Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
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JOHN G. WHITTIER.
THE FEMALE MARTYR.
Mary G—, aged 18, a "SISTER OF CHARITY," died in one of our Atlantic cities, during the prevalence of the Indian Cholera, while in voluntary attendance upon the sick.
"BRING out your dead!" the midnight street
Heard and gave back the hoarse, low call;
Harsh fell the tread of hasty feet;
Glanced through the dark the coarse white sheet;
Her coffin and her pall.
"What! only one!" the brutal hackman said,
As, with an oath, he spurn'd away the dead.
How sunk the inmost hearts of all,
As roll'd that dead-cart slowly by,
With creaking wheel and harsh hoof-fall!
The dying turn'd him to the wall,
To hear it and to die!
Onward it roll'd; while oft its driver stay'd,
And hoarsely clamour'd, "Ho! bring out your dead
It paused beside the burial-place:
"Toss in your load!" and it was done.
With quick hand and averted face,
Hastily to the grave's embrace
They cast them, one by one—
Stranger and friend—the evil and the just,
Together trodden in the churchyard dust!
And thou, young martyr! thou wast there:
No white-robed sisters round thee trod,
Nor holy hymn, nor funeral prayer
Rose through the damp and noisome air,
Giving thee to thy God;
Nor flower, nor cross, nor hallow'd taper gave
Grace to the dead, and beauty to the grave!
Yet, gentle sufferer! there shall be,
In every heart of kindly feeling,
A rite as holy paid to thee
As if beneath the convent-tree
Thy sisterhood were kneeling,
At vesper hours, like sorrowing angels, keeping
Their tearful watch around thy place of sleeping.
For thou wast one in whom the light
Of Heaven's own love was kindled well,
Enduring with a martyr's might,
Through weary day and wakeful night,
Far more than words may tell:
Gentle, and meek, and lowly, and unknown,
Thy mercies measured by thy God alone!
Where manly hearts were failing—where
The throngful street grew foul with death,
Oh high soul'd martyr! thou wast there,
Inhaling from the loathsome air
Poison with every breath.
Yet shrinking not from offices of dread
For the wrung dying and the unconscious dead.
And, where the sickly taper shed
Its light through vapours, damp, confined,
Hush'd as a seraph's fell thy tread,
A new Electra by the bed
Of suffering human-kind!
Pointing the spirit, in its dark dismay,
To that pure hope which fadeth not away.
Innocent teacher of the high
And holy mysteries of Heaven!
How turn'd to thee each glazing eye,
In mute and awful sympathy,
As thy low prayers were given;
And the o'erhovering spoiler wore, the while,
An angel's features, a deliverer's smile!
A blessed task! and worthy one
Who, turning from the world, as thou,
Ere being's pathway had begun
To leave its spring-time flower and sun,
Had seal'd her early vow,
Giving to God her beauty and her youth,
Her pure affections and her guileless truth.
Earth may not claim thee. Nothing here
Could be for thee a meet reward;
Thine is a treasure far more dear:
Eye hath not seen it, nor the ear
Of living mortal heard,
The joys prepared, the promised bliss above,
The holy presence of Eternal Love!
Sleep on in peace. The earth has not
A nobler name than thine shall be.
The deeds by martial manhood wrought,
The lofty energies of thought,
The fire of poesy—
These have but frail and fading honours; thine
Shall Time unto Eternity consign.
THE WORSHIP OF NATURE.
"It hath beene as it were especially rendered unto mee, and made plaine and legible to my understandynge, that a great worshipp is going on among the thyngs of God."
THE Ocean looketh up to Heaven
As 'twere a living thing,
The homage of its waves is given
In ceaseless worshipping.
They kneel upon the sloping sand,
As bends the human knee,
A beautiful and tireless band,
The Priesthood of the Sea!
They pour the glittering treasures out
Which in the deep have birth,
And chant their awful hymns about
The watching hills of earth.
The green earth sends its incense up
From every mountain shrine,
From every flower and dewy cup
That greeteth the sunshine.
The mists are lifted from the rills
Like the white wing of prayer,
They lean above the ancient hills
As doing homage there.
