The Wagoner of the Alleghanies.
A Poem of the Days of Seventy-Six.
OUT of the North the wild news came,
Far flashing on its wings of flame,
Swift as the boreal light which flies
At midnight through the startled skies.
And there was tumult in the air,
The fife’s shrill note, the drum’s loud beat,
And through the wide land everywhere
The answering tread of hurrying feet,
While the first oath of Freedom’s gun
Came on the blast from Lexington.
And Concord, roused, no longer tame,
Forgot her old baptismal name,
Made bare her patriot arm of power,
And swelled the discord of the hour.
The strife was loud, the time was wild,
When from the sky Heaven’s favorite child,
Sweet Liberty, in joy descended;
A veil of lightning round her clung,
Whereon the stars of morning hung,
While o’er her head Jove’s eagle swung,
With all his thunderbolts attended.
She came with Victory hand in hand,
Whose flashing eyes and streaming hair
And gleaming robes and flaming brand
Shot splendor through the dusky air,
And gladdened the awakening land.
Wild was the night; but wilder still
The day which saw those sisters bright,
In all their beauty and their might,
Hanging above the battle-stroke,
Waving like banners through the smoke
That veiled the heights of Bunker Hill.
The field was wellnigh won, when, lo!
From the enraged and reeling foe
Another charge, another blow,
That reached and smote the patriot chief.
Pale Liberty recoiled a pace,
And for a moment veiled her face;
While Victory o’er her hero prest,
And wildly wept on Warren’s breast
The first tears of her grief.
Alas! that moment was her cost:—
When she looked up, the field was lost.
“Lost? lost?” she cried. “It shall not be,
While Justice holds her throne on high!
By Heaven! for every martyr dead,
For every sacred drop here shed
From out the brave hearts of the free,
The foe shall doubly bleed and die!”
Such was the voice that fiercely rung
From brave New England’s rocks and pines
Such were the notes that echo flung
Far southward, from its clarion tongue,
Through all the Alleghanian lines;
And every homestead heard the call,
And one great answer flamed through all.
Each sacred hearthstone, deep and wide,
Through many a night glowed bright and full;
The matron’s great wheel at its side
No more devoured the carded wool,
And now the maiden’s smaller wheel
No longer felt the throbbing tread,
But stood beside the idle reel
Among its idle flax and thread.
No more the jovial song went round,
No more the ringing laugh was heard;
But every voice had a solemn sound,
And some stern purpose filled each word.
The yeoman and the yeoman’s son,
With knitted brows and sturdy dint,
Renewed the polish of each gun,
Re-oiled the lock, reset the flint;
And oft the maid and matron there,
While kneeling in the firelight glare,
Long poured, with half-suspended breath,
The lead into the moulds of death.
The hands by Heaven made silken soft
To soothe the brow of love or pain,
Alas! are dulled and soiled too oft
By some unhallowed earthly stain;
But under the celestial bound
No nobler picture can be found
Than woman, brave in word and deed,
Thus serving in her nation’s need:
Her love is with her country now,
Her hand is on its aching brow.
THE BRAVE AT HOME.
The maid who binds her warrior’s sash
With smile that well her pain dissembles,
The while beneath her drooping lash
One starry tear-drop hangs and trembles,
Though Heaven alone records the tear,
And Fame shall never know her story,
Her heart has shed a drop as dear
As e’er bedewed the field of glory!
The wife who girds her husband’s sword,
Mid little ones who weep or wonder,
And bravely speaks the cheering word,
What though her heart be rent asunder,
Doomed nightly in her dreams to hear
The bolts of death around him rattle,
Hath shed as sacred blood as e’er
Was poured upon the field of battle!
The mother who conceals her grief
While to her breast her son she presses,
Then breathes a few brave words and brief,
Kissing the patriot brow she blesses,
With no one but her secret God
To know the pain that weighs upon her,
Sheds holy blood as e’er the sod
Received on Freedom’s field of honor!
Within its shade of elm and oak
The church of Berkley Manor stood:
There Sunday found the rural folk,
And some esteemed of gentle blood.
In vain their feet with loitering tread
Passed mid the graves where rank is naught
All could not read the lesson taught
In that republic of the dead.
