Albery Allson Whitman

Rape of Florida: Canto IV

 Next Poem          

Gazing upon the toiling seas,
In gloomy rows the silent captives sate;
And as the ship rode off before the breeze,
They murmured not, though all disconsolate;
But mournful seemed, and joined to meditate, --
Each other to regard with patient sighs,
And gather courage up to hope and wait;
Still looking back, with sad, reluctant eyes,
To bid a last adieu to Florida's blue skies!

Those who had counselled Tampa's sons of old,
Now lift their drooping faces from their hands;
And those who had done battle stern and bold, --
Fierce sons of Seminole and exile bands, --
Look up as in their midst Atlassa stands.
Shorewards his arms in heavy irons stretch,
And while his mien a silence deep commands,
His fiery glance inspires the veriest wretch,
For all well know that he's for mortal foe a match!

Full well they know the perfidy and guile,
By which at Tampa, they in chains were held.
The insult to a flag of truce, so vile,
Astounded all, and in each bosom swelled,
A bitter, mute despondency. Compelled
To charge themselves with lack of wariness,
They felt that they from homes were self-expelled;
So, sighs alone, their feelings could express,
As their attentive ear drank down their chief's address.

"My native Florida! adieu! adieu!
I'm looking at the last pine on thy shore!
Soon other climes must come upon my view,
And thy sweet landscapes meet my eyes no more!
Oh! Florida! hear now thy son implore!
In thy fair bosom still remember me;
And while the billows shall between us roar,
Or thy smooth sands shall hear a lisping sea,
Let these my latest vows revive and dwell in thee!

"I go in chains, but not a pining slave;
Injured but conquered not, I still go free!
And yet, ye seats by Mickasukie's wave,
How sad it is that I must thus leave thee!
'Twas in thy shades I hoped my grave might be.
When Peace had come to spread her happy reign.
Where sleep the prophet-sires of liberty,
I proudly deemed that comrades should have lain
My weary dust in rest unbroken to remain!

"Ye pines whose whisper's lulled thy child to rest,
And whose hoarse anthems nerved him in the fray,
How slept thy shades on Mickasukie's breast,
How crept they from the threshold of the day! --
From such sweet scenes I'll soon be far away!
And Apalachi, parted now from me,
No words can utter what my heart would say! --
But while thy pining shores no more I see,
In his far home, Atlassa still will think of thee!"

The chieftain speaks no more, but still doth gaze
Till Florida is gone and all is sea.
With every canvas breathing, sailors raise
Their outward shouts, and sing right merrily
To the dark wave's responsive melody:
But hark! what groans now fill the heedless wind!
The captive can his home no longer see;
So sinks in unsupported grief the mind,
When exiles dragged away, must leave their hearts behind!

Atlassa sees those who, whilom could look
Upon him with a hope of sure redress;
And feelings that e'en his heart cannot brook,
Damp his averted eyes, and thoughts that press
Like flame, he feels and cannot half express.
There are his comrades in long bloody wars;
Their lips are still -- their looks speak none the less, --
Their maimed limbs, and their faces deep with scars,
Are the dumb eloquence which tells the wrong that mars.

There is a time when speech is all too frail,
There is a place where silence speaks the most:
What is the word to paint a human wail,
Or how heroic, speak where all is lost!
He who wears shackles mid his shackled host,
Shows valor's steel to sturdily behave,
For life is Freedom's last and real cost,
And so, the last resistance of the brave,
Is that stern silence which to chains prefers grave.

Full well the patient exile knows his chief,
Full well the Seminole regards his mien;
For to look on him is a strange relief
To those who with him, other times have seen,
Ah! they remember well what he hath been, --
How readily he sprang to meet the foe!
Bearing misfortunes manfully serene,
They see him now, and trust that he may know
The way of their deliv'rance, and direct the blow.

