Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
The American Captive
An Elegy

          The following elegy is extracted from a volume of poetry by “A Young Gentleman of New York,” printed by Thomas Greenleaf, in 1795.
  In July, 1785, the Algerines made prizes of two American vessels on the Atlantic, the survivors of whose crews remained in captivity until the 5th of September, 1795, having been liberated by the operation of the treaty of peace between the dey and the United States, after a captivity of more than ten years. In the beginning of October, 1793, several Algerine corsairs captured a number of American ships in the western ocean, the crews of which amounted to about one hundred and twenty persons. These were also set at liberty by the treaty of 1795. On the return of these unfortunate persons to their country, they everywhere excited the sympathy of their fellow-citizens. Many of them had been mutilated by their captors. The treaty cost the United States nearly a million of dollars, in a frigate built for the purpose, in military stores and in money. A circumstance in no respect creditable to the nation; and only to be excused by the fact of our being without a naval force to protect our commerce, and by the submission of all the European powers, so much stronger than we, to the like degradation of paying tribute! It is, however, to the glory of our country, that we were the first nation who effectually shook off the yoke.
  In June, 1816, Commodore Decatur, having first captured or destroyed the naval force of Algiers, compelled the dey to sign a treaty in which he forever relinquished all claims to tribute.

WITH slow and solemn sound the tower clock tolls;
  Its mournful cadence strikes upon my ears,
Tells in sad murmurs how time onward rolls,
  And adds its moments to my sorrowing years.
To grief and melancholy thoughts resign’d,        5
  Almerius courts dread midnight’s horrid gloom,
He hails its shades congenial to his mind,
  And mourns neglected his unhappy doom.
Far from the soothing accents of a friend,
  Where Pity not one tear for misery sheds,        10
Where not Humanity a smile will lend,
  But Grief unfolding her dark mantle spreads;
Far from the voice of Julia, and of love,
  For me soft sympathy has ceased to flow;
No more those lips shall winning accents move,        15
  And with their sweetness soothe the pang of wo.
How solemn and how grand the midnight scene!
  The moon’s now hid beneath a lowering cloud:
Now glimmering from on high she shines serene,
  And, brighten’d, breaks forth from the blacken’d shroud.        20
She casts her beams o’er Nature’s silent plains,
  And in this tower emits a trembling ray,
Which lights the dungeon where a wretch remains,
  To drear confinement an unhappy prey.
Now through the grates soft moves a gentle breeze,        25
  Whose fragrant coolness fans my panting breast;
Abroad I hear the rustling of the trees,
  And the shrill screaming of the midnight guest.
I hear the lonely songster of the grove
  In warbling accents pour its pensive song—        30
The song of sorrow and the song of love—
  Which floating zephyrs gently waft along.
Far distant hence, I hear the water’s sound,
  Which foaming tumbles from the rocky hills;
Rising it throws its plaintive murmur round,        35
  And all the air with fairy music fills.
Through night’s sad gloom the watchful mastiff’s cries
  With grating discord drown the soothing strains,
When, listening every noise, he distant spies
  Some awful phantom stalking o’er the plains.        40
What horrors hover in these chilly walls!
  A dismal dread now damps my grief-worn heart;
Methinks some ghost with hollow screaming calls,
  And groans and sighs the neighbouring cells impart.
Ah! now a ghastly, frightful form appears,        45
  And seems to whisper through the iron grates;
Slow o’er its haggard face roll fearful tears,
  And wild despair its fiery eye dilates.
The grisly hairs stand stiff upon its head,
  Within its hand a bloody knife it holds        50
Around its limbs a filthy garb is spread,
  Which, stain’d with gore, before the gale unfolds.
Now with the shadows of the night ’tis fled,
  And left a prisoner terrified with fear;
Ah! ’twas the spectre of some murder’d dead,        55
  A sufferer, a Columbian—names so dear.
Hail to Columbia’s happy cultured fields!
  Hail to her waving and her cooling shade!
There her blest sons enjoy what nature yields,
  And Freedom’s charms the extended realm pervade.        60
There the glad songs of peace and joy prevail,
  No tyrant’s hand inflicts inhuman woes;
Tranquil the swain roves through the shady vale,
  And courts, fatigued, the slumbers of repose.
Once I, Columbia, dwelt upon thy shore,        65
  And the glad strains of joy and freedom join’d,
To the rough dangers of the ocean wore,
  And steer’d the stately ship with breast resign’d.
There my fond father and my mother live,
  And sorrowing mourn their son’s unhappy lot:        70
Thousands for ransom cheerfully they’d give,
  But poverty surrounds their weeping cot.
’Twas I supported their declining years,
  Relieved their breasts of poverty and care;
That from their cheeks dispell’d affliction’s tears,        75
  And raised their hopes to pleasure from despair.
There lovely Julia sorrowful remains,
  Fair as the beauty of the dawning morn:
Weeping the rambles o’er congenial plains,
  While the soft graces all her steps adorn.        80
Can I forget the tender last embrace,
  Those words which zephyrs on their fragrance bore;
The expressive sorrow of that charming face,
  When last we parted to embrace no more?
We haul’d the anchor from its dark abode,        85
  Before the winds we spread the swelling sails;
We on the billows of the ocean rode,
  And swiftly moved before propitious gales.
An Algerine corsair to our sight appear’d;
  Ploughing the waves, the sons of prey drew nigh;        90
Upon the mast the bloody flag was rear’d,
  And death terrific glimmer’d in each eye.
Howling, approach’d the hell-hounds of Algiers,
  The dreadful falchion glitter’d in each hand;
The horrid prow its iron grapple rears,        95
  The thundering captain issues his command.
The vigour of a freeman’s arm was vain,
  In vain man’s sacred rights and country plead;
Around our limbs they fold the galling chain—
  See, O my country! your brave freemen bleed!        100
Towards Algiers they bend their watery way,
  Whose warlike turrets, beaming from on high,
Strike in the gloomy soul a sickening ray,
  And call a tear upon the sorrowing eye.
Ceased is the pleasure of a once gay breast,        105
  Far fly my dungeon comfort and repose;
By labour and by torturing fiends oppress’d,
  I find no ease but what frail hope bestows.
Ah! cruel country! can my groans and pains
  Make no impression on thy callous heart?        110
Does not the glow of sympathy remain?
  Does not humanity its sigh impart?
Art thou the land where Freedom rears her throne,
  Where conquering Washington, where Warren bled,
Where patriot virtue and where valour shone,        115
  And where oppression bow’d her guilt-stain’d head.
Adieu, Columbia, to thy fertile shore!
  Adieu, those joys which give to life its charm,
Within these walls Almerius must deplore
  The sleeping vigour of his country’s arm.        120

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