Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1701/At Sea in 1876

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From The Philadelphia Press.

AT SEA IN 1876.

BY S. H. M. BYERS.

1.

Ten days and nights our gallant ship
Sped o'er a lone and trackless way,
And we had watched the seagulls skip
Like arrows o'er the wave, and dip
Their wings into its foam, for they
Were children of the sea, at play.

2.

We were a hundred there, and more,
From many lands, yet loved but one;
And we had longed to see the shore,
The far-off mists from Labrador,
To hear some distant evening gun
Proclaim the day, the voyage, done.

3.

It was so quiet there — at last
One, bolder than the others, led,
Why is this silence? let the past
Be of things that cannot last;
We are the living, not the dead.
"Give us a song," the captain said.

4.

"Is there among us, none, not one,
With the divine Promethean fire,
Can sing of deeds most nobly done —
Of sieges lost, of battles won,
Of knightly sons of knightlier sire,
And wake to life the sleeping lyre?

5.

I do bethink me now, there stood
Amid the forward decks to-day,
A harpist, old, of silent mood;
I did not think there ever could,
Be human form so weird, so gray."
"Bring him," the others said, "to play."

6.

And soon an old man tottered in
To where the lamps were all aglow:
The boatswain bore his harp for him —
For he had thought it well a sin
That one so old should helpless go.
'Tis good we treat our aged so.

7.

"Good friends," the boatswain said, "I bring
The poet of the ship to you.
Well he can play, and sweetly sing
To this his harp, whose every string,
Though tuned oft, yet, tuned' anew,
May cheer you for an hour or two."


The Harpist.

1.

"Give me the harp," the singer said,
And touched his weird hand to the lyre;
And, lo! the eye that seemed so dead,
The form, whence life had almost fled,
Brightened anew with living fire.
Forgot was age, forgot was pain;
The old man lived the boy again.

2.

He swept the cords through many a strain,
And sung of youth and love, till we,
Like followers in his knightly train,
Wept o'er his touching minstrelsy.
Is it not true that man may be
Made angels by some melody?

3.

Have we not lived at times above
The sorrowing earth, and its complaints,
On hearing some sweet tale of love,
Some seraph song of dying saints?
Has not some poet said that we
Are chords in God's great harmony?

. . . . . . . .

1.

"Enough — enough" — the harpist said.
I sing no more of love's young dream,
Of knightly deeds, of lovers wed,
Of hours, of days, too quickly sped,
Mine is another, nobler theme, —
My Country, born midst blood and tears,
Grown sacred by its hundred years.
'Tis not so long ago that men —
Brave men, who feared not storm nor sea,
Crossed to the new-born land of Penn,
Without one thought but to be free:
Brave men, good men, as well, were they
Who fearless sought the dang'rous way
To Plymouth Rock, to Florida;
Men who could fight, as well as pray
Nor asked what else their fate might be
In that fair land beyond the sea,
So that it brought them liberty.

2.

They came — and soon their axes rung
By many a lake and tangled wood;
And midst their labors, lo! they sung,
For God was in their solitude.
Their struggles none but he may tell,
Who watched them on their dang'rous way;
How by the lurking foe they fell,
Yet trusted him, and said, '‘Tis well,
He leads us to the coming day.'

3.

The panther slunk into his lair,
The she-wolf hid within her den,
And there was peace and plenty there,
For God had blessed the hands of men.
Lo! towns, and states and cities rose,
And flocks were fed in every glen;
It was the bloss'ming of the rose,
For God had blessed the hands of men.

. . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . .

Oh! would that Peace might ever rest
Her heav'nly wings on every shore;
Then were mankind divinely blest,
And men should learn of war no more.
Pray, pray for that good hour in store,
When men shall learn of war no more.

1.

Oh! England, England, tell us where,
Where had we wronged thee — how, and when?
Hadst thou forgot thy children there,
Although thy children, yet were men?
Hadst thou forgot that clime, and sea,
And growing years bring wider range,
A larger hope, a destiny
That laws nor wars can ever change?

2.

Thy armies came, thy navies flung
Their flags o'er many an inland sea;
And soon the hills of England rung
With shouts and thanks for victory.
With shouts and thanks, but echoing there,
The answer came from swamp and glen,
You've driven the tiger to his lair —
God help you when he comes again.

3.

Towns, cities blazed, barefooted men
Tramped where our Western rivers flow;
They left their marks behind them, then,
In bloody lines on frozen snow.
'Twas death — aye, more to them, but know
Men oft'nest earn their freedom so.

4.

Orphans and widows wept in vain,
And armies sank for want of bread;
Death stalked through every wood and plain,
And fields were left unharvested.
Still would they yield not — no, beware!
God's will is worked through man's despair.

