Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
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William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
 
An Elegy on the Burning of Fairfield
By Colonel David Humphreys (1752–1818)
 
          Governor Tryon and General Garth, with a party of tories, British and German yaughers, landed at Fairfield, Conn., the 7th of July, 1779. The American militia, conscious of their inability to contend with success, from a mistaken reliance on the generosity and compassion of the British, and misplaced confidence in Tryon, with whom many of them were personally acquainted, retreated, and in very many instances left their families, as well as property, to the mercy of the enemy, who found in the town only women, children, and aged men. The soldiery spared neither age, sex, or condition: their persons were abused, their houses rifled, and a general pillage and burning of every thing valuable closed this outrage upon humanity.—It was thought that this brief historical sketch might not be unacceptable as a preface to the poem of Col. Humphreys.

YE smoking ruins, marks of hostile ire,
  Ye ashes warm, which drink the tears that flow—
Ye desolated plains, my voice inspire,
  And give soft music to the song of wo!
 
How pleasant, Fairfield, on the enraptured sight        5
  Rose thy tall spires, and oped thy social halls!
How oft my bosom beat with pure delight,
  At yonder spot where stand the darken’d walls!
 
But there the voice of mirth resounds no more,
  A silent sadness through the streets prevails:        10
The distant main alone is heard to roar,
  And hollow chimneys hum with sullen gales—
 
Save where scorch’d elms the untimely foliage shed,
  Which, rustling, hovers round the faded green—
Save where, at twilight, mourners frequent tread,        15
  Mid recent graves, o’er desolation’s scene.
 
How changed the blissful prospect, when compared,
  These glooms funereal, with thy former bloom,
Thy hospitable rites when Tryon shared,
  Long ere he sealed thy melancholy doom!        20
 
That impious wretch, with coward voice, decreed
  Defenceless domes and hallow’d fanes to dust;
Beheld, with sneering smile, the wounded bleed,
  And spurr’d his bands to rapine, blood, and lust.
 
Vain was the widow’s, vain the orphan’s cry,        25
  To touch his feelings, or to sooth his rage—
Vain the fair drop that roll’d from beauty’s eye,
  Vain the dumb grief of supplicating age.
 
Could Tryon hope to quench the patriot flame,
  Or make his deeds survive in Glory’s page?        30
Could Britons seek of savages the fame,
  Or deem it conquest, thus the war to wage?
 
Yes, Britons! scorn the counsels of the skies,
  Extend wide havoc, spurn the insulted foes;
The insulted foes to tenfold vengeance rise—        35
  Resistance growing as the danger grows.
 
Red in their wounds, and pointing to the plain,
  The visionary shapes before me stand—
The thunder bursts, the battle burns again,
  And kindling fires encrimson all the strand.        40
 
Long, dusky wreaths of smoke, reluctant driven,
  In blackening volumes o’er the landscape bend:
Here the broad splendour blazes high to heaven—
  There, umber’d streams in purple pomp ascend.
 
In fiery eddies, round the tottering walls,        45
  Emitting sparks, the lighter fragments fly:
With frightful crash the burning mansion falls,
  The works of years in glowing embers lie.
 
Tryon, behold thy sanguine flames aspire!
  Clouds tinged with dyes intolerably bright:        50
Behold, well-pleased, the village wrapp’d in fire!
  Let one wide ruin glut thy ravish’d sight!
 
Ere fades the grateful scene, indulge thine eye,
  See age and sickness, tremulously slow,
Creep from the flames—see babes in torture die,        55
  And mothers swoon in agonies of wo.
 
Go, gaze! enraptured with the mother’s tear,
  The infant’s terror, and the captive’s pain,
Where no bold bands can check thy cursed career—
  Mix fire with blood on each unguarded plain!        60
 
These be thy triumphs! this thy boasted fame!
  Daughters of memory, raise the deathless songs!
Repeat through endless years his hated name—
  Embalm his crimes, and teach the world our wrongs.
 
 
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