George Boyer Vashon

Vincent Ogé

There is, at times, an evening sky --
The twilight's gift -- of sombre hue,
All checkered wild and gorgeously
With streaks of crimson, gold and blue; --
A sky that strikes the soul with awe,
And, though not brilliant as the sheen,
Which in the east at morn we saw,
Is far more glorious, I ween; --
So glorious that, when night hath come
And shrouded it in deepest gloom,
We turn aside with inward pain
And pray to see that sky again.
Such sight is like the struggle made
When freedom bids unbare the blade,
And calls from every mountain-glen --
From every hill -- from every plain,
Her chosen ones to stand like men,
And cleanse their souls from every stain
Which wretches, steeped in crime and blood,
Have cast upon the form of God.
Though peace like morning's golden hue,
With blooming groves and waving fields,
Is mildly pleasing to the view,
And all the blessings that it yields
Are fondly welcomed by the breast
Which finds delight in passion's rest,
That breast with joy foregoes them all,
While listening to Freedom's call.
Though red the carnage, -- though the strife
Be filled with groans of parting life, --
Though battle's dark, ensanguined skies
Give echo but to agonies --
To shrieks of wild despairing, --
We willingly repress a sigh --
Nay, gaze with rapture in our eye,
Whilst "Freedom!" is the rally-cry
That calls to deeds of daring.
The waves dash brightly on thy shore,
Fair island of the southern seas!
As bright in joy as when of yore
They gladly hailed the Genoese, --
That daring soul who gave to Spain
A world -- last trophy of her reign!
Basking in beauty, thou dost seem
A vision in a poet's dream!
Thou look'st as though thou claim'st not birth
With sea and sky and other earth,
That smile around thee but to show
Thy beauty in a brighter glow, --
That are unto thee as the foil
Artistic hands have featly set
Around Golconda's radiant spoil,
To grace some lofty coronet, --
A foil which serves to make the gem
The glory of that diadem!
If Eden claimed a favored haunt,
Most hallowed of that blessed ground,
Where tempting fiend with guileful taunt
A resting-place would ne'er have found, --
As shadowing it well might seek
The loveliest home in that fair isle,
Which in its radiance seemed to speak
As to the charmed doth Beauty's smile,
That whispers of a thousand things
For which words find no picturings.
Like to the gifted Greek who strove
To paint a crowning work of art,
And form his ideal Queen of Love,
By choosing from each grace a part,
Blending them in one beauteous whole,
To charm the eye, transfix the soul,
And hold it in enraptured fires,
Such as a dream of heaven inspires, --
So seem the glad waves to have sought
From every place its richest treasure,
And borne it to that lovely spot,
To found thereon a home of pleasure; --
A home where balmy airs might float
Through spicy bower and orange grove;
Where bright-winged birds might turn the note
Which tells of pure and constant love;
Where earthquake stay its demon force,
And hurricane its wrathful course;
Where nymph and fairy find a home,
And foot of spoiler never come.
And Ogé stands mid this array
Of matchless beauty, but his brow
Is brightened not by pleasure's play;
He stands unmoved -- nay, saddened now,
As doth the lorn and mateless bird
That constant mourns, whilst all unheard,
The breezes freighted with the strains
Of other songsters sweep the plain, --
That ne'er breathes forth a joyous note,
Though odors on the zephyrs float --
The tribute of a thousand bowers,
Rich in their store of fragrant flowers.
Yet Ogé's was a mind that joyed
With nature in her every mood,
Whether in sunshine unalloyed
With darkness, or in tempest rude
And, by the dashing waterfall,
Or by the gently flowing river,
Or listening to the thunder's call,
He'd joy away his life forever.
But ah! life is a changeful thing,
And pleasures swiftly pass away,
And we may turn, with shuddering,
From what we sighed for yesterday.
The guest, at banquet-table spread
With choicest viands, shakes with dread,
Nor heeds the goblet bright and fair,
Nor tastes the dainties rich and rare,
Nor bids his eye with pleasure trace
The wreathed flowers that deck the place,
If he but knows there is a draught
Among the cordials, that, if quaffed,
Will send swift poison through his veins.
So Ogé seems; nor does his eye
With pleasure view the flowery plains,
The bounding sea, the spangled sky,
As, in the short and soft twilight,
The stars peep brightly forth in heaven,
And hasten to the realms of night,
As handmaids of the Even.
