Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Appendix I. Early and Uncollected Verses
Metacom
 
          Metacom, or Philip, the chief of the Wampanoags, was the most powerful and sagacious Sachem who ever made war upon the English.

RED as the banner which enshrouds
  The warrior-dead, when strife is done,
A broken mass of crimson clouds
  Hung over the departed sun.
The shadow of the western hill        5
Crept swiftly down, and darkly still,
As if a sullen wave of night
Were rushing on the pale twilight;
The forest-openings grew more dim,
  As glimpses of the arching blue        10
  And waking stars came softly through
The rifts of many a giant limb.
Above the wet and tangled swamp
White vapors gathered thick and damp,
And through their cloudy curtaining        15
Flapped many a brown and dusky wing—
Pinions that fan the moonless dun,
But fold them at the rising sun!
 
Beneath the closing veil of night,
  And leafy bough and curling fog,        20
With his few warriors ranged in sight—
Scarred relics of his latest fight—
  Rested the fiery Wampanoag.
He leaned upon his loaded gun,
Warm with its recent work of death,        25
And, save the struggling of his breath,
That, slow and hard and long-repressed,
Shook the damp folds around his breast,
An eye that was unused to scan
The sterner moods of that dark man        30
Had deemed his tall and silent form
With hidden passion fierce and warm,
With that fixed eye, as still and dark
As clouds which veil their lightning spark,
That of some forest-champion,        35
Whom sudden death had passed upon—
A giant frozen into stone!
Son of the thronëd Sachem!—Thou,
The sternest of the forest kings,—
Shall the scorned pale-one trample now,        40
Unambushed on thy mountain’s brow,
Yea, drive his vile and hated plough
  Among thy nation’s holy things,
Crushing the warrior-skeleton
In scorn beneath his armëd heel,        45
And not a hand be left to deal
A kindred vengeance fiercely back,
And cross in blood the Spoiler’s track?
 
He turned him to his trustiest one,
The old and war-tried Annawon—        50
“Brother!”—The favored warrior stood
In hushed and listening attitude—
“This night the Vision-Spirit hath
  Unrolled the scroll of fate before me;
And ere the sunrise cometh, Death        55
  Will wave his dusky pinion o’er me!
Nay, start not—well I know thy faith—
Thy weapon now may keep its sheath;
But, when the bodeful morning breaks,
And the green forest widely wakes        60
  Unto the roar of English thunder,
Then trusted brother, be it thine
To burst upon the foeman’s line,
And rend his serried strength asunder.
Perchance thyself and yet a few        65
Of faithful ones may struggle through,
And, rallying on the wooded plain,
Strike deep for vengeance once again,
And offer up in pale-face blood
An offering to the Indian’s God.”        70
 
A musket shot—a sharp, quick yell—
  And then the stifled groan of pain,
Told that another red man fell,—
  And blazed a sudden light again
Across that kingly brow and eye,        75
Like lightning on a clouded sky,—
And a low growl, like that which thrills
The hunter of the Eastern hills,
  Burst through clenched teeth and rigid lip—
And, when the great chief spoke again        80
His deep voice shook beneath its rein,
  As wrath and grief held fellowship.
 
“Brother! methought when as but now
  I pondered on my nation’s wrong,
With sadness on his shadowy brow        85
  My father’s spirit passed along!
He pointed to the far south-west,
  Where sunset’s gold was growing dim,
  And seemed to beckon me to him,
And to the forests of the blest!—        90
My father loved the white men, when
They were but children, shelterless,
For his great spirit at distress
Melted to woman’s tenderness—
Nor was it given him to know        95
  That children whom he cherished then
  Would rise at length, like armëd men,
To work his people’s overthrow.
Yet thus it is;—the God before
  Whose awful shrine the pale ones bow        100
Hath frowned upon, and given o’er
  The red man to the stranger now!
A few more moons, and there will be
No gathering to the council tree;
The scorchëd earth—the blackened log—        105
  The naked bones of warriors slain,
  Be the sole relics which remain
Of the once mighty Wampanoag!
The forests of our hunting-land,
  With all their old and solemn green,        110
Will bow before the Spoiler’s axe—
The plough displace the hunter’s tracks,
And the tall prayer-house steeple stand
  Where the Great Spirit’s shrine hath been!
 
“Yet, brother, from this awful hour        115
  The dying curse of Metacom
Shall linger with abiding power
  Upon the spoilers of my home.
  The fearful veil of things to come,
  By Kitchtan’s hand is lifted from        120
The shadows of the embryo years;
  And I can see more clearly through
Than ever visioned Powwah did,
For all the future comes unbid
  Yet welcome to my trancëd view,        125
As battle-yell to warrior-ears!
From stream and lake and hunting-hill
  Our tribes may vanish like a dream,
  And even my dark curse may seem
Like idle winds when Heaven is still,        130
  No bodeful harbinger of ill;
But, fiercer than the downright thunder,
When yawns the mountain-rock asunder,
And riven pine and knotted oak
Are reeling to the fearful stroke,        135
  That curse shall work its master’s will!
The bed of yon blue mountain stream
Shall pour a darker tide than rain—
The sea shall catch its blood-red stain,
And broadly on its banks shall gleam        140
  The steel of those who should be brothers;
Yea, those whom one fond parent nursed
Shall meet in strife, like fiends accursed,
And trample down the once loved form,
While yet with breathing passion warm,        145
  As fiercely as they would another’s!”
 
The morning star sat dimly on
The lighted eastern horizon—
The deadly glare of levelled gun
  Came streaking through the twilight haze        150
  And naked to its reddest blaze,
A hundred warriors sprang in view;
  One dark red arm was tossed on high,
One giant shout came hoarsely through
  The clangor and the charging cry,        155
Just as across the scattering gloom,
Red as the naked hand of Doom,
  The English volley hurtled by—
The arm—the voice of Metacom!—
  One piercing shriek—one vengeful yell,        160
Sent like an arrow to the sky,
  Told when the hunter-monarch fell!

  1829.
 
 
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