The Mantle Of St John De Matha A Legend Of "the Red, White, And Blue," A D 1154-1864





A STRONG and mighty Angel,

Calm, terrible, and bright,

The cross in blended red and blue

Upon his mantle white.



Two captives by him kneeling,

Each on his broken chain,

Sang praise to God who raiseth

The dead to life again!



Dropping his cross-wrought mantle,

"Wear this," the Angel said;

"Take thou, O Freedom's priest, its sign,

The white, the blue, and red."



Then rose up John de Matha

In the strength the Lord Christ gave,

And begged through all the land of France

The ransom of the slave.



The gates of tower and castle

Before him open flew,

The drawbridge at his coming fell,

The door-bolt backward drew.



For all men owned his errand,

And paid his righteous tax;

And the hearts of lord and peasant

Were in his hands as wax.



At last, outbound from Tunis,

His bark her anchor weighed,

Freighted with seven-score Christian souls

Whose ransom he had paid.



But, torn by Paynim hatred,

Her sails in tatters hung;

And on the wild waves, rudderless,

A shattered hulk she swung.



"God save us!" cried the captain,

"For naught can man avail;

Oh, woe betide the ship that lacks

Her rudder and her sail!



"Behind us are the Moormen;

At sea we sink or strand

There's death upon the water,

There's death upon the land!"



Then up spake John de Matha

"God's errands never fail!

Take thou the mantle which I wear,

And make of it a sail."



They raised the cross-wrought mantle,

The blue, the white, the red;

And straight before the wind off-shore

The ship of Freedom sped.



"God help us!" cried the seamen,

"For vain is mortal skill

The good ship on a stormy sea

Is drifting at its will."



Then up spake John de Matha

"My mariners, never fear

The Lord whose breath has filled her sail

May well our vessel steer!"



So on through storm and darkness

They drove for weary hours;

And lo! the third gray morning shone

On Ostia's friendly towers.



And on the walls the watchers

The ship of mercy knew,

They knew far off its holy cross,

The red, the white, and blue.



And the bells in all the steeples

Rang out in glad accord,

To welcome home to Christian soil

The ransomed of the Lord.



So runs the ancient legend

By bard and painter told;

And lo! the cycle rounds again,

The new is as the old!



With rudder foully broken,

And sails by traitors torn,

Our country on a midnight sea

Is waiting for the morn.



Before her, nameless terror;

Behind, the pirate foe;

The clouds are black above her,

The sea is white below.



The hope of all who suffer,

The dread of all who wrong,

She drifts in darkness and in storm,

How long, O Lord I how long?



But courage, O my mariners

Ye shall not suffer wreck,

While up to God the freedman's prayers

Are rising from your deck.



Is not your sail the banner

Which God hath blest anew,

The mantle that De Matha wore,

The red, the white, the blue?



Its hues are all of heaven,

The red of sunset's dye,

The whiteness of the moon-lit cloud,

The blue of morning's sky.



Wait cheerily, then, O mariners,

For daylight and for land;

The breath of God is in your sail,

Your rudder is His hand.



Sail on, sail on, deep-freighted

With blessings and with hopes;

The saints of old with shadowy hands

Are pulling at your ropes.



Behind ye holy martyrs

Uplift the palm and crown;

Before ye unborn ages send

Their benedictions down.



Take heart from John de Matha!--

God's errands never fail!

Sweep on through storm and darkness,

The thunder and the hail!



Sail on! The morning cometh,

The port ye yet shall win;

And all the bells of God shall ring

The good ship bravely in!

1865.





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