How sweet the hour of Sabbath talk,
The vale with peace and sunshine full,
Where all the happy people walk,
Decked in their homespun flax and wool!
Where youths’ gay hats with blossoms bloom;
And every maid, with simple art,
Wears on her breast, like her own heart,
A bud whose depths are all perfume;
While every garment’s gentle stir
Is breathing rose and lavender.
There, veiled in all the sweets that are
Blown from the violet’s purple bosom,
The scent of lilacs from afar,
Touched with the sweet shrub’s spicy blossom,
Walked Esther; and the rustic ranks
Stood on each side like flowery banks,
To let her pass,—a blooming aisle,
Made brighter by her summer smile:
On her father’s arm she seemed to be
The last green bough of that haughty tree.
The pastor came; his snowy locks
Hallowed his brow of thought and care;
And, calmly as shepherds lead their flocks,
He led into the house of prayer.
Forgive the student Edgar there
If his enchanted eyes would roam,
And if his thoughts soared not beyond,
And if his heart glowed warmly fond
Beneath his hopes’ terrestrial dome.
To him the maiden seemed to stand,
Veiled in the glory of the morn,
At the bar of the heavenly bourne,
A guide to the golden holy land.
When came the service’ low response,
Hers seemed an angel’s answering tongue
When with the singing choir she sung,
O’er all the rest her sweet notes rung,
As if a silver bell were swung
Mid bells of iron and of bronze.
At times, perchance,—oh, happy chance!—
Their lifting eyes together met,
Like violet to violet,
Casting a dewy greeting glance.
For once be Love, young Love, forgiven,
That here, in a bewildered trance,
He brought the blossoms of romance
And waved them at the gates of heaven.
The pastor rose: the prayer was strong;
The psalm was warrior David’s song;
The text, a few short words of might,—
“The Lord of hosts shall arm the right!”
He spoke of wrongs too long endured,
Of sacred rights to be secured;
Then from his patriot tongue of flame
The startling words for Freedom came.
The stirring sentences he spake
Compelled the heart to glow or quake,
And, rising on his theme’s broad wing,
And grasping in his nervous hand
The imaginary battle-brand,
In face of death he dared to fling
Defiance to a tyrant king.
Even as he spoke, his frame, renewed
In eloquence of attitude,
Rose, as it seemed, a shoulder higher;
Then swept his kindling glance of fire
From startled pew to breathless choir;
When suddenly his mantle wide
His hands impatient flung aside,
And, lo! he met their wondering eyes
Complete in all a warrior’s guise.†
A moment there was awful pause,—
When Berkley cried, “Cease, traitor! cease!
God’s temple is the house of peace!”
The other shouted, “Nay, not so,
When God is with our righteous cause:
His holiest places then are ours,
His temples are our forts and towers
That frown upon the tyrant foe:
In this the dawn of Freedom’s day
There is a time to fight and pray!”
And now before the open door—
The warrior-priest had ordered so—
The enlisting trumpet’s sudden soar
Rang through the chapel, o’er and o’er,
Its long reverberating blow,
So loud and clear, it seemed the ear
Of dusty death must wake and hear.
And there the startling drum and fife
Fired the living with fiercer life;
While overhead, with wild increase,
Forgetting its ancient toll of peace,
The great bell swung as ne’er before:
It seemed as it would never cease;
And every word its ardor flung
From off its jubilant iron tongue
Was, “WAR! WAR! WAR!”
“Who dares”—this was the patriot’s cry,
As striding from the desk he came—
“Come out with me, in Freedom’s name,
For her to live, for her to die?”
A hundred hands flung up reply,
A hundred voices answered, “I!”
—Thomas Buchanan Read.
† In concluding his farewell sermon, he said that, in the language of Holy Writ,’there was a time for all things,—a time to preach, and a time to pray,—but those times had passed away;’ and then, in a voice that echoed like a trumpet-blast through the church, he said that ‘there was a time to fight, and that time had now come.’ Then, laying aside his sacerdotal gown, he stood before his flock in the full regimental dress of a Virginia colonel. He ordered the drums to be beaten at the church-door for recruits, and almost all his male audience capable of bearing arms joined his standard.—Lossing’s Sketch of the Life of General Muhlenberg.
Courtesy of Democratic Thinker