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Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)


"The sleep that Tippoo Sahib sleeps
Heeds not the cry of man;
The faith that Tippoo Sahib keeps
No judge on earth may scan;
He is the lord of whom ye hold
Spirit and sense and limb,
Fetter and chain are all ye gain
Who dared to plead with him."

Baird 1. was bonny and Baird was young,
His heart was strong as steel,
But life and death in the balance hung
For his wounds were ill to heal.
"Of fifty chains 2. the Sultan gave
We have filled but forty-nine:
We dare not fail of the perfect tale
For all Golconda's mine."

That was the hour when Lucas 3. first
Leapt to his long renown;
Like summer rains his anger burst,
And swept their scruples down.
"Tell ye the lord to whom ye crouch,
His fetters bite their fill:
To save your oath I'll wear them both,
And step the lighter still."

The seasons came, the seasons passed,
They watched their fellows die;
But still their thought was forward cast,
Their courage still was high.
Through tortured days and fevered nights
Their limbs alone were weak,
And year by year they kept their cheer,
And spoke as freemen speak.

But once a year, on the fourth of June,
Their speech to silence died,
And the silence beat to a soundless tune
And sang with a wordless pride;
Till when the Indian stars were bright,
And bells at home would ring,
To the fetters' clank they rose and drank
"England! God Save the King!"

The years came, and the years went,
The wheel full-circle rolled;
The tyrant's neck must yet be bent,
The price of blood be told:
The city yet must hear the roar
Of Baird's avenging guns,
And see him stand with lifted hand
By Tippoo Sahib's sons.

The lads were bonny, the lads were young,
But he claimed a pitiless debt;
Life and death in the balance hung,
They watched it swing and set.
They saw him search with sombre eyes,
They knew the place he sought;
They saw him feel for the hilted steel,
They bowed before his thought.

But he - he saw the prison there
In the old quivering heat,
Where merry hearts had met despair
And died without defeat;
Where feeble hands had raised the cup
For feebler lips to drain,
And one had worn with smiling scorn
His double load of pain.

"The sleep that Tippoo Sahib sleeps
Hears not the voice of man;
The faith that Tippoo Sahib keeps
No earthly judge may scan;
For all the wrong your father wrought
Your father's sons are free;
Where Lucas lay no tongue shall say
That Mercy bound not me."

"Seringapatam" was first published by Henry Newbolt in The Island Race (London, Elkin Mathews, 1898), and subsequently published in his Poems: New and Old (London, John Murray, 1912).


1. David Baird (1757-1829), later Major-General Baird, who led the final assault against Seringapatam (Srirangapattana) on 4 May 1799.

Baird was severely wounded and captured at the battle of Polilur (near Kanchipuram) in 1780, and remained a prisoner of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan for 44 months. He was finally released in March 1784 at the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Mysore War. He was later knighted and created a baronet.

2. On 10 May 1781 all the officer prisoners at Seringapatam were placed in irons.

3. Captain Lucas volunteered to wear a second set of chains to save his friend Baird, who was wounded in the leg. Baird himself was placed in irons on 10 November 1781, but they were removed again the following April because of his sickness. Lucas died in prison on 3 July 1782.