezuela after a diplomatic mission, was the elder brother of Matthew Perry who traveled to Japan in 1852. The poem, by Brainard, the conductor of the Connecticut Mirror, is not signed.

Atlantic Magazine: "The lines on the death of Commodore Perry show much tenderness of sentiment, and great skill in the management of the Spenserian stanza. The two first stanzas might be better than they are; the three last are beautiful" review of Brainard, Occasional pieces; 2 (April 1825) 452.



How sullen is the note of that last drum,
That's muffled by indifference to the dead;
And how reluctantly the echoes come,
On air that sighs not, o'er that stranger's bed,
Who sleeps with death alone. — O'er his young head
His native breezes never more shall sigh;
On his lone grave the careless step shall tread,
And pestilential vapours soon shall dry
Each shrub that buds around — each flow'r that blushes nigh.

Let Genius poising on her full fledged wing,
Fill the charm'd air with thy deserved praise:
Of war, and blood, and carnage let her sing
Of victory and glory. Let her gaze
On the dark smoke that shrouds the cannon's blaze—
On the red foam that crests the bloody billow;
Then mourn the sad close of thy shorten'd days,
Place on thy country's brow the weeping willow,
And plant the laurels thick, around thy last cold pillow.

No sparks of Grecian fire to me belong,
Alike uncouth the poet and the lay;
Unskill'd to turn the mighty tide of song,
He floats along the current as he may,
The humble tribute of a tear to pay.
A bolder bard may choose a loftier name—
May sing of Nelson's last and brightest day,
Of Wolfe's unequalled and unrivalled fame,
The wave of Trafalgar, the field of Abraham.

But if the wild winds of thy western lake
Might teach a harp that fain would mourn the brave,
And sweep those strings the minstrel may not wake,
Or give an echo, from some secret cave
That opens on romantic Erie's wave—
The feeble cord would not be swept in vain.
And, though the sound might never reach thy grave,
Yet there are spirits here, that to the strain
Would send a still small voice — responsive back again.

And though the yellow plague infest the air,
Though noxious vapours blight the turf — where rest
The manly form, and the bold heart of war,
Yet should that deadly isle afar be blest;
For the fresh breezes of thy native west
Should seek and sigh around thy early tomb,
Moist with the tears of those who lov'd thee best,
Scented with sighs of love. There grief should come,
And memory guard thy grave and mourn thy hapless doom.

It may not be. Too feeble is the hand,
Too weak and frail the harp, the lay too brief
To speak the sorrows of a mourning land,
Weeping in silence for her youthful chief;
Yet may an artless tear proclaim more grief
Than mock affection's arts can ever show.
A heart-felt sigh can give a sad relief,
Which all the sobs of counterfeited woe,
Trick'd off in foreign garb can never hope to know.

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