Battle of the Nile

William Lisle Bowles

Shout! for the Lord hath triumphed gloriously!   
  Upon the shores of that renownéd land,   
  Where erst his mighty arm and outstretched hand   
            He lifted high,   
And dashed, in pieces dashed the enemy;—          
    Upon that ancient coast,   
    Where Pharaoh’s chariot and his host   
    He cast into the deep,   
Whilst o’er their silent pomp he bid the swollen sea to sweep;   
    Upon that eastern shore,           
  That saw his awful arm revealed of yore,   
Again hath he arisen, and opposed   
His foes’ defying vaunt: o’er them the deep hath closed!   
  Shades of mighty chiefs of yore,   
  Who triumphed on the selfsame shore:           
Ammon, who first o’er ocean’s empire wide   
Didst bid the bold bark stem the roaring tide;   
    Sesac, who from the east to farthest west   
  Didst rear thy pillars over realms subdued;   
    And thou, whose bones do rest           
  In the huge pyramid’s dim solitude,   
      Beneath the uncouth stone,   
      Thy name and deeds unknown;   
    And Philip’s glorious son,   
With conquest flushed, for fields and cities won;           
  And thou, imperial Cæsar, whose sole sway   
The long-disputed world at length confessed,   
  When on these shores thy bleeding rival lay!   
O, could ye, starting from your long, cold rest,   
      Burst Death’s oblivious trance,           
And once again with pluméd pride advance,   
  How would ye own your fame surpassed,   
  And on the sand your trophies cast,   
      When, the storm of conflict o’er,   
      And ceased the burning battle’s roar,           
    Beneath the morning’s orient light,   
    Ye saw, with sails all swelling white,   
Britain’s proud fleet, to many a joyful cry,   
Ride o’er the rolling surge in awful sovereignty!

*        *        *        *        *
Calm breathed the airs along the evening bay,           
    Where, all in warlike pride,   
The Gallic squadron stretched its long array;   
    And o’er the tranquil tide   
  With beauteous bend the streamers waved on high.   
But, ah! how changed the scene ere night descends!           
Hark to the shout that heaven’s high concave rends!   
      Hark to that dying cry!   
  Whilst, louder yet, the cannon’s roar   
  Resounds along the Nile’s affrighted shore,   
      Where from his oozy bed,           
  The cowering crocodile hath raised his head!   
      What bursting flame   
  Lightens the long track of the gleaming brine!   
      From yon proud ship it came,   
  That towered the leader of the hostile line!           
Now loud explosion rends the midnight air!   
Heard ye the last deep groaning of despair?   
Heaven’s fiery cope unwonted thunders fill,   
Then, with one dreadful pause, earth, air, and seas are still!   
    But now the mingled fight           
      Begins its awful strife again!   
    Through the dun shades of night   
      Along the darkly heaving main   
        Is seen the frequent flash;   
And many a towering mast with dreadful crash           
Rings falling. Is the scene of slaughter o’er?   
    Is the death-cry heard no more?   
Lo! where the east a glimmering freckle streaks,   
Slow o’er the shadowy wave the gray dawn breaks.   
        Behold, O sun, the flood           
Strewed with the dead, and dark with blood!   
  Behold, all scattered on the rocking tide,   
  The wrecks of haughty Gallia’s pride!   
But Britain’s floating bulwarks, with serene   
And silent pomp, amid the deathful scene           
Move glorious, and more beautiful display   
Their ensigns streaming to thy orient ray.   
    Awful Genius of the land!   
      Who (thy reign of glory closed)   
    By marble wrecks, half hid in sand,           
      Hast mournfully reposed;   
    Who long, amid the wasteful desert wide,   
    Hast loved with deathlike stillness to abide;   
      Or wrapped in tenfold gloom,   
  From noise of human things for ages hid,           
      Hast sat upon the shapeless tomb   
  In the forlorn and dripping pyramid;   
              Awake! Arise!   
  Though thou behold the day no more   
  That saw thy pride and pomp of yore;           
Though, like the sounds that in the morning ray   
      Trembled and died away   
From Memnon’s statue; though, like these, the voice   
That bade thy vernal plains rejoice,   
  The voice of Science, is no longer heard;           
  And all thy gorgeous state hath disappeared:   
Yet hear, with triumph, and with hope again,   
The shouts of joy that swell from thy forsaken main!   

The Battle of the Nile was a naval battle fought off the coast of Egypt by one of the mouths of the River Nile in Abu Kir Bay. The action took place on 1-2 August 1798. The British Navy under Admiral Nelson inflicted a decisive defeat on the French fleet.