5.

Days, months, and years, they wavered not,
Nor asked the number of their foe;
By wounds, by death, they cheaply bought
The rights their grateful children know;
The fairest right that heaven can give, —
Unfettered in their faith to live.

6.

They conquered, and a nation sprung
To life, to greatness in the West;
And the wide world her praises sung,
She was the freest and the best.
She was the freest and the one
Whose soil no tyrant dared to tread —
For lo! above, about her shone
The mystery of her sacred dead.
Fate chose but one, but one — 'twas she,
To lead mankind to liberty.

. . . . . . . .

It is a century since then —
A hundred years to-day, and men
Tell all the old tales o'er again;
How she was born, our land, how bred,
And how the life her children led
By faith and peace was hallowed;
How well she kept her promised vow
To lead the way — to help the oppressed
Of every land and clime, and how
Men worshipped her, and she was blest.
How commerce came, and all that fate
Ordains to glorify a State
Waited on her, and she was great.
Each wind that blew, each sail that bent,
Seemed like some gift divinely sent
To help enrich a continent.
The world was envious, too — but no,
Kings could not stop what fate had told;
Hills, rocks unbound themselves, and lo!
Their breasts were filled with oil and gold.

. . . . . . . .

What more? The land was blessed, and grew
Like Eden fair, but never knew,
Like it, she nursed a tempter, too.
A tempter — black, fit child of hell;
He came, and half the nation fell.

They fell, and where the daisies grew,
Lo! cannon belched their poisonous breath —
And war her red-mouthed trumpet blew,
And wedding morns saw nights of death.
The hand of fate lay heavy then,
For God had cursed the ways of men.

Dark months and years, the storm-cloud swept
Her course across a widowed land
But, lo! the God of battles kept
The nation in his pitying hand.
At last, at last, the burning smoke
Faded before her silent guns,
But louder than her cannon spoke
The shroudless bodies of her sons.
Weep, fading clouds, speak, silent guns,
And honor these, her fallen ones.
Dead was the tempter, dead the past,
And men forgot their burning hate,
For hates and angers cannot last
With men whose foes were good, or great.
Sleep on, ye braves, ye shroudless ones!
Men shall not ask which side ye stood:
Enough, ye were the nation's sons,
And ye are dead, and God is good.
It little recks where men have stood,
When Heav'n forgives, and God is good.

1.

Again the peaceful lilies bloom,
And kiss the graves of friend and foe;
Again, again, the busy loom
Sends its dear music to and fro;

Again the hills are gold and red
With shocks and sheaves on every hand,
For all the fields are harvested,
And there is plenty in the land.
Plenty and peace, for God again
Has smiled and blessed the hands of men.

2.

And now, where once the wigwam stood,
Upon the Schuylkill's banks of green,
Where reddening vines and tangled wood
Hemmed in the fair but dang'rous scene,
Behold! a palace, fit for kings,
Lifts its fair head unto the skies,
And all the land her tribute brings,
And shouts aloud, 'Friends, all, arise,
This day, this hour, this place must be,
Made sacred to men's liberty.'

3.

And here, where all have met to see
The earth's united rivalry,
In all that is, or yet may be,
They reached their hands to each, and said,
This is the tribute to our dead,
This is the ring with which we wed
The twice-born bride, Columbia,
And this the oath, new-sworn to thee,
Land of our hopes and destiny.

4.

Again the old time-honored scroll,
Whereon the new world's faith was writ,
Was shown to men, and every soul
Thanked God, and wept, at sight of it.
Thanked God, and wept — it was a sight
Such as men see but once in life.
I saw it then, I saw its birth —
What more can one then want of earth?"

1.

He ceased his music, and the lyre,
Full-toned, fell at the singer's feet:
Gone was the light, the hope, the fire,
Finished the song he sang so sweet.
We bore him to the deck above,
Where soft winds kissed his brow and lip;
In vain, sweet winds, no breath of love
Could wake the poet of the ship.
In freedom's faith his life had passed,
His noblest, sweetest song, his last.

2.

All night our ship sped on its way,
Along a moonlit, starlit sea,
And, when the red sun brought the day,
The sailors shouted "Land," and we
Looked to the west, and, smiling there,
Lay the low hills of Delaware.
Loud boomed the guns, the ship-bells rung,
It Was the land the poet sung.

3.

Land of the West, our Fatherland,
We bow and greet thee, here at sea,
We bare our heads, and meekly stand,
And pray that God in his right hand,
May ever keep thee great, and free.
May ever keep thee great, and when
Th' oppressed shall cry for liberty
Thy stars and stripes shall answer then,
Lo! here all men, all men, are free.