Still sing the sailors 'mid their masts and spars,
All heedless of a captive's sighs aboard!
In truth 'tis a good time for jolly tars --
The heaving canvas hastens them toward
Their haven, and sea-omens good afford
Continuous presages of a fair sail;
While sportive fancy kens ahead to hoard
The dance, and sparkling draught that shall regale,
When they the Crescent City's busy port shall hail.

How near may men be, yet how far apart,
If what lies all unuttered were but told!
How changed is all the province of the heart,
When different men the selfsame sights behold!
To one the skies may glow in dusts of gold,
Sprinkled by hands of promise, while the same
To others like the book of Doom unrolled,
May doleful seem, -- toned with the lurid flame
That lights the ruins and gloom of mishaps dread to name.

Atlassa leans, stern looking on his chains,
All else unheeding till a touch he feels, --
Before him stands the soldier-porting Gaines,
His lifted hat the veteran-brow reveals.
With wars acquainted, nought his mien conceals;
Meeting the chief as brave men meet the brave,
A glance of mutual admiration seals
The friendliness with which they each behave:
"Unbind him," thunders he, "Atlassa is no slave!"

"I've thrown away my rifle," cries the chief,
"I hold a brave hand, we shall now be friends!"
The soldier answers and his words were brief; --
"Only in battle foes, in peace strife ends.
In arms, your conduct to mankind commends
You as a warrior, honorable -- true.
And now the General in command extends
The hand of high fraternity to you, --
Believe me, sir, and this with heartfelt pride I do."

Straightening to all his hight, the vet'ran Gaines,
With martial pride investing his high brow,
The signal gives, -- a band, discoursing strains
Enliv'ning, starts -- and expectancy now
Stands tiptoe. Seaman at the stern and prow,
And high amid the rigging, hush and wait! --
Palmecho is unchained and from below,
Totters up in a poor unsteady gait --
The pathos of an old man borne from sorrow's weight!

There was a hush upon the swelling wave,
The spirit of the waters seemed to be
A silent noticer. The full sails gave
A flutter short and listened breathlessly;
The mews came nearer from the open sea,
And over all there was a deep'ning spell,
Till trumpets flourished loud and suddenly,
And then sweet strains again commenced to swell,
When Ewald sprang and on her chieftain's bosom fell.

Ewald the princess of the sunny isle,
Ewald the idol of Twasinta's vale, --
The fascinating beauty, who, erwhile
A captive pined, in long suspense grown pale, --
Not now less beautiful, but much more frail,
Her dark unconquered eyes still claim their reign,
Lovely in triumph! no weak sob or wail
Escape her lips, or word unmeet and vain;
She simply looks a queen, restored to realms again!

The dark wave smiled, the sails flapped swifter on,
The mews were off about their foam intent;
And e'en the vet'ran Gaines was up and gone,
When o'er Ewald the silent chieftain leant;
Too well he knew what such reunions meant!
Ah! who could rudely linger on the scene,
When arms reluctant pressed by love consent,
And lips like rose-buds with their dews between,
Their dainty sweets yield to the touch? It would have been

A sacrilege polluting e'en the sea!
Not Jonah's disobedience could have stirred
The Ocean gods to wrath more suddenly.
This scene in Neptune's realms, was, in a word,
A part, in Bliss Regained, by him preferred
Before the patrons of the wave, to show
That e'en love's whispers in the deep are heard --
That her entrancings charm the tides that flow,
And please the pow'rs that reign invincibly below.

Ye who are scornful of an injured race, --
Who boast thy fellow mortal to despise,
Look now on war-worn Gaines' valiant face,
Look in the glorious old commander's eyes,
Gaze, as on Ewald's neck his proud hand lies,
See how her sweet hand nestles there in his;
Now with coy glances, see, she deftly tries
And wins the admiring smile which ever gi'es
Woman a pleasure true and man's best treasure is.

