Thursday, July 20, 2017

Devon, o Devon, in wind and rain

Waggon Hill is a poem by Henry Newbolt. There is an odd contradiction between the maritime theme of the poem and the fact that the name of the poem is for a hill outside Ladysmith in South Africa.

The bridge between the two is that Ladysmith was besieged by Boers in 1900 in the Second Boer War. The siege lasted 118 days with many engagements over its duration, including one at Wagon Hill which the Boers attacked and the British defended.

The connection to the poem is that Wagon Hill was defended by the Devonshire Regiment. Newbolt wrote the poem as a tribute to the Devonshire Regiment, likening their courage and tenacity to that most famous son of Devon, Captain Sir Francis Drake.

Drake flourished in the expansive era of Elizabeth I as a privateer, explorer, and navigator. He led the second circumnavigation of the world 1577-1580 and was second-in-command of the British navy in its storied defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It is Drake's battle with the Armada to which Newbolt is drawing a parallel with the Cornish Regiment's defense of Wagon Hill.
Waggon Hill
Ladysmith, January 6th, 1900
by Henry Newbolt

Drake in the North Sea grimly prowling,
Treading his dear Revenge's deck,
Watched, with the sea-dogs round him growling,
Galleons drifting wreck by wreck.
"Fetter and Faith for England's neck,
Faggot and Father, Saint and chain, -
Yonder the Devil and all go howling,
Devon, O Devon, in wind and rain!"

Drake at the last off Nombre lying,
Knowing the night that toward him crept,
Gave to the sea-dogs round him crying
This for a sign before he slept: -
"Pride of the West! What Devon hath kept
Devon shall keep on tide or main;
Call to the storm and drive them flying,
Devon, O Devon, in wind and rain!"

Valour of England gaunt and whitening,
Far in a South land brought to bay,
Locked in a death-grip all day tightening,
Waited the end in twilight gray.
Battle and storm and the sea-dog's way
Drake from his long rest turned again,
Victory lit thy steel with lightning,
Devon, O Devon, in wind and rain!

The poem was set to music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.



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