A Leak in the Dike
So, faintly calling and crying
Till the sun is under the sea;
Crying and moaning till the stars
Come out for company;
He thinks of his brother and sister,
Asleep in their safe warm bed;
He thinks of his father and mother,
Of himself as dying–and dead;
And of how, when the night is over,
They must come and find him at last:
But he never thinks he can leave the place
Where duty holds him fast.
The good dame in the cottage
Is up and astir with the light,
For the thought of her little Peter
Has been with her all night.
And now she watches the pathway,
As yester-eve she had done;
But what does she see so strange and black
Against the rising sun?
Her neighbors are bearing between them
Something straight to her door;
Her child is coming home, but not
As he ever came before!
“He is dead!” she cries; “my darling!”
And the startled father hears,
And comes and looks the way she looks,
And fears the thing she fears:
Till a glad shout from the bearers
Thrills the stricken man and wife—
“Give thanks, for your son has saved our land,
And God has saved his life!”
So, there in the morning sunshine
They knelt about the boy;
And every head was bared and bent
In tearful, reverent joy.
‘Tis many a year since then; but still,
When the sea roars like a flood,
Their boys are taught what a boy can do
Who is brave and true and good.
For every man in that country
Takes his son by the hand,
And tells him of little Peter,
Whose courage saved the land.
They have many a valiant hero,
Remembered through the years:
But never one whose name so oft
Is named with loving tears.
And his deed shall be sung by the cradle,
And told to the child on the knee,
So long as the dikes of Holland
Divide the land from the sea!
Phoebe Cary was born near Cincinnati, Ohio on September 4, 1824. She began writing poetry at an early age. She moved with her sister, Alice, to New York where they both obtained literary work for several noted publications, as well as hosting a literary salon at their home on E. 20th Street. John Greenleaf Whittier, Rufus Griswold and Horace Greeley were the Cary sisters’ patrons.
This poem is based upon the tale of ‘The Hero of Haarlem”, written by Mary Mapes Dodge (1831-1905), and published in 1856.