Now ask the vet'ran -- but his fiery eye
Is on you! Look! Draw near! Stand in its blaze
And let it scorch! -- Approach him -- there! ask "Why,
Our leader, why, Sir, bring us the disgrace
Which must attach to fawning Ewald's race?"
Imagine that he answers! -- hold! now go,
Make haste, forsooth! hide thy repugnant face
Till thou art cured! and after this be slow
To stretch thy curious neck life's nobler springs to know.

But we must hasten to a foreign shore, --
To ancient Santa Rosa lift thine eyes;
There the worn exiles, free at last, explore
The plain that by no slave polluted lies
Beneath the peaceful blue of Mexic's skies;
There may they taste their freedom so well won,
Surrounded by their happy families;
There may rejoice to find their struggles done,
And Plenty's benedictions close what wars begun.

Where the wild cactus lifts its thorny stem,
And sleepily endures the day-long heat,
A free and fruitful clime inviteth them
To rest their whilom weary, wand'ring feet.
Oh! how inspiriting the prospect sweet
That now expands upon the open gaze!
Above them yet their tropic branches meet,
The fruit boughs hang in luscious golden maze,
And winds are burdened with their native wood-land lays.

Here the clear stream holds in its peaceful brim
Such quiet shadows as to them recall
The scenes of Mickasukie's forests dim;
And, mindful still of what did them befall,
Though not cast down, they rise up after all,
And here commence the dream of life again.
Soon cheerful hearths unite their fam'lies small,
The husbandman leads up his joyous train,
And pleasant farms extend wide o'er the vocal plain.

There stands Atlassa 'mid his hopeful few,
The future contemplates and looks before.
The battle storm that erst around him drew
Them to defend their wasted land is o'er.
And now lamenting not his native shore,
He rises still as one born to command,
And challenge comrade's courage tried once more.
He waves the signal of his gifted hand,
And valiantly they go to subjugate the land.

He led them forth of old, they knew not where,
He followed with them o'er the mournful wave;
They halted in the wilderness, and there
The human hunter waited to enslave, --
He stepped to front again their leader brave,
And when the foe came on with haughty stride,
A death blow to his insolence he gave:
Then came the weary march, thro' forests wide,
Till they were safe beyond the Rio Grande's tide.

There, mourning not, they toil and hope again, --
They look not back, their sodden cheeks are dry;
And yet, I ween, there is an inward pain
To those whose kindred all unnoticed lie
Beneath the sad sun of a foreign sky.
The South wind whispers to them o'er the wave,
And dampness is, perhaps, come in some's eye
Who thinks of a dear, well-remembered grave;
But all to mourn are too long suffering and too brave.

Since he who looks upon a glorious day
Expiring on the threshold of the West,
Must breathe a thoughtful wish to be away;
And feel within him dying unexprest
The seer-voiced longings of the heart's unrest;
May we not trust that, in the evermore,
A friendlier clime awaits the pensive breast;
May we not hope to reach a farther shore,
And catch the billows listing where they cease to roar?

Oh! must it ever come that earth shall be
A sable field of barrenness? A waste
Of hollow sounds? Must fruitless nature see
Her seasons end? And sunless days -- the last --
Roll sightless on mid desolations vast?
Must Time in silence view her broken urn,
Or sit to brood upon an empty Past?
Bereft of years, must she a widow mourn,
And to her childless breast will joy no more return?

And since there is, as hope is prone to sing,
A "Happy Land," why say "far, far away?"
May not the restful soul be lingering
Still near its mansion of deserted clay?
The unembodied spirit, why not say,
By matter all unhindered, is at home;
Whether delighted round the earth to stray,
Or in a farther universe to roam, --
A guest of future worlds, -- then back at times to come!

If conscious life about the earth might stroll,
A child of Reason still, it then were sweet
To think on a Republic of the soul --
Community of Spirits -- where lives meet
To walk the earth they've known, with joyous feet,
Unharrowed by abysmal thoughts of Death;
Reason would then hold her delightful seat,
And tho' what's mortal, but a mist, a breath,
Were passed away, life still would be her "shibboleth."

