Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
ADDRESS TO BLACK HAWK.
THERE'S beauty on thy brow, old chief! the high
And manly beauty of the Roman mould,
And the keen flashing of thy full dark eye
Speaks of a heart that years have not made cold
Of passions scathed not by the blight of time;
Ambition, that survives the battle route.
The man within thee scorns to play the mime
To gaping crowds that compass thee about.
Thou walkest, with thy warriors by thy side,
Wrapp'd in fierce hate, and high, unconquer'd pride.
Chief of a hundred warriors! dost thou yet—
Vanquish'd and captive—dost thou deem that here.
The glowing daystar of thy glory set—
Dull night has closed upon thy bright career?
Old forest lion, caught and caged at last,
Dost pant to roam again thy native wild?
To gloat upon the lifeblood flowing fast
Of thy crush'd victims; and to slay the child,
To dabble in the gore of wives and mothers,
And kill, old Turk! thy harmless, pale-faced brothers?
For it was cruel, Black Hawk, thus to flutter
The dovecotes of the peaceful pioneers,
To let thy tribe commit such fierce and utter
Slaughter among the folks of the frontiers.
Though thine be old, hereditary hate,
Begot in wrongs, and nursed in blood, until
It had become a madness, 'tis too late
To crush the hordes who have the power and will
To rob thee of thy hunting-grounds and fountains,
And drive thee backward to the Rocky Mountains.
Spite of thy looks of cold indifference,
There's much thou'st seen that must excite thy wonder;
Wakes not upon thy quick and startled sense
The cannon's harsh and pealing voice of thunder?
Our big canoes, with white and widespread wings,
That sweep the waters as birds sweep the sky;
Our steamboats, with their iron lungs, like things
Of breathing life, that dash and hurry by?
Or, if thou scorn'st the wonders of the ocean,
What think'st thou of our railroad locomotion?
Thou'st seen our museums, beheld the dummies
That grin in darkness in their coffin cases;
What think'st thou of the art of making mummies,
So that the worms shrink from their dry embraces?
Thou'st seen the mimic tyrants of the stage
Strutting, in paint and feathers, for an hour;
Thou'st heard the bellowing of their tragic rage,
Seen their eyes glisten, and their dark brows lower.
Anon, thou'st seen them, when their wrath cool'd down,
Pass in a moment from a king—to clown.
Thou see'st these things unmoved! say'st so, old fellow?
Then tell us, have the white man's glowing daughters
Set thy cold blood in motion? Has't been mellow
By a sly cup or so of our fire-waters?Page 282
They are thy people's deadliest poison. They
First make them cowards, and then white men's slaves;
And sloth, and penury, and passion's prey,
And lives of misery, and early graves.
For, by their power, believe me, not a day goes
But kills some Foxes, Sacs, and Winnebagoes.
Say, does thy wandering heart stray far away,
To the deep bosom of thy forest-home?
The hillside, where thy young pappooses play,
And ask, amid their sports, when thou wilt come?
Come not the wailings of thy gentle squaws
For their lost warrior loud upon thine ear,
Piercing athwart the thunder of huzzas,
That, yell'd at every corner, meet thee here?
The wife who made that shell-deck'd wampum belt
Thy rugged heart must think of her—and melt.
Chafes not thy heart, as chafes the panting breast
Of the caged bird against his prison bars,
That thou, the crown'd warrior of the West,
The victor of a hundred forest wars,
Shouldst in thy age become a raree show,
Led, like a walking bear, about the town,
A new-caught monster, who is all the go,
And stared at, gratis, by the gaping clown?
Boils not thy blood while thus thou'rt led about,
The sport and mockery of the rabble rout?
Whence came thy cold philosophy? whence came
Thou tearless, stern, and uncomplaining one,
The power that taught thee thus to veil the flame
Of thy fierce passions? Thou despisest fun,
And thy proud spirit scorns the white men's glee,
Save thy fierce sport, when at the funeral-pile
Of a bound warrior in his agony,
Who meets thy horrid laugh with dying smile.
Thy face, in length, reminds one of a Quaker's,
Thy dances, too, are solemn as a Shaker's.
Proud scion of a noble stem! thy tree
Is blanch'd, and bare, and sear'd, and leafless now.
I'll not insult its fallen majesty,
Nor drive, with careless hand, the ruthless plough
Over its roots. Torn from its parent mould,
Rich, warm, and deep, its fresh, free, balmy air,
No second verdure quickens in our cold,
New, barren earth; no life sustains it there.
But, even though prostrate, 'tis a noble thing,
Though crownless, powerless, "every inch a king."
Give us thy hand, old nobleman of nature,
Proud ruler of the forest aristocracy;
The best of blood glows in thy every feature,
And thy curl'd lip speaks scorn for our democracy.
Thou wear'st thy titles on that godlike brow;
Let him who doubts them meet thine eagle eye,
He'll quail beneath its glance, and disavow
All question of thy noble family;
For thou may'st here become, with strict propriety,
A leader in our city good society.