Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Country Oven
By Henry C. Knight (1789–1835)
 
  I SING 1 the oven—glowing, fruitful theme.
Happy for me, that mad Achilles found,
And weak Ulysses erst, a servile bard,
That deign’d their puny feats, else lost, to sing.
And happy that Æneas, feeble man!        5
Fell into hands of less emprise than mine;
Too mean the subject for a bard so high.
Not Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, dared
Sport their gross minds in such grand element.
Nor he, dame nature’s master-journeyman,        10
Who nimbly wrought a comic tragedy,
As poet woos a muse, one Shakspeare called!
Nor Milton, who embattled Devils sung;
Nor bold Sir Blackmore, who an Epic built,
Quick as can mason rear a chimney stack;        15
Nor later these, Klopstock and Wieland famed,
Who sung, this King of Elves, that King of kings;
Dared the prolific Oven blaze in song.
  Expect not now of Furnaces to hear,
Where Æolus dilates the liquid glass;        20
Nor where the Hollanders, in nests of tow,
With mimic nature, incubate their eggs;
For the Domestic Oven claims my powers.
  Come then, from kilns of flame, and tropic suns,
Each salamander Muse, and warm my brain.        25
  Need I describe?—Who hath a kitchen seen
And not an arched concavity call’d Oven?
Grand farinaceous nourisher of life!
See hungry gape its broad mouth for its food,
And hear the faggots crackling in its jaws,        30
Its palate glowing red with burning breath.
Do not approach too near; the ingulphing draught
Will drink your respiration ere you list.
  Glance now the fire-jambs round, and there observe
Utensils formed for culinary use.        35
Shovel and tongs, like ancient man and wife,
He, with his arms akimbo, she in hoops,
There, dangling sausages in chains hang down;
As Sciences and Arts, distinct, allied;
Or, as in Union bound our sister States.        40
Here, flayed eels, strung pendant by the waist;
So swing aloof victims in heathen climes;
O Algier hearts! to mock at writhing pain.
And, high in smoke-wreaths, ponderous ham to cure;
So may each traitor to his country hang!        45
And, thick on nails, the housewife’s herbs to dry;
Coltsfoot for pipe, and spearmint for a tea.
Upon the hearth, the shrill-lunged cricket chirps
Her serenade, not waiting to be press’d.
And Sue, poking the cinders, smiles to point,        50
As fond associations cross the mind,
A gallant, ring, or ticket, fashion’d there.
And purring puss, her pied-coat licked sleek,
Sits mousing for the crumbs, beside black Jack.
He, curious drone, with eyes and teeth of white,        55
And natural curl, who twenty falls hath seen,
And cannot yet count four!—nor ever can,
Though tasked to learn, until his nose be sharp.
’T is marvel, if he thinks, but when he speaks;
Else, to himself, why mutter loud, and strange,        60
And scold, and laugh, as half a score were by?
In shape and parts, a seed of Caliban!
He now is roasting earth-nuts by the coals,
And hissing clams, like martyrs mocking pain;
And sizzing apples, air-lanced with a pin;        65
While in the embers hops the parching corn,
Crack! crack! disploding with the heat, like bombs.
Craunching, he squats, and grins, and gulps his mug,
And shows his pompion-shell, with eyes and mouth,
And candle fitted, for the tail of kite,        70
To scare the lasses in their evening walk—
For, next day, and Thanksgiving-Eve will come.
  Now turn we to the teeming Oven; while,
A skilful midwife, comes the aged dame;
Her apron clean, and nice white cap of lawn.        75
With long lean arm, she lifts the griding slice.
And inward slides it, drawing slowly out.
In semi-globes, and frustums of the cone,
Tann’d brown with heat, come, smoking, broad high loaves;
And drop-cakes, ranged like cocks round stack of hay:        80
Circles and segments, pies and turn-overs,
For children’s children, who stand teasing round,
Scorching their mouths, and dance like juggler’s apes,
Wishing the pie more cool, or they less keen.
Next, brown and wrinkled, like the good dame’s brow,        85
Come russet-coated sweetings, pulp for milk;
A luscious dish—would one were brought me now!
And kisses, made by Sue for suitor’s pun.
And when the morrow greets each smiling face,
And from the church, where grateful hearts have pour’d,        90
Led by the Man of God, their thanks and prayers,
To Him, who fills their granaries with good,
They hurry home, snuffing the spicy steams;
The pious matron, with full heart draws forth
The spare-rib crisp—more savory from the spit!        95
Tall pots of peas and beans—vile, flatulent;
And puddings, smoking to the rafter’d walls;
And sweet-cup custards, part of the dessert.
These all, concreted some, some subtilized,
And by the generative heat matured,        100
A goodly birth, the welcome time brings forth.
  Illustrious Oven! warmest, heartiest friend!
Destroy but thee, and where were festive smiles?
We, cannibals, might torrify and seethe;
Or dry blood-reeking flesh in the cold sun;        105
Or, like the Arab, on his racing horse,
Beneath the saddle swelter it for food.
  And yet, ere thou give us, we must give thee.
Thus many an Oven barren is for life.
O poverty! how oft thy wishful eye        110
Rests on thine Oven, hungry as thyself!
Would I might load each Oven of the poor,
With what each palate craves—a fruitless wish!
Yet seldom hear we Industry complain;
And no one should complain, who hath two eyes,        115
Two hands, and mind and body, sound and free.
And such, their powers to worthy ends applied,
Be pleased, indulgent Patroness, to feed.
 
Note 1. Knight is a native, we believe, of Rowley in Massachusetts. He wrote the Cypriad and other poems, published in 1809, and a further collection in two volumes, published in 1821. [back]
 
 
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