'Twere sweet to live, if cherishing the trust
That life itself doth from the flesh-life spring, --
That what survives affection's tender dust
Is this existence, only brightening
With azure grace and an immortal wing!
Then might we hope to feel as we have felt,
And know the subtle shadow wavering
Between the where we may dwell and have dwelt;
Then might we realize that not in vain we've knelt.

If then, this be, how sweet the pleasing dream, --
When life had filled its shadow and its shine, --
That led the savage by his dark-wood stream,
To seek a heaven beneath his leafy shrine!
In pathos sweet and tenderness divine,
This solace for the poorest heart pleads:
When this life o'er her empty urn shall pine,
She sit to mourn not in eternal weeds;
But, part the shade into the shine that there succeeds.

Those who have labored up dogmatic Blancs
To freeze on horrid crags, or dash below
Into some mangling chasm did leave the banks
And shades of safety in the plain, to know,
Only too late, that such hights can but show
Distances too sublime by far to reach, --
Only too late, that tend'rest comforts grow
Where love's sweet whispers cluster round, to teach
The dear humanity that they disdained to preach.

Who can ascend against Thy awful brow,
Omnipotence! About Thee Thou dost gird
The elements! Thine avalanches flow
Down the incomputable years! and heard
Eternally comes forth Thy Sovran Word,
To warn man back! Thy presence who can bear?
E'en of old in mountains thou appeared,
And from thine upper worlds man Thee did hear,
And quake to stand in clouds of an unmortal fear!

Thou warnest me the mortal task to shun,
Of tempting thy dread paths above to find.
Stern, silent, incomprehensible One!
Thou risest boundlessly above the mind!
But here below thou hast for love entwined
An altar with the leaf of life, and bloom,
Round which, pathetic human tendrils bind
The off'rings of our hands. May its perfume
Exhale in all the earth, as freedom's fires consume!

But we have wandered: If the Seminole
May ever reach again his native shore,
How sweet to think of his unhindered soul
Revisiting the scenes he loved before!
But if the hope offend we say no more:
We leave him in his Mexic home at rest,
And still may dream that he shall yes pass o'er
The dimpling waves of Mickasukie's breast,
Yet press the flow'ry brinks, that he before has prest!

The exiles came unto an ancient well, --
Atlassa sat and Ewald by him stood,
While golden glories of the sunset, fell
Like dreams of heav'n on Santa Rosa's wood.
A shim'ring silence filled the solitude.
There was no time for speech. Palmecho moaned
For joy, and wept, and their responses rude,
With feelings deep and weirdly undertoned,
The warriors gave, still gazing on the earth peace-zoned.

Oh! God! in all Thy glorious works, Thy praise
Is mightiest mid the hosts of Liberty!
She leads mankind in devious unknown ways,
And sounds her timbrels o'er a conquered sea,
While vocal mountains catch the rising glee!
And, where afar her patient children roam,
The desert wakes to join their jubilee!
They pass or rest, despising what may come;
Only to dwell with thee, the wide world is their home.

Hail! home of exiles and of Seminoles!
Hail! Mexico, thou weak but goodly land!
The Day of Freedom onward grandly rolls,
And thou shalt yet receive the greeting hand
Of her, who once did like a vulture stand,
To gorge upon thy sons by slave power slain!
The world's respect, ere long thou shalt command;
And when the hosts of Freedom come amain;
Thy sons shall join their shouts ascending from the plain!

Those who once came upon thee with the sword,
Are coming now with pruning hooks and plows;
And plains, once trampled by the spoiler's horde,
Are green with fields, and sweet with fruitful boughs.
Awake thou ebon maid! awake! arouse!!
Throw wide thy gates! unlock thy treasures now!
The proud cause of humanity espouse;
And from thy miser-clutching hills shall flow
The wealth that yet must glitter in thy sunny brow!