The loud shouts from the distant town,
Joined in with nature's gladsome lay;
The lights went glancing up and down,
Riv'ling the stars -- nay, seemed as they
Could stoop to claim, in their high home,
A sympathy with things of earth,
And had from their bright mansions come,
To join them in their festal mirth.
For the land of the Gaul had arose in its might,
And swept by as the wind of a wild, wintry night;
And the dreamings of greatness -- the phantoms of power,
Had passed in its breath like the things of an hour.
Like the violet vapors that brilliantly play
Round the glass of the chemist, then vanish away,
The visions of grandeur which dazzlingly shone,
Had gleamed for a time, and all suddenly gone.
And the fabric of ages -- the glory of kings,
Accounted most sacred mid sanctified things,
Reared up by the hero, preserved by the sage,
And drawn out in rich hues on the chronicler's page,
Had sunk in the blast, and in ruins lay spread,
While the altar of freedom was reared in its stead.
And a spark from that shrine in the free-roving breeze,
Had crossed from fair France to that isle of these
And a flame was there kindled which fitfully shone
Mid the shout of the free, and the dark captive's groan;
As, mid contrary breezes, a torch-light will play,
Now streaming up brightly -- now dying away.
The reptile slumbers in the stone,
Nor dream we of his pent abode;
The heart conceals the anguished groan,
With all the poignant griefs that goad
The brain to madness;
Within the hushed volcano's breast,
The molten fires of ruin lie; --
Thus human passions seem at rest,
And on the brow serene and high,
Appears no sadness.
But still the fires are raging there,
Of vengeance, hatred, and despair;
And when they burst, they wildly pour
Their lava flood of woe and fear,
And in one short -- one little hour,
Avenge the wrongs of many a year.
And Ogé standeth in his hall;
But now he standeth not alone; --
A brother's there, and friends; and all
Are kindred spirits with his own;
For mind will join with kindred mind,
As matter's with its like combined.
They speak of wrongs they had received --
Of freemen, of their rights bereaved;
And as they pondered o'er the thought
Which in their minds so madly wrought,
Their eyes gleamed as the lightning's flash,
Their words seemed as the torrent's dash
That falleth, with a low, deep sound,
Into some dark abyss profound, --
A sullen sound that threatens more
Than other torrents' louder roar.
Ah! they had borne well as they might,
Such wrongs as freemen ill can bear;
And they had urged both day and night,
In fitting words, a freeman's prayer;
And when the heart is filled with grief,
For wrongs of all true souls accurst,
In action it must seek relief,
Or else, o'ercharged, it can but burst.
Why blame we them, if they oft spake
Words that were fitted to awake
The soul's high hopes -- its noblest parts --
The slumbering passions of brave hearts,
And send them as the simoom's breath,
Upon a work of woe and death?
And woman's voice is heard amid
The accents of that warrior train;
And when has woman's voice e'er bid,
And man could from its hest refrain?
Hers is the power o'er his soul
That 's never wielded by another,
And she doth claim this soft control
As sister, mistress, wife, or mother.
So sweetly doth her soft voice float
O'er hearts by guilt or anguish riven,
It seemeth as a magic note
Struck from earth's harps by hands of heaven.
And there 's the mother of Ogé,
Who with firm voice, and steady heart,
And look unaltered, well can play
The Spartan mother's hardy part;
And send her sons to battle-fields,
And bid them come in triumph home,
Or stretched upon their bloody shields,
Rather than bear the bondman's doom.
"Go forth," she said, "to victory;
Or else, go bravely forth to die!
Go forth to fields where glory floats
In every trumpet's cheering notes!
Go forth, to where a freeman's death
Glares in each cannon's fiery breath!
Go forth and triumph o'er the foe;
Or failing that, with pleasure go
To molder on the battle-plain,
Freed ever from the tyrant's chain!
But if your hearts should craven prove,
Forgetful of your zeal -- your love
For rights and franchises of men,
My heart will break; but even then,
Whilst bidding life and earth adieu,
This be the prayer I'll breathe for you:
'Passing from guilt to misery,
May this for aye your portion be, --
A life, dragged out beneath the rod --
An end, abhorred of man and God --
As monument, the chains you nurse --
As epitaph, your mother's curse!'"
A thousand hearts are breathing high,
And voices shouting "Victory!"
Which soon will hush in death;
The trumpet clang of joy that speaks,
Will soon be drowned in the shrieks
Of the wounded's stifling breath,
The tyrant's plume in dust lies low --
Th' oppressed has triumphed o'er his foe.
