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God Bless Captain Vere!
“God Bless Captain Vere!”
It is 1798, a year after the mutiny at Nore and a year after Billy Budd was first impressed onto the English warship HMS Bellipotent 74. The ghost of Captain Vere, dead but a few months, narrates the tale of Budd aboard the Bellipotent.
A Handsome Sailor I impressed that day,
That day amid war and rooted unrest,
A youthful lad, tall, dark, strong, and well known.
His origins unknown, his future uncertain,
But his work done well, and his cheerful face enjoyed.
No hint of a sorry future in him,
No telling of the crime he would commit,
No knowing of the part I would soon play.
After he came, my man-at-arms accused him
Of little less than recalcitrant mutiny.
I could hardly believe it of him, yet,
To disbelieve could lead to uprising,
And for Nore to repeat would not be prime.
With my King’s bargain in the balance, what to do?
Demand proof, gather witness, call confrontation.
But Billy, O Billy! You hurt my heart,
Your response was less than assuaging;
What was there left to do? You killed the man.
In his surprise, his impediment impeded,
His pallor surprised me, and then his arm lashed out.
Claggart, his accuser, fell down… down… down…
Blood poured from his orifices, and Billy:
Budd, your sentence was written in his blood.
My King’s bargain- “Struck down by an Angel of God-
Yet the Angel must hang!” A heavy thought to bear.
When his time came, I swallowed my sorrow
Ever the Captain’s duty to fulfill-
Although my poor conscience begged to differ.
His last words so poignant, so selfless, so grateful,
That all the crew followed suit- “God bless Captain Vere!”
Vapory fleece hanging low in the East
Was shot through with a soft glory by light
Billy ascended, the full rose of dawn.
When my own time came, the shot a salvo to me;
I felt it in my heart, a breaking in my chest.
The clouds did not part and no dove song heard,
But the sun did yonder break, and I gave
My parting breath- “Billy Budd, Billy Budd.”