The American Flag

By Joseph Rodman Drake

When Freedom from her mountain height
Unfurled her standard to the air
She tore the azure robe of night
And set the stars of glory there!

She mingled with its gorgeous dyes
The milky baldric of the skies,
And striped its pure celestial white
With streakings of the morning light;

Then, from his mansion in the sun,
She called her eagle-bearer down,
And gave into his mighty hand,
The symbol of her chosen land.

Flag of the brave! thy folds shall fly
The sign of hope and triumph high!
When speaks the signal-trumpet tone
And the long line comes gleaming on.

Ere yet the life-blood, warm and wet,
Has dimmed the glistening bayonet
Each soldier eye shall brightly turn
To where thy sky-born glories burn,
And as his springing steps advance,
Catch war and vengeance from the glance;

And when the cannon-mouthings loud
Heaven in wild wreaths the battle-shroud
And gory sabers rise and fall,
Like shoots of flame on midnight's pall;

Then shall thy meteor-glances glow,
And cowering foes shall sink beneath
Each gallant arm that strikes below
That lovely messenger of death.

Flag of the seas! on ocean wave
Thy stars shall glitter o'er the brave;
When death. careening on the gale,
Sweeps darkly round the bellied sail,

And frighted waves rush wildly back
Before the broadside's reeling rack,
Each dying wanderer of the sea
Shall look at once to heaven and thee.
And smile to see thy splendors fly
In triumph o'er his closing eye.

Flag of the free heart's hope and home,
By angel hands to valor given!
Thy stars have lit the welkin dome,
And all thy hues were born in heaven.

Forever float that standard sheet!
Where breathes the foe but falls before us,
When Freedom's soil beneath our feet,
And Freedom's banner streaming o'er us!"

(the last 4 lines by Halleck. Drake's were thus--)
"And fixed as yonder orb divine.
That saw thy bannered blaze unfurled,
Shall thy proud stars resplendent shine,
The guard and glory of the world."

Joseph Rodman Drake was born in 1795 and died of consumption when he was 25 years old in 1820. He received his medical degree in 1816 and wrote poetry in his spare time. On his death-bed, he ordered his poems destroyed. Fortunately his daughter and his best friend, Fitz-Green Halleck, published his poems; and Halleck wrote the last quatrain of "The American Flag," his best-loved poem.