African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

James Ephraim McGirt, "Avenging the Maine" (1900)


Sing, O Muse! the avenging of the Maine,
The direful woes, the fate of Spain.
A heinous deed to our ship they wrought,
Untimely death to our crew they brought.
Our soldiers' valor forever tell,
Who for revenge both fought and fell;
Volcanic boats over the water went,
The burning revenge from them was sent.
Shafter's army, pray tell me all
Who died bravely rallying to the call ?
What of the Negroes in the band,
Did they scatter or did they stand ?
To this question I'll answer brief,
They fought like demons without a chief.
I'll ever sing of the memorable day
When negro valor was brought into play ;
In the hottest battle their captain died,
They did not scatter, “Onward they cried.”
Their eyes on victory intensely fixed,
Negro and white blood that day flowed mixed.
These are the first to embark on land,
There were no cowards in tbis band;

When the story you shall hear
They to you will ever seem dear.

Hold of her harp the muse then takes,
A minor chord on it she makes ;
All sịt quietly curious to hear,
But from her eye there falls a tear;
Her voice was choked, her bosom with sorrow did swell,
As from the strings her fingers fell.
O'er her face there came a frown,
She took a seat upon the ground,
Then to her side they quickly went;
From her breast a groan she sent.
Within our arms we held her head
And to the muse we softly said:
“Tell us, O Muse! what gives thee grief,
And if we can, we'll give relief?”
"From her breast again she sighed,
With throbbing voice to us replied,
"The story wbich you urge to hear
None can tell without a tear,
Grief to you this tale will bring
If I in poetry play and sing.
I can not sing the grievous woes
I'll tell the story to you in prose;
Now you all must listen with care

If the story you would hear;
From the beginning I'll now relate
That coming ages may know the fate.
In the land of Cuba there's a nation brave,
Whom the cruel Spaniards held as slaves.
One night their leaders in conference met
To see if their freedom they could get.
They the yoke of slavery bore
Till their shoulders bad galded sore.
Maceo, the first to take the stand,
He was the leader of the band ;
Unto them all he did declare
He could no longer slavery bear.
A bill to Spain he sent to see
If they would set the Cubans free;
And when the bill to Spain was sent
Becoming enraged the bill they rent.
To the soldiers she was heard to tell-
“Go! Murder the Cubans, if they rebel.”
Unto them all she gave command
To bring the leaders of the band.
The Cuban leaders they could not get,
There was a skirmish when they met;
When they had driven the leaders away,
The women and children they would slay

They murdered th' babes that knew no harm-
They stabbed them in their mothers' arms.
While killing all by sword they could,
From others they withheld the food,
To utterly starve a Cuban race.
To us it seemed a sad disgrace;
The freedom of Cuba then was our plea,
We called upon our General Lee,
Our beloved general to Cuba we sent
To see what the cruel Spaniards meant.
Over we sent our best ship“ Maine."
Spain to us had done the same;
Both were sent in truce's name.
Our ship in Havana's harbor stood;
But Spain was eager for our blood.
And in the secret of the night
On us explodes a dynamite;
And while her crew were fast asleep,
Some were hurled to the mighty deep.
The ship went down beneath the wave
Before we could our sailors save.
I can not picture the fearful sight,
Nor bear to think of the dreadful night,
When they performed the cruel deed;
Unless my heart is made to bleed.

Now the story you may abhor;
I've told the causes of the war.
The news was sent by the swiftest speed,
Announcing the Spaniard's cruel deed.
Sorrow and anger to us it brought,
To hear of the deed the Spaniards wrought.
Over the world a clamor rose,
And all the world that clamor knows;
Some were counting up the cost,
Others wailing over the lost.
Revenge! Revenge! our voices rang;
On to war was the song we sang.
To the White House we quickly went
To ask war of our President.
In the Senate, war was the cry,
Our President did not comply ;
To all of us he would rise and say:
"To go to war is more than play.”
The bill for war he would declare,
He could not sign till he prepare.
Soon his plans had been well made,
The cry for war he at once obeyed.
A number of men he first did ask.
To get them did not seem a task,
And every time a call was made,
Our loyal sons at once obeyed.
Of the brave heroes I now will tell,

Who for vengeance fought and fell:
Dewey and Sampson first I'll sing,
On my harp their names shall ring.
They first for vengeance made their way;
The woe of Spain began that day;
It seemed as He, the God Supreme, -
Down from His throne viewed all the scenes ;-
The deed of Spain He did abhor,
And lent us aid throughout the war.
With every fleet a guard was sent
To keep us safe where'r we went;
Around the mines to show us a path,
And manage the guns that burled our wrath.
The aid to us was beyond cost;
Not a boat of ours was lost.
Hobson's valor must not be untold ;
'Twas brave as any of the fold
The deed that made for him a name,
And I a muse must sing his fame,
To block th' Spaniard's escaping way,
He sank th’ Merrimac into th' bay.
The deed performed, his crew to save;
Their names I've placed among the brave.
The deed showed Sampson a safe way
To reach the port, Santiago Bay
He reached; the woe had begun,
That would not 'till the victory was won.

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