But ah! the lull in the furious blast
May whisper not of ruin past;
It may tell of the tempest hurrying on,
To complete the work the blast begun.
In the voice of a Syren, it may whisp'ringly tell
Of a moment of hope in the deluge of rain;
As the shout of the free heart may rapt'rously swell,
While the tyrant is gath'ring his power again.
Though the balm of the leech may soften the smart,
It never can turn the swift barb from its aim;
And thus the resolve of the true freeman's heart
May not keep back his fall, though it free it from shame.
Though the hearts of those heroes all well could accord
With freedom's most noble and loftiest word;
Their virtuous strength availeth them nought
With the power and skill that the tyrant brought.
Gray veterans trained in many a field
Where the fate of nations with blood was sealed,
In Italia's vales -- on the shores of the Rhine --
Where the plains of fair France give birth to the vine --
Where the Tagus, the Ebro, go dancing along,
Made glad in their course by the Muleteer's song --
All these were poured down in the pride of their might,
On the land of Ogé, in that terrible fight.
Ah! dire was the conflict, and many the slain,
Who slept the last sleep on that red battle-plain!
The flash of the cannon o'er valley and height
Danced like the swift fires of a northern night,
Or the quivering glare which leaps forth as a token
That the King of the Storm from his cloud-throne has spoken.
And oh! to those heroes how welcome the fate
Of Sparta's brave sons in Thermopylæ's strait;
With what ardor of soul they then would have given
Their last look at earth for a long glance at heaven!
Their lives to their country -- their backs to the sod --
Their heart's blood to the sword, and their souls to their God!
But alas! although many lie silent and slain,
More blest are they far than those clanking the chain,
In the hold of the tyrant, debarred from the day; --
And among these sad captives is Vincent Ogé!
Another day's bright sun has risen,
And shines upon the insurgent's prison;
Another night has slowly passed,
And Ogé smiles, for 'tis the last
He'll droop beneath the tyrant's power --
The galling chains! Another hour,
And answering to the jailor's call,
He stands within the Judgment Hall.
They've gathered there; -- they who have pressed
Their fangs into the soul distressed,
To pain its passage to the tomb
With mock'ry of a legal doom.
They've gathered there; -- they who have stood
Firmly and fast in hour of blood, --
Who've seen the lights of hope all die,
As stars fade from a morning sky, --
They've gathered there, in that dark hour --
The latest of the tyrant's power, --
An hour that speaketh of the day
Which never more shall pass away, --
The glorious day beyond the grave,
Which knows no master -- owns no slave.
And there, too, are the rack -- the wheel --
The torturing screw -- the piercing steel, --
Grim powers of death all crusted o'er
With other victims' clotted gore.
Frowning they stand, and in their cold,
Silent solemnity, unfold
The strong one's triumph o'er the weak --
The awful groan -- the anguished shriek --
The unconscious mutt'rings of despair --
The strained eyeball's idiot stare --
The hopeless clench -- the quiv'ring frame --
The martyr's death -- the despot's shame.
The rack -- the tyrant -- victim, -- all
Are gathered in that Judgment Hall.
Draw we the veil, for 'tis a sight
But friends can gaze on with delight.
The sunbeams on the rack that play,
For sudden terror flit away
From this dread work of war and death,
As angels do with quickened breath,
From some dark deed of deepest sin,
Ere they have drunk its spirit in.
No mighty host with banners flying,
Seems fiercer to a conquered foe,
Than did those gallant heroes dying,
To those who gloated o'er their woe; --
Grim tigers, who have seized their prey,
Then turn and shrink abashed away;
And, coming back and crouching nigh,
Quail 'neath the flashing of the eye,
Which tells that though the life has started,
The will to strike has not departed.
Sad was your fate, heroic band!
Yet mourn we not, for yours' the stand
Which will secure to you a fame,
That never dieth, and a name
That will, in coming ages, be
A signal word for Liberty.
Upon the slave's o'erclouded sky,
Your gallant actions traced the bow,
Which whispered of deliv'rance nigh --
The meed of one decisive blow.
Thy coming fame, Ogé! is sure;
Thy name with that of L'Ouverture,
And all the noble souls that stood
With both of you, in times of blood,
Will live to be the tyrant's fear --
Will live, the sinking soul to cheer!

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George Boyer Vashon