Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Populous Village
By Samuel Deane (1784–1834)
 
THERE 1 was a time, and that within the span
Of the brief memory of short-lived man,
When, close confined along the Atlantic seas,
The timid settler heard the western breeze,
And shrunk, expectant of the savage dart,        5
Or whizzing arrow, at his beating heart.
The western Mountains stood in awful forms,
Like clouds surcharged with tempest, fire and storms,
Whence the red bolt of rapid death might fly,
And whirlwinds rend the ocean and the sky;        10
For there did lurk the white-man’s deadliest foe,
Gathering to burst upon the vales below.
A solemn race—a dark relentless clan,
That own’d no ties of blood with civil man;
A fearful foe—combining human art,        15
The wiles of serpents, and the tiger’s heart:
Their sternest joy to daunt and scourge a race,
Soften’d by love—refined by Christian grace;
In tangled dells, where not heaven’s light had shined,
They held their home—apt emblem of their mind.        20
Here many a beauteous stream majestic pours,
From distant mountains, to the ocean shores,
And in their course, enrich the earth in vain—
All unexplored, or hill, or vale, or plain,
And he was passing bold, who dared advance        25
Up toward their source, or e’en a thought to glance.
The soil was held by unresisted might,
The tiger’s and the wolf’s prescriptive right;
Nay e’en more awful images might wake—
Thick swarming skiffs along the stream and lake,        30
With desp’rate skill against the rapids glide,
Or down the cataract’s tumultuous tide;
And hark! the warwhoop o’er the valley floats;—
The wolf’s wild howls are music’s softest notes.
But light at length prevails; darkness retreats,        35
To fix, in distant dens, her gloomy seats:
Improving nature, at this long delay
Indignant, from her barriers bursts away,
Shakes off the savage forms, by which oppress’d
She languish’d long, and with new charms is dress’d.        40
The dark, cold tribes, less boldly urge the strife,
And melt before the light of civil life:
And gathering courage now, the heroic swain
Pursues them far toward the western main;
Nor yet the flight, nor the pursuit gives o’er,        45
Until their strength and terrors are no more:
Then turns to peaceful homes, and brightning plains,
Where life to long-protracted age remains.
The yeomen still survive, whose eye can trace
Successive changes on our country’s face:        50
Where forests frown’d, are shining cities seen,
And fields with Eden’s bounty smile serene:
And many a soldier lives to tell the tales
Of deadly strife, ’mid yonder hills and vales;
Can point the spot where raging battle stood,        55
The very turf that drank his father’s blood;
Can show the lake or stream where brothers bled,
Whose bones, scarce whiten’d, pave their lowly bed.
Perhaps some hero lives, who led the brave,
To freedom’s boon, or honor’s hallow’d grave;        60
His locks scarce changed—scarce lost their raven hue
Still firm in strength—in thought and memory true;
Come fancy! come! the image fair portray
Of some firm vet’ran, bending back his way
To yonder fields, the arena of his strife,        65
For home and country, liberty and life.
Bright in his memory is the open glade,
Remotest trace that industry had made;
And fresh the image of the forest fierce,
Deep tangled, not meridian suns could pierce,        70
Where the grim savage, turning from his prey,
Slunk, like the wolf, and shunn’d the face of day.
Onward the veteran moves; but where ’s that lawn,
Once the last line that civil man had drawn?
And where that wild wood rising dark and high,        75
Like strong embattled fortress to the sky?
Lo! other fields in endless prospect rise,
And like the horizon, still the forest flies.
Yet sure ’t was here opposing armies stood;
That is the stream that redden’d with his blood;        80
It was from thence the wild man’s warwhoop rose,
And here he stemm’d the onset of the foes;
But lo! the plain, hill, valley, all around,
With the bright Populous Village now are crown’d
There, where the Indian often earth’d the wolf,        85
Along the brink of yonder tumbling gulph,
The rocks have yielded to the workman’s hand,
And there in splendid palaces they stand.
Where the brisk waterfall, whose music found
No ear but echo once, to catch the sound,        90
Now, all its aid to human arts applied,
Prepares our food, and dress, and wealth beside:
See wheels on wheels, in mystic motion there!
The rattling engines of Minerva’s care.
  On yonder well-remember’d rising ground,        95
Where tallest firs with deepest shadows frown’d,
There now the noble Church sends up her spire,
To catch day’s latest, and his earliest fire.
There, where the solitary wigwam stood,
Uncouthly form’d of stakes and leaves and mud,        100
Whose door stood wide, because it could not close,
To welcome weary wild men to repose;
Or ’mid the clouds of smoke and filth, to share
The half-seeth’d members of the savage bear;
There now the stately Inn, a spacious seat,        105
Invites the weary to refined retreat.
Around where ignorance had taken her stand,
With reign primeval, o’er the darken’d land,
See learning’s nurseries at every turn,
Where every urchin finds the means to learn;        110
And onward, see the high school’s spacious halls,
And onward, still, the prouder college walls.
Here bustling trade is laden with his bales;
There commerce spreads her wings, unfolds her sails;
