Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Year
By William Leigh Pierce (1790?–1814)
 
  IN 1 all the varied change and state of life,
The calm of solitude, or noisy strife,
Man still is man, and read him as you will,
Unstript, he stands the child of interest still;
The wandering Tartar, and the swarthy Moor;        5
The Parthian archer, and Norwegian boor;
The booted Pole, whose birthright is his sword;
The bearded Saxon, barter’d by his lord;
The stubborn Russ, devoted to his czar;
The crafty Frenchman, clamorous for war;        10
The whisker’d Spaniard, solemn, grave, and sad;
The Highland soldier, in his tartan plaid;
The soft Italian, studious of wile;
The generous Briton, faithful to his isle;
The brave Columbian, freedom’s favor’d son;        15
All, all alike, the race of interest run.
Seldom the wise man may expect to find
That rich, rare diamond, an unbiass’d mind;
Few, few are those whose pure, exalted hearts
Are proof against corruption’s cunning arts,        20
Who act for others, not themselves alone,
No pliant courtiers bending round a throne.
In this drear age, when misery’s cup o’erflows,
When fate has loosed the train of human woes;
In this drear age, which rouses virtue’s fears,        25
When intrigue triumphs o’er a world in tears;
Thine too, my country, has high heaven decreed,
Be the hard lot to suffer and to bleed.
Alas! what crime has stern, unyielding fate,
Doom’d all thy woes, dear land, to expiate?
*      *      *      *      *      *
        30
  Columbia spurn’d at heaven’s just decree,
To idols bow’d, and bent her votive knee;
In days of prosperous peace she swell’d with pride,
And madly vain, eternal right defied;
Behold her punishment, deception’s art        35
Has planted rankling sorrow in her heart;
Outcasts and wretches, foster’d on her soil,
Her riches plunder, load themselves with spoil,
While virtue wandering through her ruin’d shore,
Is left to batten on a meagre moor.        40
Yet deeper grief her land is doom’d to bear;
Her harvests smile, with each revolving year;
Her wealth still grows beneath her careful hand.
But grows, to glut intrigue’s rapacious band;
Prometheus thus, in fabled days of old,        45
Crown’d with success, grew arrogant and bold;
Braved heaven’s high lord, with blest immortals strove,
And raised his arm against the throne of Jove;
The god enraged, with mighty vengeance hurl’d
The daring miscreant to the nether world;        50
In durance stretch’d, and bound with massy chains,
Condemn’d to torment and eternal pains;
On his torn breast a greedy vulture fares,
Sucks the warm blood, the tender liver tears;
In vain devours, in vain the torrent flows,        55
Still, still, the bloody feast immortal grows.
  May heaven, all bounteous, with benignant hand,
Shower choicest blessings o’er thee, dearest land!
But, ah! be faithful to thyself the while,
And guard against the arts of crafty wile;        60
With harvest’s sheaf her ruddy temples bound,
Does not blithe Ceres cheerful smile around?
Are not thy hills with verdant honors spread?
Does not the oak thus warn thee from its shade?
“Behold, Columbia, yon extended plain;        65
Do all its luscious fruits thus blush in vain?
Where is the hand that harvest to collect,
Or where the force, such plenty to protect?
Shall idle waste permit those fruits to die,
Or fall to earth and there neglected lie?        70
Cerulean waves old ocean stretches wide,
Thy girting strands yet eager kiss his tide;
Freight the blue billows of the roaring deep,
Thy commerce loiters—lo! kind zephyrs sweep;
Let me descend from every hill and plain        75
And bear your produce o’er the briny main,
To save your commerce from dark plunder’s stroke
Bid freedom’s thunders clothe her native oak.”
Alas, my country! why in darkness lay?
Why close thine eyes and shun the dawning day?        80
The gaunt wolf prowls, the tiger is abroad;
The shepherds see their havoc, and applaud;
Remember, oh, remember who have bled!
Thy youth’s defenders, stern oppression’s dread.
Dear was the treasure which your ransom bought,        85
For many, and gallant, were the brave who fought;
O, then respect thyself, thy rights preserve,
Stand forth in vigor, swell each generous nerve;
With high-soul’d honor raise the arm of force,
Nor longer wayward tread a devious course;        90
Arrest corruption, strip delusion bare,
And drive the artful leopard from his lair;
Behold thy sons in meanest bondage lie,
Forge their own chains, for stripes and slavery sigh
What magic charm, what incantation fell,        95
Has mix’d the potion, wove the fatal spell?
Is he less slave, who yields to wear the chain,
While one, or while one thousand tyrants reign?
Trust me, the difference is not vastly great
If demagogues or despots rule a state;        100
Self is the shrine where either basely bend;
Self all the object, self the dearest friend.
  And are you free? behold your barter’d polls!
Wisdom is silent—while intrigue cajoles.
Hear yon unletter’d upstart coarsely bawl,        105
He seeks your suffrage for the congress hall;
What virtues brings he to that lofty seat?
Deception’s scholar, skill’d to cringe and cheat.
He pours the whiskey in a copious flood,
While reeling drunkards call him wise and good;        110
Nay more, perhaps from distant lands he came,
And sports the tinsel of a foreign name;
Perhaps in France, with eager eyes, he saw
Disorder triumph over prostrate law:
Perhaps he heard around a bleeding queen,        115
A nation shout, “God save the guillotine!”
Perhaps he tells you with exulting smile,
The rebel story of his dear green isle;
Besides, Columbia’s native sons are weak,
Smite them on one, they turn the other cheek.        120
Their recreant arms are quite unskill’d to wield
The warrior’s blade, and rule the battle field;
Much prone to fear, the coward souls aspire
No further than the cravings of desire;
Illiterate they, in science dull and slow,        125
So Europe says, and sure it must be so.
 
Note 1. Pierce, a native, we believe, of the western part of the state of New York, where he died several years since, published at the age of 22 a poem called “The Year.” It is a review of the political occurrences of the year 1812 relating to this country, and displays considerable talent, for one of his age. The object of the poem, as the writer informs us, was “peculiarly confined to circulating more generally in society such political tenets as he conceived were correct.” Party prejudices and antipathies, in which he seems to have participated deeply, will account for the harshness of his invectives, and the gloomy and distorted picture which in many cases he has drawn of the state of affairs. [back]
 
 
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