Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Speech of Canonicus
By John Lathrop (1772–1820)
 
  OUR God commands. To fertile realms I haste,
Compared with which, your gardens are a waste;
There, in full bloom, eternal spring abides,
And swarming fishes glide through azure tides;
Continual sunshine gilds the cloudless skies,        5
No mist conceals Keesuckquand 1 from our eyes,
Herds of red deer before the hunter bound,
And fragrance floats along th’ enamell’d ground.
There, your forefathers, dexterous with the bow,
Urge the fleet chase, and o’er the greensward glow;        10
Or, in a grove recount their deeds of war,
Number their scalps, and glory in each scar,
Or, contemplate—their most exalted theme—
The power and goodness of their chief supreme!
  Yet ere he goes, your Sachem will relate,        15
Your primal origin and future fate,
Nor think th’ important history too long,
An idle story, or a foolish song;
For him, when young, his parent king inform’d,
And while the impressive tale his bosom warm’d,        20
Deep in his memory sunk the truths sublime,
And still their prints are unimpaired by time.
  Observe ye then; when summer’s heats are gone,
The north wind rushes from the frozen zone,
Borne by the blasts, the shivering seabirds fly        25
To milder regions and a warmer sky,
Through the keen air they skim their lofty way,
To where the sun beams ever genial day,
And far beyond Potomac’s swelling tides,
They seek the pleasant fields where God resides:        30
There, coeternal with the earth he reign’d,
And a long solitary rule maintain’d;
For then, these plains no verdant herbage bore,
No cheerful wigwam show’d its matted door,
No forests waved their foliage in the wind,        35
Nor round the chestnut clung the sheltering rind;
This ample range no living creature trod,
And in the universe, alone, was God!
  First, in his image, Manitoos he made,
Inferior spirits, his designs to aid,        40
He bade Keesuckquand live in yon bright blaze,
And o’er creation shed enlivening rays:—
Placed Paumpagussit 2 in the heaving seas,
Subjecting winds and waves to his decrees.
Next in mild radiance shone the silent moon,        45
Queen of the sprites that gleam in night’s pale noon,
Whose strong enchantment and mysterious spell,
Can e’en the dead from their repose compel;
With heat accursed dissolve our flesh away,
And torture, as they mould the magic clay.        50
Yotaanit, 3 too, he form’d, who, when ’t is dark,
Elicits from a stone, the precious spark,
That, the poor Indian, cold and weary, warms,
And cheers the tedious hours when winter storms
Bid the chill’d blood through all life’s channels flow,        55
And draws a beverage pure and sweet from snow,
When, bridged with ice, the stagnant rivers sleep,
And cease to pour their tributes to the deep.
Tempt not his rage, for dreadful is his ire,
Then harvests, trees and towns ascend in fire;        60
If his consuming wrath our crimes provoke,
He scatters to the winds our wealth in smoke;
From him our comfort or distress proceeds,
Evil or good proportioned to our deeds.
  Then burst our mother Earth’s prolific womb;        65
Then, groves aspired and meads began to bloom,
The living streams, each mountain source to shun,
Roll sparkling down, and in their courses run;
The Seipmanitog, 4 confluent waters wed,
And o’er the teeming soil a green luxuriance spread.        70
  Next, beasts were formed, the tenants of the wood,
Birds for the air, and fishes for the flood.
First in the briny depth, the cumbrous whale;
The eagle, yon blue eminence to scale;
The wily fox, whose sense eludes our arts,        75
And venomed snake, that on the unwary darts;
The reasoning beaver; and the moose we prize,
Whose flesh our meat—whose skin our garb supplies;
Innumerous animals of various brood,
That prey with ravenous teeth, or browsing, gain their food.        80
  Creation groan’d when with laborious birth,
Mammoth was born to rule his parent earth,—
Mammoth! I tremble while my voice recounts,
His size that tower’d o’er all our misty mounts,—
His weight a balance for yon pine-crowned hills,        85
On whose broad front half heaven in dew distils;—
His motions forced the starry spheres to shake,
The sea to rear—the solid land to quake.
