Menella Bute Smedley

Heroes

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Children, when you sat wishing,
Down last night on the sands,
Beckoning moments of glory,
With little helpless hands,
I heard you saying and sighing,
As the wind went over the seas,
“There never will come knights-errant
To common days like these!”

I heard you sighing and saying,
“The beautiful time is gone
When heroes hunted for monsters,
And conquer'd them one by one;
And not then is nothing noble,
And we all lie safe at night,
But we would not mind a monster
If we could have a knight!”
Then taking breath for a moment,
You all stood up and said,
“Remember Garibaldi!
Not all the knights are dead:
A chief for men to follow,
Who never lingers nor halts;
A king for women and children,
Because he has no faults.

“But he is nothing to England!
There is the thought that smarts;
We want an English hero,
To trouble all our hearts.”
Ah, children! who could tell you
That hearts grow sick and cold,
Without the healing trouble
That touch'd the waters of old!
Shake not your heads at England,
Her soil is still of worth;
It cannot lose the habit
Of bringing heroes forth.
I met one yesterday evening,
And when you hear his tale,
You'll not be sighing and saying
That times are feeble and pale.

The wind was soft and heavy,
Where African palm-trees tower,
Hardly stirring the river,
Hardly shaking a flower;
The night was grave and splendid,
A dead queen lying in state,
With all her jewels upon her,
And trumpets at her gate.
The wild notes waved and linger'd,
And fainted along the air,
Sometimes like defiance,
And sometimes like despair;
When down the moonlit mountain,
And beside the river-calms,
The line of a dismal procession,
Unwound between the palms.

A train of driven captives,
Weary, weak, amazed,—
Eighty hopeless faces,
Never once upraised;
Bleeding from the journey,
Longing for the grave:
Men and women and children,
Every one a slave.
Lash'd and crying and crouching,
They pass'd, suspecting not
There were three or four English
Whose hearts grew very hot,—
Men who had come from a distance,
Whose lives were in their hands,
To tell the love of Jesus
About the heathen lands,

Studious men and gentle,
But not in the least afraid;
With fire enough amongst them
To furnish a crusade.
And when they saw the slave-troop
Come hurrying down the hill,
Each man look'd at the other,
Unable to be still.
They did not care for treaties,
And death they did not fear;
One great wrong would have roused them,—
There were eighty here.
They were not doing man's work,
They were doing the Lord's,
So they went and stopp'd the savages
With these amazing words:—

“We are three or four English,
And we cannot let this be,—
Get away to your mountains,
And set the people free!”
You should have seen the black men,
How grey their faces turn;
They think the name of England
Is something that will burn.
They break, they fly like water
In a rushing, mighty wind;
The slaves stretch out uncertain hands,
By long despair made blind,
Till in a wonderful moment
The gasp of freedom came,
Like the leap of a tropical sunrise,
That sets the world aflame.

A blast of weeping and shouting
Cleansed all the guilty place;
And God was able to undraw
The curtain from His Face.
A hundred years of preaching
Could not proclaim the creed
Of Love and Power and Pity
So well as that one deed.
A glorious gift is Prudence;
And they are useful friends
Who never make beginnings
Till they can see the ends;
But give us now and then a man,
That we may make him king,
Just to scorn the consequence,
And just to do the thing.

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Menella Bute Smedley