Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
The Mohawk
By John D. M’Kinnon (1767–1830)
THE MORN 1 now glittering on the sandy brows
Of Alba’s sloping city, westward spreads
A canopy of azure o’er the woods
And smiling lakes. The Mohawk’s Falls we seek;
And, turning to the rich and fragrant vales        5
That westward wind, approach the fractured steep,
In hoarse and silver fountains, where he pours
His urn amongst the far resounding rocks.
  Let Science tell the mighty cause that erst
The mountain fabric’s horizontal base        10
Upturning, gave the roaring waters vent
Along their lacerated bed, slate-paved,
And branching to the Hudson; while the muse,
With humbler views, the cataract admires,
In streams of foam, where, glancing down        15
The precipice, it widens to a gulf,
And amphitheatre of quarried rocks,
Their sylvan brows with spiral cedars set,
Or coppice crown’d; and issuing through the vale,
With pleasing murmur steals along the shrubs        20
And shadowy elms.—Here, where the Mohawk gazed,
And wonder’d at th’ abode vortiginous
Of his tremendous father, in the rocks
And flood impassable, see Art pervades
E’en Nature’s ruins, with aspiring hand        25
Stretch’d o’er the torrent’s foam, the rifted banks
Uniting, with such works as Rome, when throned
On nations, wrought. Across a giddy pile
Of wood the horseman now pursues his way,
Succeeded by the length’ning herd and swains        30
In slow procession, while beneath them roars
The headlong river. Leaving now the Falls,
With all their grander lineaments, behind,
We pass along the peaceful Mohawk’s shore,
And trace the vale where’er the fruitful stream,        35
Meandering from the west, the distant hills
Receding designate. In front a width
Of richest intervale, our champaign route,
Within the smiling scenes of husbandry,
Far westward leads. Beneath its willowy banks        40
The fertilizing stream glides down the vale,
Now intersecting in an equal course, and now
Inclining to the north; now south it laves
The sidelong hills’ ascent; then winding off,
Sleeps, high embower’d, within the spreading growth        45
Of pensive elms that tower luxuriant o’er
The elders, and with hanging plane trees mix
Their graceful limbs and interwoven shade.
As frequent thus the silent stream escapes
The traveller’s eye incurious, while it lurks        50
In silence by, hoarse murmurs wake his ear
At intervals, as o’er the rapid shoals
The obstructed water fluctuating shoots
Among the broken rocks. The antique fronts
We gain, wrapt in Batavian gloom of sheds        55
And intermingled trees, where Corlear first,
Advancing from the sandy desert, fix’d
His dwelling on the margin of the still
And sable river. Academic Peace
And Meditation now consign the spot        60
To future Science. Here the dusty road
Forsaking for the verdant turf, we scent
The fragrance of the evening, and survey
The shore, enamor’d of its pensive scenes.
Harmonious, tranquil, which thy genius, Claude,        65
Taught by the sober Fancies, had confess’d her own.
Amidst the shade suspended o’er the vale,
The mirror of the Mohawk’s tide reflects
A varied tapestry: the vivid green
Of willows interwove—the plane tree’s hoar        70
And dappled waist—the pensive, sombre elm,
Queen of the Flats, her hanging robes diffuse
And graceful. Fronting in perspective dim,
A range of mountain, from the Kaatskill’s loins
Projected, in a promontory falls        75
Sublime in distant grandeur on the shore;
While through its horizontal firs, the west,
Still beaming with effulgence, dyes the stream
With ardent yellow. Night, contemplative,
Now drops her veil. How pleasing ’t is to trace,        80
Upon the map of Time, the varied scenes
Of this revolving world; some nearly lost
In dim Oblivion’s haze—some living yet
Upon the tablet of the memory—
And some in letter’d annals of the past!        85
  The Flats, that stretching west,    *    *
*    *    *    yield their rich increase
Of yellow harvests to the spacious barns,
*    *    sustain’d a sullen growth of wood,
And through the unchronicled domain of Day        90
Lay in tranquility and solitude;
Till first the roving Huron glanced across,
Quick as his arrow that pursued the deer;
And, hailing in the lonely chace his devious mate,
With shoutings wild, beside Schoharie’s brooks,        95
Or Canajohary’s echoing cliffs,
First broke the silence of the wilderness.
