Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Progress of Science
By Samuel Dexter (1761–1816)
 
  LET 1 martial souls, whom wild ambition warms,
The trumpet’s clangor, and rude din of arms,
Point out the path victorious heroes trod,
The pest of nations, and the scourge of God:
Mine be the task, in humbler verse to trace        5
The real greatness of the human race.
Though rude and savage Afric’s sons we find,
Yet there first science dawn’d upon mankind,
There curb’d the passions in perpetual strife,
And there begat the softer arts of life.        10
Blest by kind nature with a generous soil,
That yielded herbage, though not dress’d with toil,
In philosophic ease they pass’d their years,
And watch’d the motions of the rolling spheres.
Their modest wants plain nature could redress,        15
And science gave them rural happiness.
Egypt beheld her twilight’s fainter ray,
And form’d fond hopes of her meridian day;
When, lo! tyrannic rage usurp’d the whole,
And cramp’d with fetters each high swelling soul.        20
Disorder’d fancy superstition bred;
She clapp’d her wings, and thought her foe was dead;
Yet she but fled, to gain in happy Greece,
What Egypt had denied her—rural peace.
The Grecian souls, form’d of the subtlest kind,        25
In freedom nurtured, strengthen’d and refined,
Quick catch’d the flame; it ran from soul to soul,
And like electric fire, inspired the whole.
Here poets sang, and rhetoricians plead,
Here statesmen sat, and patriot worthies bled.        30
Ah blindness to the future! headlong toss’d,
They grasp’d the shadow, but the substance lost.
Greece led her armies Troy’s high walls to raze;
The city shook and tottered to its base,
At length it fell—but from its ruins rose        35
A vagrant band to subjugate their foes.
Imperial Rome, the mistress of the world,
Towns, cities, kingdoms into ruin hurl’d,
And reign’d supreme alone. Greece felt her force,
Nor stemm’d the torrent in its rapid course;        40
All victims fell to its resistless rage,
The rough Barbarian, and the Grecian sage.
Ardent the Romans Grecian science view’d,
Nor scorn’d to learn of those they had subdued;
They reach’d the same sublimity of thought,        45
And those, who learned, equall’d those, who taught.
There godlike Homer rear’d his awful head,
Here Virgil sang, and here great Tully plead.
As when some mighty torrent, swoln with rain,
Falls rushing, dashing, till it meets the plain,        50
O’er craggy rocks bends its resistless force,
From clift to clift loud thundering in its course;
So did the Athenian patriotic rave,
And taught his country to be nobly brave.
Not so the Roman. As the ancient Nile        55
Glides smoothly on within its banks a while:
Slow, gradual, rising, then o’erspreads the plain,
And adds all Egypt to the swelling main;
So syren Tully onward gently rolls,
Enchants, enraptures, and subdues our souls.        60
  Behold far north the gathering tempest rise,
Rushing impetuous, as the whirlwind flies;
Towns, cities, kingdoms from their basis fall,
And one wide ruin overwhelms them all.
Eternal Rome sinks to the common grave,        65
Bursts, like a bubble dancing on the wave,
Flies off in smoke, and rules the world no more—
Oh! blush then, earthly grandeur! pageant power.
Age after age in one sad tenor ran,
A blank—a chasm in the page of man.        70
Men drudged their labor’d dulness to rehearse,
To form an anagram, or egg in verse;
They stifled genius with pedantic rules,
And labor’d hard to prove that——they were fools.
No mighty task, though labor’d in so long,        75
Each line was proof, was demonstration strong;
And men, Oh dulness to perfection brought!
Blush’d to be guilty of a noble thought.
Yet in this gloom did Roger Bacon rise,
Like lightning flashing through the clouded skies,        80
He burst the barrier of pedantic rules,
And all the labor’d jargon of the schools.
As forked lightnings, with their hasty light,
Serve but to show the horrors of the night;
So he but show’d the dulness of the age,        85
A stain—a blot upon th’ historic page.
As when cold Zembla, wrapt in darkest shade,
First sees the sun erect his radiant head,
In gratitude to the benignant power,
They gather round and Persian-like adore;        90
He gives them light, not only light, but heat;
Warms with new life, and makes that life complete.
The expanding blossoms smile on every clod,
And laughing valleys own the present God;
Loud hymns of praise the feather’d tribes employ,        95
And savage beasts howl their tremendous joy.
 
Note 1. Dexter’s biography, belongs to a department distinct from that of poetry. As a statesman and lawyer, a man of profound intellect, and splendid powers of eloquence, he claims no ordinary notice, yet as he never aimed at distinction in the character of a poet, we think it unnecessary to introduce any details of his life here. The lines which follow are from a piece written in his youth, and delivered at a public exhibition at Harvard College. [back]
 
 
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