Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Destruction of the Pequods
By Timothy Dwight (1752–1817)
 
  AH me! while up the long, long vale of time,
Reflection wanders towards the eternal vast,
How starts the eye, at many a change sublime,
Unbosom’d dimly by the ages pass’d!
What mausoleums crowd the mournful waste!        5
The tombs of empires fallen! and nations gone!
Each, once inscribed, in gold, with “Aye to last,”
Sate as a queen; proclaim’d the world her own,
And proudly cried, “By me no sorrows shall be known.”
 
Soon fleets the sunbright form, by man adored.        10
Soon fell the head of gold, to time a prey;
The arms, the trunk, his cankering tooth devour’d;
And whirlwinds blew the iron dust away.
Where dwelt imperial Timur?—far astray,
Some lonely-musing pilgrim now inquires;        15
And, rack’d by storms, and hastening to decay,
Mohammed’s mosque foresees its final fires;
And Rome’s more lordly temple day by day expires.
 
As o’er proud Asian realms the traveller winds,
His manly spirit, hush’d by terror, falls;        20
When some deceased town’s lost site he finds,
Where ruin wild his pondering eye appals;
Where silence swims along the moulder’d walls,
And broods upon departed grandeur’s tomb.
Through the lone, hollow aisles sad echo calls,        25
At each low step; deep sighs the breathing gloom,
And weeping fields, around, bewail their Empress’s doom.
 
Where o’er an hundred realms, the throne uprose,
The screech-owl nests, the panther builds his home;
Sleep the dull newts, the lazy adders doze,        30
Where pomp and luxury danced the golden room.
Low lies in dust the sky-resembled dome;
Tall grass around the broken column waves;
And brambles climb, and lonely thistles bloom:
The moulder’d arch the weedy streamlet laves,        35
And low resound beneath, unnumber’d sunken graves.
 
Soon fleets the sun-bright form, by man adored;
And soon man’s demon chiefs from memory fade.
In musty volume, now must be explored,
Where dwelt imperial nations, long decay’d.        40
The brightest meteors angry clouds invade;
And where the wonders glitter’d, none explain.
Where Carthage, with proud hand, the trident sway’d,
Now mud-wall’d cots sit sullen on the plain,
And wandering, fierce, and wild, sequester’d Arabs reign.        45
 
In thee, O Albion! queen of nations, live
Whatever splendors earth’s wide realms have known;
In thee proud Persia sees her pomp revive;
And Greece her arts; and Rome her lordly throne:
By every wind, thy Tyrian fleets are blown;        50
Supreme, on fame’s dread roll, thy heroes stand;
All ocean’s realms thy naval sceptre own;
Of bards, of sages, how august thy band!
And one rich Eden blooms around thy garden’d land.
 
But O how vast thy crimes! through heaven’s great year,        55
When few centurial suns have traced their way;
When southern Europe, worn by feuds severe;
Weak, doting, fallen, has bow’d to Russian sway;
And setting glory beam’d her farewell ray;
To waste, perchance, thy brilliant fields shall turn;        60
In dust, thy temples, towers, and towns decay;
The forest howl, where London’s turrets burn;
And all thy garlands deck thy sad, funereal urn.
 
Some land, scarce glimmering in the light of fame,
Sceptred with arts, and arms (if I divine)        65
Some unknown wild, some shore without a name,
In all thy pomp, shall then majestic shine.
As silver-headed Time’s slow years decline,
Not ruins only meet the inquiring eye:
Where round yon mouldering oak vain brambles twine,        70
The filial stem, already towering high,
Ere long shall stretch his arms, and nod in yonder sky.
 
Where late resounded the wild woodland roar,
Now heaves the palace, now the temple smiles;
Where frown’d the rude rock, and the desert shore,        75
Now pleasure sports, and business want beguiles,
And commerce wings her flight to thousand isles;
Culture walks forth; gay laugh the loaded fields;
And jocund labor plays his harmless wiles;
Glad science brightens; art her mansion builds;        80
And peace uplifts her wand, and heaven his blessing yields.
 
O’er these sweet fields, so lovely now, and gay,
Where modest nature finds each want supplied,
Where home-born happiness delights to play,
And counts her little flock, with household pride,        85
Long frown’d, from age to age, a forest wide:
Here hung the slumbering bat; the serpent dire
Nested his brood, and drank the impoison’d tide;
Wolves peal’d, the dark drear night, in hideous choir;
Nor shrank the unmeasured howl from Sol’s terrific fire.        90
 
No charming cot imbank’d the pebbly stream;
No mansion tower’d, nor garden teem’d with good;
No lawn expanded to the April beam;
Nor mellow harvest hung its bending load;
Nor science dawn’d; nor life with beauty glow’d;        95
Nor temple whiten’d, in the enchanting dell;
In clusters wild, the sluggish wigwam stood;
And, borne in snaky paths the Indian fell
Now aim’d the death unseen, now scream’d the tiger-yell.
 
E’en now, perhaps, on human dust I tread,        100
Pondering, with solemn pause, the wrecks of time;
Here sleeps, perchance, among the vulgar dead,
Some chief, the lofty theme of Indian rhyme,
Who loved ambition’s cloudy steep to climb,
And smiled, death, dangers, rivals, to engage;        105
Who roused his followers’ souls to deeds sublime,
Kindling to furnace heat vindictive rage,
And soar’d Cæsarean heights, the Phœnix of his age.
 
In yon small field, that dimly steals from sight,
(From yon small field these meditations grow,)        110
Turning the sluggish soil, from morn to night,
The plodding hind, laborious, drives his plough,
Nor dreams, a nation sleeps his foot below.
There, undisturbed by the roaring wave,
Released from war, and far from deadly foe,        115
Lies down, in endless rest, a nation brave,
And trains, in tempests born, there find a quiet grave.
 
