Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant


OLD OFFICER. My general, I know this people well;
And all the virtues which Old England claims,
As the foundations of her happiness
And greatness—such as reverence of law
And custom, prudence, female chastity,
And with them, independence, fortitude.
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Courage, and sturdiness of purpose—have
Been here transplanted from their native soil,
And flourish undegenerate. From these—
Sources exhaustible but with the life
That feeds them—their severe intents take birth,
And draw the lusty sustenance to mould
The limbs and body of their own fulfilment,
So that performance lag not after purpose.
They are our countrymen. They are, as well
In manly resolution as in blood,
The children of our fathers. Washington
Doth know no other language than the one
We speak: and never did an English tongue
Give voice unto a larger, wiser mind.
You'll task your judgment vainly to point out,
Through all this desp'rate conflict in his plans
A flaw, or fault in execution. He
In spirit is unconquerable, as
In genius perfect. Side by side I fought
With him in that disastrous enterprise
Where rash young Braddock fell; and there I mark'd
The vet'ran's skill contend for mastery
With youthful courage in his wondrous deeds.
Well might the bloody Indian warrior pause,
Amid his massacre confounded, and
His baffled rifle's aim, till then unerring,
Turn from "that tall young man," and deem in awe
That the Great Spirit hover'd over him;
For he, of all our mounted officers,
Alone came out unscathed from that dread carnage,
To guard our shatter'd army's swift retreat.
For years did his majestic form hold place
Upon my mind, stamp'd in that perilous hour,
In th' image of a strong-arm'd friend, until
I met him next as a resistless foe.
'Twas at the fight near Princeton. In quick march,
Victorious o'er his van, onward we press'd;
When, moving with firm pace, led by the chief
Himself, the central force encounter'd us.
One moment paused th' opposing hosts, and then
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The rattling volley hid the death it bore:
Another, and the sudden cloud, uproll'd,
Display'd, midway between the adverse lines,
His drawn sword gleaming high, the chief, as though
That crash of deadly music, and the burst
Of sulphurous vapour, had from out the earth
Summon'd the god of war. Doubly exposed,
He stood unharm'd. Like eagles tempest-borne
Rush'd to his side his men; and had our souls
And arms with twofold strength been braced, we yet
Had not withstood that onset. Thus does he
Keep ever with occasion even step;
Now warily before our eager speed
Retreating, tempting us with battle's promise
Only to toil us with a vain pursuit;
Now wheeling rapidly about our flanks,
Startling our ears with sudden peal of war,
And fronting in the thickest of the fight
The common soldier's death, stirring the blood
Of faintest hearts to deeds of bravery
By his great presence.