Here on canals, deep freighted barges toil;        115
There groaning wains with products of the soil;
The thronging streets what busy numbers fill!
What tides of passengers roll onward still!
Not fled from want, but drawn by interest’s bond,
To visit peopled regions far beyond.        120
There, where the guard-house frown’d upon yon height,
And weary sentinels wore out the night
With painful vigils, on their loaded arms,
To save the sleeping hamlet from alarms;
There now the green-house, shaded with the vine,        125
And summer flowers, with evergreens entwine.
The terrors of the wilderness are fled,
And Niagara’s thunders lose their dread;
Down its deep chasm, no hazard of his life,
Goes the soft cit, and e’en his softer wife.        130
And Huron’s shadowy shore lights up its brow,
And wild Oswego does but tinkle now,
Whose very name but sounded, once would dart
A nervous terror through a foreign heart.
All these are fled, and peace and plenty reign        135
O’er rising town and cultivated plain.
*      *      *      *
  Now to the decent church our thoughts return,
Whither our willing feet have often borne,
When solemn themes moved our vibrating strings,
And hope was pregnant with immortal things.        140
’Tis not alone, that village prospects round,
Are fill’d and finish’d by that spire—and crown’d
’T is not alone the evidence that prayer,
And meek devotion, do not languish there;
A thousand prouder monuments may stand        145
Of wrested tithes from patient labor’s hand;
Yet, with abated pleasure, freemen see
The loftiest piles, where not the heart is free;
’T is this that clothes thy fabric with its charms—
The free-will offering—shed from bounty’s arms.        150
In gilded domes proud prelates may be found,
To cheat the hungry soul, with unknown sound;
But nought can win us, or delights impart,
Save truth’s free breast, and language of the heart
In native dignity, thy preacher stands,        155
More than the dignity of robes and bands;
Nor needs a surplice to convince your mind
His head can teach, his life can lead mankind:
Nor seeks a sacred office he, to hide
An infidel’s false heart, or worldling’s pride;        160
Nor shows the crackling flames of fiery zeal,
The bigot’s selfish feelings to conceal.
On superstition’s aid he rests no claim,
To wake devotion, or increase its flame;
One word of wisdom awes with truer grace        165
Than Endor’s dame, with all her sickly race.
No prude, to rail at fashions of the times,
And pick at peccadilloes—while the crimes
That strike within, and deepest stains impart,
And damn the soul, scarce shock his tender heart;        170
No tyrant he, to rule the church with fear,
Nor lean upon her strength, to domineer:
When meek persuasion’s force is fruitless seen,
His duty is discharged, his hands are clean.
His form and mien no sensualist betray,        175
Whose body o’er his soul usurps the sway;
Whose fair, smooth brow, and florid cheek declare,
No cure of souls, no love of learning there;
But comely paleness, decent leanness, shew
The scholar’s patience, and the pastor’s too—        180
To him philosophy’s best light has shined,
Not to bewilder and mislead his mind,
Not his warm love to chill, or to recall
From that High King “who ruleth over all,”
Nor plunge in Nature’s causes, and refine,        185
To miss the traces of the hand Divine;
To push him on to doubt, and dark despair,
To feed his lambs with nature’s stinted fare;
Though wise in nature, he on grace relies,
To lead his flock, and win them to the skies.
*      *      *      *
        190
  But see! above, and onward, and around,
What scenes of village pleasure still abound!
The open hill, the wood beyond the glade,
The broken chasm the trickling brook has made;
There youth and age, and friends and lovers stray,        195
When o’er the scene the earliest zephyrs play.
The seats of living rock, the shady bower,
For summer’s noon, or evening’s balmy hour;
The boughs of Autumn, with their fruits o’erborne;
The golden promise of the ripening corn;        200
The thousand pleasures that relieve the night,
When winter suns too soon withdraw their light;
The youthful bands, with rural relish still,
Glide like the arrow down the ice-clad hill;
Their graver sires, who deeper interests feel,        205
In councils sitting, on the public weal;
The assembly’s hall, where polish’d wit beguiles,
Or festive innocence presides and smiles;
The long processions o’er the frozen lakes,
And the light joy that winter’s music wakes.        210
How have we seen the purest of delight
Kindle and spread on many a bridal night!
Amidst the gay-dress’d group, the happy pair,
Smiled on by eager swain, and blushing fair;
The bridegroom, joyful that this day has come—        215
The bride still press’d with lingering thoughts of home—
Parental cares, so oft foreboding ill—
Parental hope, that bids those fears be still;
E’en wrinkled brows with smiles unwonted shine,
As in the sports of youth the grandsires join;        220
The reverend pastor, fondly bent to call
Heaven’s choicest blessings on his children all;
His hand not much conversant with the gold,
That children of this world intensely hold;
Pardon’d the more, if now his heart might be        225
Some trifle lighter for the marriage fee.
 
Note 1. The Rev. Samuel Deane of Scituate, Massachusetts, graduated at Brown University. His poem of the Populous Village was published in 1826. [back]
 
 
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