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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

September 14

The Warden of the Cinque Ports

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

  • The Cinque Ports is a collective name for the five English Channel Ports—Sandwich, Hastings, Romney, Hythe, and Dover. They furnished the chief naval contingent until the time of Henry VII. They are governed by a Lord Warden though most of their privileges, granted to them by William the Conqueror, have been abolished. Civil jurisdiction ceased in 1835, but the Lord Warden still appoints justices of the peace for the Ports. The official residence is Walmer Castle, Deal, and there the Duke of Wellington, the subject of this poem, died on Sept. 14, 1852.

  • A MIST was driving down the British Channel;

    The day was just begun;

    And through the window-panes, on floor and panel,

    Streamed the red Autumn sun.

    It glanced on flowing flag and rippling pennon,

    And the white sails of ships;

    And, from the frowning rampart, the black cannon

    Hailed it with feverish lips.

    Sandwich and Romney, Hastings, Hythe, and Dover,

    Were all alert that day,

    To see the French war-steamers speeding over

    When the fog cleared away.

    Sullen and silent, and like couchant lions,

    Their cannon through the night,

    Holding their breath, had watched in grim defiance

    The sea-coast opposite.

    And now they roared, at drum-beat, from their stations

    On every citadel;

    Each answering each, with morning salutations,

    That all was well!

    And down the coast, all taking up the burden,

    Replied the distant forts—

    As if to summon from his sleep the Warden

    And Lord of the Cinque Ports.

    Him shall no sunshine from the fields of azure,

    No drum-beat from the wall,

    No morning gun from the black fort’s embrasure,

    Awaken with their call!

    No more, surveying with an eye impartial

    The long line of the coast,

    Shall the gaunt figure of the old field marshal

    Be seen upon his post!

    For in the night, unseen, a single warrior,

    In sombre harness mailed,

    Dreaded of man, and surnamed the Destroyer,

    The rampart wall has scaled!

    He passed into the chamber of the sleeper—

    The dark and silent room;

    And, as he entered, darker grew, and deeper,

    The silence and the gloom.

    He did not pause to parley, or dissemble,

    But smote the Warden hoar—

    Ah! what a blow!—that made all England tremble

    And groan from shore to shore.

    Meanwhile, without, the surly cannon waited,

    The sun rose bright o’erhead—

    Nothing in Nature’s aspect intimated

    That a great man was dead!