Rise from thy ancient mounds! cells of the dead,
Of whom e'en Legend recollects no tale;
Presumption only, sees the life they led
In squalid hut, and still, unplanted dale:
And even she is sad to lift the veil!
Oh! what must they have been! Oh! how expire
And on the ears of Time leave not a wail?
In all the past, there smokes no altar fire --
To what renown could such a stupid race aspire!

And yet may lowly joys have there been born,
Rude tho' the scenes 'mid which her patrons met.
The sheep boy's carol and the mountain horn,
And merry note of pipe or flageolet,
May well be deemed the things we can't forget;
And these may there have soothed the rustic's ear,
Still, still it comes, unceasing with regret,
That there remains no lingering mark of cheer --
That not a solitary annal doth appear.

We leave thee with thy guests, thou sunny maid!
The daughter of Twasinta dwells with thee;
The chief of Tampa and the everglade
Is with her, and will strive to keep thee free.
Rise thou into a nation's dignity,
And freedom's acclamations spread around!
As Rio Grande rolls down to the sea,
Let the omnific waters catch the sound,
"A queen of beauty in the West is Mexic crowned!"

Farewell, thy guests! The light is almost gone
That kindled for them in the everglades!
In all our shores the day of slavery's done.
Midst the wild freedom of our mighty shades,
Now, every man whose soul the hope pervades
Of life, and liberty, and happiness,
May join with Sovran Labor's plows and spades,
And jocund axes in the wilderness,
To dig and hew away primeval want's fortress.

Who finds this country now, exulting finds
That nature sounds the anthems of the free, --
The boundless prairie swept by restless winds,
Great forests shouting on tumultuously,
Rivers that send their greetings to the sea,
Peace-loving vales, where weed-brimmed waters run,
Broad lakes, whose shade-fringed margins lisp their glee,
Mountains, that prop their green heights in the sun,
And herded slopes that winter never looks upon!

Priestcraft and Tyranny must not unchain
The mind and limb of man and send him here;
Or they will never see their dupe again,
So soon 'mong freemen will he disappear.
The sights to make him free are everywhere:
He can not see the farmer tilling corn,
And whistling at his plow, as blithe and clear
As lark or linnet in the dew-sprent morn,
And not feel freedom's wishes in him being born.

He can not wander in our roads, or stay
Beneath our shades unmoved by what he sees, --
The full ripe orchard by his dusty way,
Busy with children and alive with bees;
The cool spring underneath the green oak trees;
The cider mill a going merrily,
And farmer looking on in his brown ease, --
He can not, seeing these, but long to be
A sovereign, gathering gold crowns from the appletree.

This is a land of free limb and free thought --
Freedom for all, home-keeping or abroad, --
Here man is all unhindered, as he ought,
Dreading no priest's rebuke, no despot's nod,
In high respect of Right, the friend of God!
Sole sovereign of himself, by nature throned,
Planting his titles in the royal sod,
He spreads his reign were labor's might is owned,
And harvests revenues for which no subject groaned.

The veriest serf, whose shiv'ring manhood hears
Niagara's astounding waters fall,
Must find that awe of man there disappears
In mists of infinite spray: He can not call
His monarch's name and feel its spell and thrall;
For human might is swept off in the gaze
And awe of One Sublime Stupendous All!
And nought survives except the soul to raise
To one great God a whisper of deep, sincere praise!

Thus ends my lay: Reluctantly I leave
Atlassa and his sweet-eyed Southern maid;
Palmecho, too, with whom I much did grieve,
I turn from sadly! Could they but have stayed
Beneath their "vines and fig trees," not afraid!
Yet by their Santa Rosa let them dwell,
Rejoicing in their freedom, long delayed!
And while my heart's untrained emotions swell,
Once more I turn to gaze and sigh: farewell! farewell!

Next Poem 

 Back to
Albery Allson Whitman