The forest tops are lowly cast
O'er breezy hill and glen,
As if a prayerful spirit pass'd
On Nature as on men.
The clouds weep o'er the fallen world,
E'en as repentant love;
Ere to the blessed breeze unfurl'd,
They fade in light above.
The sky is as a temple's arch,
The blue and wavy air
Is glorious with the spirit-march
Of messengers of prayer.
The village of Haverhill, on the Merrimack, called by the Indians Pentucket, was for nearly seventy years a frontier town, and during thirty years endured all the horrors of savage warfare. In the year of 1708, a combined body of French and Indians, under the command of De Challions, and Hertel de Rouville, the infamous and bloody sacker of Deerfield, made an attack upon the village, which at that time contained only thirty houses. Sixteen of the villagers were massacred, and a still larger number made prisoners. About thirty of the enemy also fell, and among them Hertel de Rouville. The minister of the place, Benjamin Rolfe, was killed by a shot through his own door.
How sweetly on the wood-girt town
The mellow light of sunset shone!
Each small bright lake, whose waters still
Mirror the forest and the hill,
Reflected from its waveless breast
The beauty of a cloudless west,
Glorious as if a glimpse were given
Within the western gates of Heaven,
Left, by the spirit of the star
Of sunset's holy hour, ajar!
Beside the river's tranquil flood
The dark and low-wall'd dwellings stood,
Where many a rood of open land
Stretch'd up and down on either hand,
With corn-leaves waving freshly green
The thick and blacken'd stumps between;
Behind, unbroken, deep and dread,
The wild, untravell'd forest spread,
Back to those mountains, white and cold,
Of which the Indian trapper told,
Upon whose summits never yet
Was mortal foot in safety set.
Quiet and calm, without a fear
Of,danger darkly lurking near,
The weary labourer left his plough,
The milkmaid caroll'd by her cow;Page 219
From cottage door and household hearth
Rose songs of praise or tones of mirth.
At length the murmur died away,
And silence on that village lay:
So slept Pompeii, tower and hall,
Ere the quick earthquake swallow'd all,
Undreaming of the fiery fate
Which made its dwellings desolate!
Hours pass'd away. By moonlight sped
The Merrimack along his bed.
Bathed in the pallid lustre stood
Dark cottage-wall, and rock, and wood,
Silent, beneath that tranquil beam,
As the hush'd grouping of a dream.
Yet on the still air crept a sound—
No bark of fox, no rabbit's bound,
No stir of wings, nor waters flowing,
Nor leaves in midnight breezes blowing.
Was that the tread of many feet,
Which downward from the hillside beat?
What forms were those which darkly stood
Just on the margin of the wood?
Charr'd tree-stumps in the moonlight dim,
Or paling rude, or leafless limb?
No: through the trees fierce eyeballs glow'd,
Dark human forms in moonshine show'd,
Wild from their native wilderness,
With painted limbs and battle-dress!
A. yell, the dead might wake to hear,
Swell'd on the night-air far and clear:
Then smote the Indian tomahawk
On crashing door and shattering lock;
Then rang the rifle-shot; and then
The shrill death-scream of stricken men;
Sunk the red axe in woman's brain,
And childhood's cry arose in vain;Page 220
Bursting through roof and window came,
Red, fast and fierce, the kindled flame;
And blended fire and moonlight glared
Over dead corse and weapons bared.
The morning sun look'd brightly through
The river willows, wet with dew.
No sound of combat fill'd the air,
No shout was heard, nor gunshot there:
Yet still the thick and sullen smoke
From smouldering ruins slowly broke;
And on the greensward many a stain,
And, here and there, the mangled slain,
Told how that midnight bolt had sped,
Pentucket, on thy fated head!
Even now the villager can tell
Where Rolfe beside his hearthstone fell;
Still show the door of wasting oak,
Through which the fatal death-shot broke,
And point the curious stranger where
De Rouville's corse lay grim and bare;
Whose hideous head, in death still fear'd,
Bore not a trace of hair or beard;
And still, within the churchyard ground,
Heaves darkly up the ancient mound,
Beneath whose grass-grown surface lies
The victims of that sacrifice.