Oft have I heard the tale, when matron sere
Sung to my infant ear the song of wo;
Of maiden meek, consumed with pining care,        120
Around whose tomb the wild-rose loved to blow:
Or told, with swimming eyes, how, long ago,
Remorseless Indians, all in midnight dire,
The little, sleeping village, did o’erthrow,
Bidding the cruel flames to heaven aspire,        125
And scalp’d the hoary head, and burn’d the babe with fire
 
Then, fancy-fired, her memory wing’d its flight,
To long-forgotten wars, and dread alarms,
To chiefs obscure, but terrible in fight,
Who mock’d each foe, and laugh’d at deadliest harms,        130
Sydneys in zeal, and Washingtons in arms.
By instinct tender to the woes of man,
My heart bewildering with sweet pity’s charms,
Through solemn scenes, with nature’s step, she ran,
And hush’d her audience small, and thus the tale began.        135
 
“Through verdant banks where Thames’s branches glide,
Long held the Pequods an extensive sway;
Bold, savage, fierce, of arms the glorious pride,
And bidding all the circling realms obey.
Jealous, they saw the tribes, beyond the sea,        140
Plant in their climes; and towns, and cities, rise;
Ascending castles foreign flags display;
Mysterious art new scenes of life devise;
And steeds insult the plains, and cannon rend the skies.”
*      *      *      *      *
“The rising clouds the savage chief descried,        145
And, round the forest, bade his heroes arm;
To arms the painted warriors proudly hied,
And through surrounding nations rung the alarm.
The nations heard; but smiled, to see the storm,
With ruin fraught, o’er Pequod mountains driven        150
And felt infernal joy the bosom warm,
To see their light hang o’er the skirts of even,
And other suns arise, to gild a kinder heaven.”
 
“Swift to the Pequod fortress Mason sped,
Far in the wildering wood’s impervious gloom;        155
A lonely castle, brown with twilight dread;
Where oft the embowel’d captive met his doom,
And frequent heaved, around the hollow tomb,
Scalps hung in rows, and whitening bones were strew’d;
Where, round the broiling babe, fresh from the womb,        160
With howls the Powaw fill’d the dark abode,
And screams, and midnight prayers, invoked the evil god.
 
“There too, with awful rites, the hoary priest,
Without, beside the moss-grown altar, stood,
His sable form in magic cincture dress’d,        165
And heap’d the mingled offering to his god,
What time, with golden light, calm evening glow’d,
The mystic dust, the flower of silver bloom,
And spicy herb, his hand in order strew’d;
Bright rose the curling flame; and rich perfume        170
On smoky wings upflew, or settled round the tomb.
 
“Then, o’er the circus, danced the maddening throng,
As erst the Thyas roam’d dread Nysa round,
And struck, to forest notes, the ecstatic song,
While slow, beneath them, heav’d the wavy ground.        175
With a low, lingering groan, of dying sound,
The woodland rumbled; murmured deep each stream;
Shrill sung the leaves; all ether sigh’d profound;
Pale tufts of purple topp’d the silver flame,
And many color’d forms on evening breezes came.        180
 
“Thin, twilight forms; attired in changing sheen
Of plumes, high tinctured in the western ray:
Bending, they peep’d the fleecy folds between,
Their wings light rustling in the breath of May.
Soft hovering round the fire, in mystic play,        185
They snuff’d the incense, waved in clouds afar,
Then, silent, floated toward the setting day;
Eve redden’d each fine form, each misty car;
And through them faintly gleam’d, at times, the western star.
 
“Then (so tradition sings,) the train behind,        190
In plumy zones of rainbow’d beauty dress’d,
Rode the Great Spirit, in the obedient wind,
In yellow clouds slow sailing from the west.
With dawning smiles, the God his votaries bless’d,
And taught where deer retired to ivy dell;        195
What chosen chief with proud command to invest,
Where crept the approaching foe, with purpose fell,
And where to wind the scout, and war’s dark storm dispel.
 
“There on her lover’s tomb, in silence laid,
While still, and sorrowing, shower’d the moon’s pale beam,        200
At times, expectant, slept the widow’d maid,
Her soul far wandering on the sylph-wing’d dream.
Wafted from evening skies, on sunny stream,
Her darling youth with silver pinions shone;
With voice of music, tuned to sweetest theme,        205
He told of shell-bright bowers, beyond the sun,
Where years of endless joy o’er Indian lovers run.
 
“But now no awful rites, nor potent spell,
To silence charm’d the peals of coming war;
Or told the dread recesses of the dell,        210
Where glowing Mason led his bands from far:
No spirit, buoyant on his airy car,
Control’d the whirlwind of invading fight:
Deep died in blood, dun evening’s falling star
Sent sad o’er western hills its parting light,        215
And no returning morn dispersed the long, dark night.
 
“On the drear walls a sudden splendor glow’d,
There Mason shone, and there his veterans pour’d.
Anew the hero claim’d the fiends of blood,
While answering storms of arrows round him shower’d,        220
And the war-scream the ear with anguish gored.
Alone, he burst the gate; the forest round
Re-echoed death; the peal of onset roar’d,
In rush’d the squadrons; earth in blood was drown’d;
And gloomy spirits fled, and corses hid the ground.        225
 
“Not long in dubious fight the host had striven,
When, kindled by the musket’s potent flame,
In clouds, and fire, the castle rose to heaven,
And gloom’d the world, with melancholy beam.
Then hoarser groans, with deeper anguish, came;        230
And fiercer fight the keen assault repell’d:
Nor e’en these ills the savage breast could tame;
Like hell’s deep caves, the hideous region yell’d,
Till death, and sweeping fire, laid waste the hostile field.”
 
 
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