Charles Mair

The Song

Here me, ye smokeless skies and grass-green earth,
Since by your sufferance still I breathe and live!
Through you fond Nature gave me birth,
And food and freedom–all she had to give.
Enough! I grew, and with my kindred ranged
Their realm stupendous, changeless and unchanged,
Save by the toil of nations primitive,
Who throve on us, and loved our life-stream's roar,
And lived beside its wave, and camped upon its shore.

They loved us, and they wasted not. They slew,
With pious hand, but for their daily need;
Not wantonly, but as the due
Of stern necessity which Life doth breed.
Yea, even as earth gave us herbage meet,
So yielded we, in turn, our substance sweet
To quit the claims of hunger, not of greed.
So stood it with us that what either did
Could not be on the earth foregone, nor Heaven forbid.

And, so companioned in the blameless strife
Enjoined upon all creatures, small and great,
Our ways were venial, and our life
Ended in fair fulfilment of our fate.
No gold to them by sordid hands was passed;
No greedy herdsman housed us from the blast;
Ours was the liberty of regions rife
In winter's snow, in summer's fruits and flowers–
Ours were the virgin prairies, and their rapture ours!

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So fared it with us both; yea, thus it stood
In all our wanderings from place to place,
Until the red man mixed his blood
With paler currents. Then arose a race–
The reckless hunters of the plains–who vied
In wanton slaughter for the tongue and hide,
To satisfy vain ends and longings base.
Thus grew; and yet we flourished, and our name
Prospered until the pale destroyer's concourse came.

Then fell a double terror on the plains,
The swift inspreading of destruction dire–
Strange men, who ravaged our domains
On every hand, and ringed us round with fire;
Pale enemies who slew with equal mirth
The harmless or the hurtful things of earth,
In dead fruition of their mad desire:
The ministers of mischief and of might,
Who yearn for havoc as the world's supreme delight.

So waned the myriads which had waxed before
When subject to the simple needs of men.
As yields to eating seas the shore,
So yielded our vast multitude, and then–
It scattered! Meagre bands, in wild dismay,
Were parted and, for shelter, fled away
To barren wastes, to mountain gorge and glen.
A respite brief from stern pursuit and care,
For still the spoiler sought, and still he slew us there.

Hear me, thou grass-green earth, ye smokeless skies,
Since by your sufferance still I breathe and live!
The charity which man denies
Ye still would tender to the fugitive!
I feel your mercy in my veins–at length
My heart revives, and strengthens with your strength–
Too late, too late, the courage ye would give!
Naught can avail these wounds, this failing breath,
This frame which feels, at last, the wily touch of death.

Here must the last of all his kindred fall;
Yet, midst these gathering shadows, ere I die–

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Responsive to an inward call,
My spirit fain would rise and prophesy.
I see our spoilers build their cities great
Upon our plains–I see their rich estate:
The centuries in dim procession fly!
Long ages roll, and then at length is bared
The time when they who spared not are no longer spared.

Once more my vision sweeps the prairies wide,
But now no peopled cities greet the sight;
All perished, now, their pomp and pride:
In solitude the wild wind takes delight.
Naught but the vacant wilderness is seen,
And grassy mounds, where cities once had been.
The earth smiles as of yore, the skies are bright,
Wild cattle graze and bellow on the plain,
And savage nations roam o'er native wilds again.




The burden ceased, and now, with head bowed down,
The bison smelt, then grinned into the air.
An awful anguish seized his giant frame,
Cold shudderings and indrawn gaspings deep–
The spasms of illimitable pain.
One stride he took, and sank upon his knees,
Glared stern defiance where I stood revealed,
Then swayed to earth, and, with convulsive groan,
Turned heavily upon his side, and died.



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Charles Mair