Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
By Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814)
DEEP in the bosom of old Time there stood,
Just on the margin of the sea-green flood,
A virgin form, in lucid robes array’d,
Whose ebon tresses negligently play’d
In flowing ringlets, as the wavy main        5
Felt the soft breeze that fann’d the verdant plain;
While the young blush of innocence bespoke
Her innate worth in every graceful look;
Her meek-eyed aspect, modest and benign,
Evinced the fair one’s origin divine;        10
Virtue, at once her ornament and shield,
And truth the trident that the goddess held.
Beneath her reign, behold a happy race,
Who ne’er contested titles, gold, or place.
Ere commerce’s whiten’d sails were wafted wide,        15
And every bosom caught the swelling pride
Of boundless wealth, surcharged with endless snares,
Exotic follies, and destructive cares;
Ere arts, or elegance, or taste refined,
And tempting luxury assail’d mankind;        20
There oaks and evergreens, and poplar shades,
In native beauty, rear’d their conic heads;
The purple tinge with golden hues inwrought,
In dappled forms, as sportive nature taught;
The silken foliage open’d through the mead,        25
And the clear fount in wild meanders play’d;
Beside whose gentle murmuring stream there stood
The humble hamlet, by the peasant trod,
Whose heart, unblacken’d by so mean a vice,
As lust of gold, or carking avarice;        30
No guilty bribes his whiten’d palm possess’d,
No dark suspicion lurk’d within his breast:
Love, concord, peace, and piety and truth,
Adorn’d grey hairs and dignified the youth;
There stingless pleasures crown’d the temperate feast,        35
And ruddy health, a constant welcome guest,
Fill’d up the cup, and smiled at every board,
The friend and handmaid of her generous lord.
  The rosy finger’d morn, and noontide ray,
The streaked twilight or the evening gray,        40
Were pass’d alike in innocence and mirth,
No riot gendering slow but certain death;
Unclouded reason guided all their way,
And virtue’s self sat innocently gay.
The winged hours serenely glided by,        45
Till golden Phœbus deck’d the western sky;
And when enwrapp’d in evening’s sable vest,
And midnight shadows hush’d the world to rest,
On the famed ladder, whose extended bars,
From earth’s low surface reach’d beyond the stars,        50
From orb to orb, thought reach’d the airy void,
Through widen’d space the busy mind employ’d,
While angel guards to watch his fate were given
Prelusive dreams anticipated heaven.
  But ere the bird of dawn had hail’d the day,        55
Or warbling songsters chirp’d their early lay,
The grateful heart its joyful matins raised,
And nature’s God in morning anthems praised.
  Thus happy that ideal golden age,
That lives descriptive in the poet’s page;        60
But now, alas! in dark oblivion lost,
The sons of Adam know it to their cost;
Since God forbade the mother of mankind
To taste the fruit to which she most inclined:
Her taste so delicate, refined and nice,        65
That the exuberance even of Paradise,
The grassy banks beside the blue cascade,
The winding streams from Pison’s golden head.
The spicy groves on Gihon’s lengthen’d side,
Hiddekel’s fount, Assyria’s blooming pride,        70
The fruits luxuriant on Euphrates’ shores,
The rich profusion that all Eden pours,
The shady dome, the rosy vaulted bower,
And nature deck’d with every fruit and flower
Were insufficient, rude, and incomplete.        75
For taste ran wanton, and the fair must eat.
  Since which the garden’s closely lock’d by fate,
And flaming cherubs guard the eastern gate;
This globe is traversed round from pole to pole,
And earth research’d to find so rich a dole        80
As happiness unmix’d:—the phantom flies,
No son of Eve has ever won the prize.
  But nearest those, who nearest nature live,
Despising all that wealth or power can give,
Or glittering grandeur, whose false optics place,        85
The summum bonum on the frailest base;
And if too near the threshold of their door,
Pride blazes high, and clamors loud for more—
More shining pomp, more elegance and zest,
In all the wild variety of taste;        90
Peace and contentment are refined away,
And worth, unblemish’d, is the villain’s prey.
  Easy the toil, and simple is the task,
That yields to man all nature bids him ask;
And each improvement on the author’s plan,        95
Adds new inquietudes to restless man.
As from simplicity he deviates,
Fancy, prolific, endless wants creates;
Creates new wishes, foreign to the soul,
Ten thousand passions all the mind control,        100
So fast they tread behind each other’s heels,
That some new image on the fancy steals;
Ere the young embryo half its form completes,
Some new vagary the old plan defeats;
Down comes the Gothic or Corinthian pile,        105
And the new vista wears the Doric style.
The finer arts depopulate and waste,
And nations sink by elegance and taste:
Empires are from their lofty summits rent,
And kingdoms down to swift perdition sent,        110
By soft, corrupt refinements of the heart,
Wrought up to vice by each deceptive art.
  Rome, the proud mistress of the world, displays
A lasting proof of what my pen essays;
High-wrought refinement—usher’d in replete,        115
With all the ills that sink a virtuous state;
Their sumptuary laws grown obsolete,
They, undismay’d, the patriot’s frown could meet;
Their simple manners lost—their censors dead,
Spruce petit maitres o’er the forum tread.        120
  I weep those days when gentle Maro sung,
And sweetest strains bedeck’d the flatterer’s tongue;
When so corrupt and so refined the times,
The muse could stoop to gild a tyrant’s crimes.
  Then paint and sculpture, elegance and song,        125
Were the pursuits of all the busy throng;
When silken commerce held the golden scales,
Empire was purchased at the public sales:
No longer lived the ancient Roman pride,
Her virtue sicken’d, and her glory died.        130
  What blotted out the Carthaginian fame,
And left no traces but an empty name?—
Commerce! the source of every narrow vice,
And honor, barter’d at a trivial price.
By court intrigues, the Commonwealth ’s disgraced,        135
Both suffetes, and senators debased:
By soft refinement, and the love of gold,
Faction and strife grew emulous and bold,
Till restless Hanno urged his purpose on,
And Scipio’s rival by his arts undone.        140
  From age to age since Hannibal’s hard fate,
From Cæsar’s annals to the modern date,
When Brunswick’s race sits on the British throne,
And George’s folly stains his grandsire’s crown;
When taste improved by luxury high wrought,        145
And fancy craves what nature never taught;
Affronted virtue mounts her native skies,
And freedom’s genius lifts her bloated eyes;
As late I saw, in sable vestments stand,
The weeping fair, on Britain’s naked strand.        150
  The cloud-capt hills, the echoing woods and dales,
(Where pious Druids dress’d the hallow’d vales;
And wrote their missals on the birchen rind,
And chanted dirges with the hollow wind,)
Breathe murmuring sighs o’er that ill fated isle,        155
Wrapt in refinements both absurd and vile.
  Proud Thames deserted—her commercial ports
Seized and possess’d by hated foreign courts;
No more the lofty ships her marts supply,
The Neriads flap their watery wings and die:        160
Gray Neptune rises from his oozy bed,
And shakes the sea-weed from his shaggy head;
He bids adieu to fair Britannia’s shore,
The surge rebounds, and all the woodlands roar;
His course he bends toward the western main,        165
The frowning Titans join the swelling train,
Measure the deep, and lash the foaming sea,
In haste to hail the brave Columbia free:
Ocean rebounds, and earth reverberates,
And heaven confirms the independent states;        170
While time rolls on, and mighty kingdoms fail,
They, peace and freedom on their heirs entail,
Till virtue sinks, and in far distant times,
Dies in the vortex of European crimes.

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