Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
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William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
 
Poem: ‘From realms of bondage and a tyrant’s reign’
By James Allen (1739–1808)
 
Written in Boston, at the commencement of the late Revolution

  FROM realms of bondage and a tyrant’s reign,
Our godlike fathers bore no slavish chain;
To Pharaoh’s face the inspired patriarchs stood,
To seal their virtue with a martyr’s blood:
But lives so precious, such a sacred seed,        5
The source of empires, Heaven’s high will decreed:
He snatch’d the saints from Pharaoh’s impious hand,
And bade his chosen seek this distant land:
Then to these climes the illustrious exiles sped,
’Twas freedom prompted, and the Godhead led.        10
Eternal woods the virgin soil defaced,
A dreary desert and a howling waste;
The haunt of tribes no pity taught to spare,
And they opposed them with remorseless war,
But Heaven’s right arm led forth the faithful train,        15
The guardian Godhead swept the insidious plain,
Till the scour’d thicket amicable stood,
Nor dastard ambush trench’d the dusky wood;
Our sires then earn’d, no more, precarious bread,
Nor midst alarms their frugal meals were spread;        20
Fair boding hopes inured their hands to toil,
And patriot virtue nursed the thriving soil.
Nor scarce two ages have their periods run,
Since o’er their culture smiled the genial sun;
And now what states extend their fair domains        25
O’er fleecy mountains and luxuriant plains!
Where happy millions their own fields possess,
No tyrant awes them, and no lords oppress;
The hand of rule divine discretion guides,
And white-robed virtue o’er her paths presides;        30
Each policed order venerates the laws,
And each, ingenuous, speaks in freedom’s cause;
The Spartan spirit, nor the Roman name,
The patriot’s pride, shall rival these in fame;
Here all the sweets that social life can know,        35
From the full fount of civil sapience flow;
Here golden Ceres clothes the autumnal plain,
And Art’s fair empress holds her new domain;
Here angel Science spreads her lucid wing,
And hark, how sweet the new-born Muses sing!        40
Here generous Commerce spreads her liberal hand,
And scatters foreign blessings round the land.
Shall meagre Mammon, or proud lust of sway,
Reverse these scenes—will Heaven permit the day?
Shall in this era all our hopes expire,        45
And weeping Freedom from her fanes retire?
Here shall the tyrant still our peace pursue,
From the pain’d eyebrow drink the vital dew?
Not nature’s barrier wards our fathers’ foe,
Seas roll in vain, and boundless oceans flow.—        50
  Stay, Pharaoh, 1 stay; that impious hand forbear,
Nor tempt the genius of our souls too far;
How oft, ungracious, in thy thankless stead,
Mid scenes of death, our generous youth have bled!
When the proud Gaul thy mightiest powers repell’d,        55
And drove thy legions, trembling, from the field,
We rent the laurel from the victor’s brow,
And round thy temples taught the wreath to grow. 2
Say, when thy slaughter’d bands the desert dyed,
Where lone Ohio rolls her gloomy tide,        60
Whose dreary banks their wasting bones enshrine,
What arm avenged them?—thankless! was it thine? 3
But generous valour scorns a boasting word,
And conscious virtue reaps her own reward:
Yet conscious virtue bids thee now to speak,        65
Though guilty blushes kindle o’er thy cheek:
If wasting wars and painful toils at length
Had drain’d our veins, and wither’d all our strength,
How couldst thou, cruel, form the vile design,
And round our necks the wreath of bondage twine?        70
And if some lingering spirit, roused to strife,
Bid ruffian murder drink the dregs of life,
Shall future ages e’er forget the deed?
And sha’n’t, for this, impious Britain bleed?
When comes the period Heaven predestines must,        75
When Europe’s glories shall be whelm’d in dust,
When our proud fleets the naval wreath shall wear,
And o’er her empires hurl the bolts of war,
Unnerved by fate, the boldest heart shall fail,
And mid their guards, auxiliar kings grow pale;        80
In vain shall Britain lift her suppliant eye,
An alien’d offspring feels no filial tie;
Her tears in vain shall bathe the soldiers’ feet;
Remember, ingrate, Boston’s crimson’d street; 4
Whole hecatombs of lives the deed shall pay,        85
And purge the murders of that guilty day. 5
 