The houseless pair, encamping then, unstripp’d
The beech’s yellow stem, and cased their walls
Of clay, or matted boughs; purloining yet,        100
Unconscious of their distant arrow’s wing,
The squirrel of his life, or pheasant, clothed
With dappled feathers to his heels. Then came
Some friend or kinsman, with his toiling wife,
Their quiver’d boys and dog; and huts soon join’d        105
To huts, had form’d society, and taught,
By stationary life’s progressive arts,
Its hard-earn’d comforts. But eternal laws,
Employing man’s own vengeance as the means
To bring abortion on his works, forbade.        110
Some hostile tribe, with carnage unappeased,
Lean, wandering, with invidious eyes beheld
Their haunts, and lurk’d in ambush near their huts;
Then fell on them defenceless; in a night
Up-rooted all their works, and half their race        115
Destroy’d. Th’ industrious colonists were chased,
Unshelter’d, through the woods, and left behind
No relic but their scalps. The Mohawks next
And firm confederate friends, unused to war,
And studious of ignoble tillage, lash’d        120
By fierce oppressors from their homes, traced out
On Caughnawaga’s meads, or ’neath Caroga’s pines,
Their rude encampments. Hate and dark design,
Though stifled, kindling in their vengeful hearts
Infuriate love of arms. Their origin,        125
And whence their wild forefathers stray’d,
No annals tell; whether inclining toward
The peaceful ocean, where the sun at eve,
Upon the shining mountains lights his fires,
On Arathbuscaw’s hungry shores, and where        130
The arctic circle girds the piny rocks
And lakes, in vast congeries round them spread;
Or southward from th’ illimitable plain
Depastured by erratic buffaloes,
Where, hovering round the herds, th’ Assinipoils        135
Upon their tongues and marrowy haunches feast.
Where’er the roving ancestors were born,
’T was here their spirited and martial sons
First sung the war-song—here on frequent spots
Which now the dwarfish oak and pine o’erspread,        140
And where the sumach scatters on the lap
Of autumn, azure-cheek’d, its pinnated
And scarlet leaves, once stood their huts; ’t was here
Their arrows first they sharpen’d, to transfix
The Adirondac tyrants, seated round        145
The blanketed and tawny sachems smoked
In council, or the yellin bands, inspired
Like frantic Bacchanals, with fierce grimace,
And gesture fiend-like, beat the war dance: here,
By vengeance nursed, they raised a flame,        150
That, from the ocean to Machibon’s gate,
Spread conflagration through the woods. The foe,
Unconscious of their strength, secure, remote,
And unsuspecting, till he heard the shrieks
Of savage fury, and the warriors bald,        155
Besmear’d with ochre, issued from their haunts,
Flinging their brandish’d tomahawks, with eyes
Red as the crouching panther’s. None escaped,
Resisting or resistless, from their blows.
The aged sire struck lifeless on his seat;        160
The panting bosom gored, that press’d the babe
It nourish’d. Devastation swept o’er all
The scene, and stain’d the ruin’d stage with blood.
Rejoicing then, the victors to their vales,
Renown’d for empire, march’d with the acclaim        165
Of triumph: every proud and valiant hut
Was nail’d with bleeding scalps; and tribes remote
Gave tributary homage to the Wolf,
The Turtle and the Bear. The fosse still marks
Their castle’s range, and in the lonely woods,        170
In hieroglyphics, still remain their boasts
Of conquest, and their graves. Next Ceres came,
With German reapers in her train, and strow’d
Her harvests on the furrow’d width of flats.
