Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
Page 170Page 172
AND on this night, whose parting shades
Shall see the avengers lift their blades,
And bring relentless fury, fraught
With many an insult's goading thought,
The outlaw Sachem slept;
The while his scanty band around,
Low in the swamp's unequal ground,
Their mournful vigils kept.
Tall trees o'erthrown their bulwark made,
While rude, luxuriant vines o'erspread,
Conceal'd their lurking-place;
There, now to feeble numbers worn,
In strength o'erspent, in hope forlorn,
Shrunk, trembling for the coming morn,
The Wampanoag race.
Mothers and widows sad were then
Hidden within that gloomy fen;
Left for a space by war, to mourn
Each sacred bond asunder torn.
Perchance they thought of many a scene
Departed, to return no more;
How, when the hunter's toil was o'er,
And dress'd his frugal meal had been,
His children cluster'd round his knee,
To hear the tales of former days,
And learn what men should strive to be,
While listening to the warrior's praise:
And she, thrice happy parent! sate,
Well pleased, beside her honour'd mate;
What time gray eve its welcome hue
O'er distant hills and forests threw:
Nor idle then, with dexterous hand,
She wrought the glittering wampum band;
Or loved the silken grass to braid;
Or through the deerskin, smooth and strong
Weaving the many-colour'd thong,
Her hunter's comely sandals made.Page 171
This they recall'd; and marvell'd they,
When bounteous earth is wide and free,
Why man, whose life is for a day,
So much in love with wo should be!
He slept, yet not the spirit slept;
Her feverish vigil memory kept;
In motley visions on her eye,
The phantom host of dreams pass'd by.
Tradition, meet for vulgar faith,
Has told of threats of coming skaith,
Spoke by the Evil One, who came,
This eve, his destined prey to claim,
In form, as when at noon of night,
He met him on the mountain's height:
O'er the gray rock the fiend outspread
His sable pinions as he fled,
And, ere the sounding air he cleft,
His foot gigantic impress left.
Such superstition's idle tale—
But let the minstrel's lore prevail.
He saw the world of souls; and there
Brave men and beauteous women were:
Fair forms to chiefs of godlike mien,
Reposing in their arbours green,
Supplied the spicy bowls they quaff'd,
And round them danced, and joyous laugh'd;
While aye the warriors smiled to see
Those lovely creatures in their glee;
And pledged them in the sparkling cup;
Or breathed their fragrant incense up;
Grateful and pure, 'twas seen to flow
From calumets like stainless snow.
Apart reclined in kingly state,
The ancient Massasoiet sate,
And earnest with Uncompeon old,
Speech grave, but pleasant, seem'd to hold;
Uncompoën, slain in recent fight,
Contending for his nephew's right.
Just from the woods, like hunter dight,
The gallant Ouamsutta came;
Bearing behind his plenteous game,
In order moved the warrior's train;
Joyous his bearing was, and free,
As if fatigue, and wounds, and pain,
In that bless'd world could never be;
His buskins trapp'd with glittering gold,
His floating mantle's graceful fold
Clasp'd with a sparkling gem;
Dazzling his cincture's radiance gleam'd,
Woven from the heavenly bow it seem'd,
And like the sun-rays danced and stream'd
His feathery diadem.
A spear with silver tipp'd he bore;
The gayly-tinkling rings before,
The quiver rattling on his back,
His buoyant frame and kindling eye,
The thrilling pulse of transport high,
The sense of power and pleasure spake
And one and all the Sachem knew,
When near their blissful bower he drew;
And clapp'd their hands with joy to see
The hero join their company.
And strains of softest music round,
From flutes and tabors, with the sound
Of voices, sweet as sweetest bird,
To greet the entering guest were heard.
"Welcome," they sung, "thy toils are done,
Thy battles fought, thy rest is won;
And welcome to the world thou art,
Where kindred souls shall never part;
Honour on earth shall valour have,
And joy with us attends the brave."
That ravishing dream was rapt away,
Vanish'd the forms, the music died;
And changeful fancy's wayward sway
Visions of darker hue suppliedPage 173
O'er frozen plains he seem'd to go,
Mid driving sleet and blinding snow.
Then Assawomsett's lake he knew,
And dim descried, the tempest through,
Apostate Sausaman arise;
Stiff were his gory locks with ice,
And mangled was his form;
It tower'd aloft to giant size;
Fierce shone the fury of his eyes,
Like lightning through the storm.
He cried, "My spirit hath no home!
A weary, wandering ghost I roam.
This night the avengers lift the blade,
And my foul murder shall be paid!"