  But why to future periods look so far?
What force e’er faced us that we fear’d to dare?
Then canst thou think, e’en on this early day,
Proud force shall bend us to a tyrant’s sway?        90
A foreign foe opposed our sword in vain, 6
And thine own troops we’ve rallied on the plain. 7
If then our lives your lawless sword invade,
Think’st thou, enslaved, we’ll kiss the pointed blade?
Nay, let experience speak—be this the test,        95
’Tis from experience that we reason best.—
When first the mandate show’d the shameless plan
To rank our race beneath the class of man,
Low as the brute to sink the human line,
Our toil our portion, and the harvest thine,        100
Modest but firm, we plead the sacred cause,
On nature based, and sanction’d by the laws;
But your deaf ear the conscious plea denied,
Some demon counsell’d—and the sword replied;
Your navy then our haven cover’d o’er,        105
And arm’d battalions trespass’d on our shore,
Through the prime streets they march’d in war’s array,
At noon’s full blaze and in the face of day:
With dumb contempt we pass’d the servile show,
While scorn’s proud spirit scowl’d on every brow;        110
Day after day successive wrongs we bore,
Till patience, wearied, could support no more,
Till slaughter’d lives our native streets profaned,
And thy slave’s hand our hallow’d crimson stain’d:
No sudden rage the ruffian soldier tore,        115
Or drench’d the pavements with his vital gore;
Deliberate thought did all our souls compose,
Till, veil’d in glooms, the lowery morning rose;
No mob then furious urged the impassion’d fray,
Nor clamorous tumult dinn’d the solemn day.        120
In full convene the city senate 8 sat,
Our fathers’ spirit ruled the firm debate;
The freeborn soul no reptile tyrant checks,
’Tis Heaven that dictates when the people speaks;
Loud from their tongues the awful mandate broke,        125
And thus, inspired, the sacred senate spoke:
“Ye miscreant troops, be gone! our presence fly;
Stay, if ye dare: but if you dare, ye die!”
“Ah! too severe,” the fearful chief 9 replies,
“Permit one half—the other, instant, flies”—        130
“No parle, avaunt, or by our fathers’ shades,
Your reeking lives shall glut our vengeful blades.
Ere morning’s light begone,—or else we swear,
Each slaughter’d corse shall feed the birds of air!”
Ere morning’s light had streak’d the skies with red,        135
The chieftain yielded, and the soldier fled.
’Tis thus experience speaks—the test forbear,
Nor show these states your feeble front of war.
But still your navies lord it o’er the main,
Their keels are natives of our oaken plain;        140
E’en the proud mast that bears your flag on high
Grew on our soil, and ripen’d in our sky:
“Know then thyself, presume not us to scan,”
Your power precarious, and your isle a span.—
 
  Yet could our wrongs in just oblivion sleep,        145
And on each neck revived affection weep;
The brave are generous, and the good forgive,
Then say you’ve wrong’d us, and our parent live; 10
But face not fate, oppose not Heaven’s decree,
Let not that curse, our mother, light on thee.        150
 
Note 1. The King of Great Britain. [back]
Note 2. The taking of Louisbourg in the year 1745, by General Pepperell. [back]
Note 3. The same year the king’s troops were surprised near the banks of the Ohio; when our illustrious General Washington covered the retreat, and saved the destruction of the whole army. A body of the French was repulsed at an assault of the provincial lines at the westward, their general taken prisoner, and their whole army compelled to fly back to Canada. [back]
Note 4. The massacre of the 5th of March, 1770. [back]
Note 5. The poet seems to have been very prophetic in this beautiful passage. [back]
Note 6. The extirpation of the neutrals from Nova Scotia. [back]
Note 7. The provincials covered the retreat from the French lines, at Ticonderoga, when the British general, Abercrombie, was defeated by the Marquis Montcalm, in 1758. [back]
Note 8. The town meeting at Faneuil Hall. [back]
Note 9. The infamous Governor Hutchinson. [back]
Note 10. Her tyrants were too self-conceited and too obstinate to take the advice of men of the best sense and understanding. The consequence has been the establishment of liberty and universal commerce in America. [back]
 
 
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