Press’d by her golden sandals, we admire        175
The soil fructiferous, and scenes dress’d out
By smiling industry, that now reigns o’er
The wild demesnes of war. Pursuing west
The sinuating stream within its vales
Of lengthening meadows, insulated oft        180
With steep ascent, we reach the rising ground
Of aromatic pines, where, jutting south,
The elevated shore confronting meets
Schoharie’s stony creek. The opening hills
Unfold its distant course, far in the blue        185
And mountainous horizon lost. A rich
And flourishing expanse of vale then leads
Beyond the confluent waters, through the meads,
From Caughnawaga to a stately ridge
Of mountain granite, piled in lofty tiers,        190
Aerial, strutting in the scene. Here stopp’d
The prospect of our level course—We pause
In contemplation on the massy ribs
Developed, that maintain our earthly stage,
Till, length, the opening flats unfold the tower        195
And shapely roofs of Palatine—its plain
And intervening fields with herbage spread,
Or crested corn; while sloping woodlands topp’d
With soaring pines, the Mohawk’s bushy verge
O’ershadow, and the eye contemplative        200
In admiration fix. Where is the mind
That honors truth, and in this transient day
Of perishable nature, ’mid the scoffs
And turmoil of a selfish world, would still
Preserve serene and animate the brows        205
Of virtuous sentiment, that does not seek
In rural peace a refuge from its sighs?
What though ambition wear a crown—the fangs
Of avarice be fill’d with gold—esteem
And dear-bought wealth enrich the tongue that wins        210
By syren eloquence; yet happier he,
Whom, in his valleys, ringing with the axe,
The setting sun forsakes, amidst the works
Of growing settlement. Delightful cares!
That, in perspective of the future, charm        215
Beyond the plaudits of ephemeron praise.
How bless’d the prospect, to behold, each hour,
Increasing all around, expansive life
And happiness—their rapid progress urged
By ardent toil, invigorate by hope!        220
Though none here revel on the silken couch
Of zoneless pleasure, Friendship still may dwell
With Peace and Love, more sweet than is the voice
Of Fame, when from Parnassus she proclaims,
In melodies that vibrate betwixt heaven        225
And earth, her hero’s actions. But, renew’d
Our journey, we pursue the mountain’s stony edge,
Where the Caroga issues from the wild
And desert heights, in elevated range
Of sylvan tops far northward stretch’d, and where,        230
Below, its cataract pours down the hoarse
Canadian creek; till, rising in our front,
The mountains close, where once, perhaps, their rocks,
In one unbroken chain, the Mohawk’s mass
Of waters, o’er the German flats and plains        235
Of Herkimer, suspended in a broad
Primeval lake, till, issuing through the strait’s
Disjointed pass, and roaring granite rocks,
The lake, descending, left its reedy bounds,
And bed of slime, exhaling to the sun.
*      *      *      *      *      *
  And now the airy Flats we pass, their church,
Litigious hall, and taverns, and approach
The gloomy shade of dark continuous wood,
That runs high westward to the Mohawk’s fount.
Unbroken here the waste—half settled here        245
The towering trees on new-born fields recline—
Disorder’d, hewn, the venerable stems
And branching limbs surround their parent trunks,
That in the blackening conflagration still
Survive, and to the scythe of Time alone,        250
That levels all things, yield: a sturdy few
Yet standing, girdled by the fatal knife,
In slow destruction waste, upon their sprays
And airy summits quench’d the vital lymph;
In wintry desolation group’d, they pine        255
’Midst summer’s genial solstice. Thriving near,
Their comrades flourish; tall, columnar bass,
With fluted shafts aspiring; oaks that stretch
Their vigorous arms; the hemlock, sombre topp’d
The yellow birch, her silken boddice half        260
Unlaced; and maple, delicately seam’d.
Athwart the solemn woods, of vast extent,
Stem beyond stem, in series infinite,
With vaulting foliage shadow’d as we pass,
The lively sun oft darts his influence;        265
And, ’midst the humid trees, an open square,
The hospitable roof of logs rough hewn,
Excorticate reveals. Aside, empaled,
The garden flourishes with roseate flowers;
And at the door the children gambol near;        270
Their lily-featured mother still intent
On busy cares domestic; while the sire
Along the echoing causeway drives his kine,
Or plies his axe far sounding.
                    Thus, beloved        275
And happy scenes! a pensive wanderer,
I have trod your wilds, enamor’d much
Of Nature in her simplest guise, though sunk
At heart, and anxious to forsake the world
And all its vain, deceitful blandishments.        280
When these solicitous and weary eyes
Are closed through many a summer’s reign, your vales
Shall flourish, each succeeding year shall yield
New stores of wealth, and future ages bless
The works, the zeal, the wisdom of the past.        285
Note 1. M’Kinnon wrote a volume entitled Descriptive Poems, containing picturesque views of the state of New York. It was published at New York, in 1802. [back]

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