His breath a whirlwind. From his angry eye,
Flash’d flames like fires that light the northern sky;        90
The noblest river scarce supplied him drink,—
Nor food, the herds that grazed along its brink;—
Trampling through forests would the monster pass,
Breasting the stoutest oaks like blades of grass!
  Creation finished, God a sabbath kept,        95
And twice two hundred moons profoundly slept;
At length, from calm and undisturbed repose,
With kind intent the sire of nature rose;—
Northward he bent his course, with parent care,
To view his creatures and his love declare,        100
To bless the works his wisdom erst had plann’d,
And with fresh bounties fill the grateful land.
Hoar Paumpagussit swell’d with conscious pride,
And bore the Almighty o’er each looming tide;
Sweet flowering bushes sprang where’er he trod,        105
And groves, and vales, and mountains, hail’d their God;
With more effulgent beams Keesuckquand shone,
And lent to night a splendor like his own.
Thus moved the deity. But vengeful wrath,
Soon gather’d awful glooms around his path,        110
Approaching near to Mammoth’s wide domain,
He view’d the ravage of the tyrant’s reign.
Not the gaunt wolf, nor cougar fierce and wild,
Escaped the tusks that all the fields despoil’d;
No beast that ranged the valley, plain or wood,        115
Was spared by earth’s fell chief and his insatiate brood.
  Nor did just anger rest. Behold, a storm
Of sable horrors clothe the eternal’s form.
Loud thunders burst while forked lightnings dart,
And each red bolt transfix’d a Mammoth’s heart,        120
Tall cedars crash’d beneath them falling prone,
And heaven rebellow’d with their dying groan.
So, undermined by inward fires, or time,
Some craggy mount that long has tower’d sublime,
Tumbles in ruins with tremendous sound,        125
And spreads a horrible destruction round;
The trembling land through all its caverns roars,
And ocean hoarsely draws his billows from the shores.
  Mammoth, meanwhile, opposed his maily hide,
And shagged front, that thunderbolts defied;        130
Celestial arms from his rough dead he shook,
And trampling with his hoofs, the blunted weapons broke.
  At length, one shaft discharged with happier aim,
Pierced his huge side and wrapp’d his bulk in flame.
Mad with the anguish of the burning wound,        135
With furious speed he raged along the ground,
And pass’d Ohio’s billows with a bound,—
Thence, o’er Wabash and Illinois he flew,—
Deep to their beds the river gods withdrew,
Affrighted nature trembled as he fled,        140
And God alone, continued free from dread.
Mammoth in terrors—awfully sublime,
Like some vast comet, blazing from our clime,
Impetuous rush’d. O’er Allegany’s brow
He leap’d, and howling plung’d to wilds below;        145
There, in immortal anguish he remains,
No peace he knows;—no balm can ease his pains;
And oft his voice appals the chieftain’s breast,
Like hollow thunders murmuring from the west,—
To every Sachem dreadful truths reveals,        150
And monarchs shudder at its solemn peals.
Such is the punishment, by righteous fate,
The dread avenger of each injured state,
Reserved for tyrant chiefs, who madly dare
Oppress the tribes committed to their care.        155
Almighty wrath pursues them for their deeds,—
They stab their souls in every wretch that bleeds,
The hideous wound eternal shall endure,—
Remorse, despair,—alas, what skill can cure!
*      *      *      *      *      *
  Onega then, the forest’s fairest child,        160
Sweet as the violet, as the turtle mild,
Bloom’d in her sixteenth summer’s perfect charms,
And fill’d each bosom with love’s soft alarms.
One favor’d youth her gentle breast inspired,
One youth her heart with mutual passion fired:        165
Yet chastely tender was the virgin flame,
That warm’d life’s genial current through her frame;
The beauteous novice gave it friendship’s name;—
Alas! too soon the maid was forced to prove,
What sad misfortunes owe their birth to love.        170
  Oswego, pride of Narraghanset’s plains,
Tower’d as the cedar, o’er his fellow swains;
His air was noble,—every motion grace,—
His soul’s high valor lighten’d from his face;—
Fearless of death he ranged the dangerous field,        175
And scorn’d the raging boar—or foe conceal’d,
The insidious serpent in the tangled brake,
Or herds of moose, whose hoofs the champaign shake
  Each night,—how welcome every night return’d!
While his true heart with fond impatience burn’d,        180
He flew, Onega in the grove to meet,
And lay his choicest trophies at her feet,
To pass mild evening’s happy hours away,
And rest in love’s embrace from all the toils of day.
  Ah mortals! reckless of approaching doom,        185
How soon the sun of pleasure sets in gloom,
The fairy fields of juvenile delight,
Are veiled in shades of unexpected night!
  One summer eve, as by a limpid stream,
In pleasing converse on their darling theme,        190
Lost to the world—no truant thought had flown,
To other pleasures than were their’s alone;
In sweet idea rose their calm retreat,
Their russet cabin—mild contentment’s seat,
Where every joy concentered should create,        195
A state of bliss to mock the frowns of fate,
And as the raptured mind uncheck’d could trace,
Each other’s beauties in their infant race,
A modest glow suffused Onega’s face.
Sudden she shriek’d! Aghast the Indian swain,        200
Beheld her life-blood!—Speech and sense are vain—
What words can utter what no breast can know—
Murder’s first pang—and nature’s primal throe!
Death instant seized his prey!—A fatal dart
Pierced to the inmost fountain of her heart.        205
  Oswego!—what avail’d thy speed or skill,
Thy love, thy faith, to avert the blow of ill.
Happy for thee had he that skill possess’d,
Who aim’d the erring arrow at thy breast!—
  God’s mission’d Wakon 5 when her spirit fled,        210
To his abode th’ angelic stranger led,
The Sire divine a gracious welcome smiled,
And view’d well pleased his pure and fairest child;
Companion now of him and first restored,
She shines in heaven—by grateful man adored.        215
Next to the moon, she sheds her genial light,
The brightest star that decks the breast of night.
But when Keesuckquand rolls his orb on high,
She shuns the intenser ardor of the sky,
With Cawtontowwit’s love supremely blest,        220
In paradise she finds the balm of rest.
  O’er sad Oswego’s heart-afflicting tale,
Sweet Indian girls shall many an eve bewail!—
Ere yet his mind was from delirium free,
The ruthless murderers bound him to a tree;        225
With cruel taunts, exulting in his wo,
And savage yells they broke his useless bow,—
Thus break thy heart, they cried, that love repaid,
With the fond passion of the matchless maid,
Now gone to heaven! Ah hadst thou fallen alone,        230
Our ears had feasted on her piteous moan—
Her life protracted through long years of wo,
Had caused our hearts with ecstasies to glow.
No joy remains for us. Peace ne’er shall come,
With scented breath to cheer our dreary home,        235
No parent’s welcome meet us at the door,—
For us no feasts shall load the verdant floor,
No wives or children soothe our toil or care,
Ours is the deepest hell of black despair.
We fly from this ensanguined scene, and leave        240
Our fathers, mothers, sisters, friends to grieve;
Die then, before we go! and taste a joy
We cannot covet, witness or destroy—
A friendly tomax then like lightning driven,
Released Oswego’s soul—it flew to love and heaven!        245
  This deed of death perform’d, the vagrant band,
Sojourn’d in exile to a distant land,
And near Ontario’s hoarsely murmuring wave
They form’d a tribe,—blood-thirsty, bold and brave:
At length, in justice to Oswego’s fame,        250
They gave their council town his deathless name—
And long as Onondaga’s waters flow,
Shall live th’ effects of murder—war and wo;—
Deep in our woods and round our rock-bound coasts,
Shall rage, alas! their mad infuriate hosts,        255
And transient peace, but deadlier vigor yield
To rush with wilder vengeance to the field.
Hence, train’d to arms our strong and dauntless bands
Yell the loud war-whoop through offending lands;
Snuff the red smoke that mantles o’er the plain,        260
Crimson’d with gore and reeking with the slain,
Till full revenge hath satisfied our wrongs,
And the clouds echo with triumphant songs.
 
Note 1. The deity who resides in the sun. [back]
Note 2. The sea-god. [back]
Note 3. The god of fire. [back]
Note 4. River gods. [back]
Note 5. The wakon-bird. [back]
 
 
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