Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
The Father’s Choice
By Sarah J. Hale (1788–1879)
NOW 1 fly, as flies the rushing wind—
  Urge, urge thy lagging steed!
The savage yell is fierce behind,
  And life is on thy speed.
And from those dear ones make thy choice—        5
  The group he wildly eyed,
When “father!” burst from every voice,
  And “child!” his heart replied.
There ’s one that now can share his toil,
  And one he meant for fame,        10
And one that wears her mother’s smile,
  And one that bears her name.
And one will prattle on his knee,
  Or slumber on his breast;
And one whose joys of infancy,        15
  Are still by smiles express’d.
They feel no fear while he is near;
  He ’ll shield them from the foe:
But oh! his ear must thrill to hear
  Their shriekings, should he go.        20
In vain his quivering lips would speak,
  No words his thoughts allow;
There ’s burning tears upon his cheek,
  Death’s marble on his brow.
And twice he smote his clenched hand—        25
  Then bade his children fly!
And turn’d, and even that savage band
  Cower’d at his wrathful eye.
Swift as the lightning wing’d with death,
  Flash’d forth the quivering flame!        30
Their fiercest warrior bows beneath
  The father’s deadly aim.
Not the wild cries, that rend the skies,
  His heart or purpose move;
He saves his children, or he dies        35
  The sacrifice of love.
Ambition goads the conqueror on,
  Hate points the murderer’s brand—
But love and duty, these alone
  Can nerve the good man’s hand.        40
The hero may resign the field,
  The coward murderer flee;
He cannot fear, he will not yield,
  That strikes, sweet love, for thee.
They come, they come—he heeds no cry,        45
  Save the soft childlike wail,
“O father, save!” “My children, fly!”
  Were mingled on the gale.
And firmer still he drew his breath,
  And sterner flash’d his eye,        50
As fast he hurls the leaden death,
  Still shouting, “children fly!”
No shadow on his brow appear’d,
  Nor tremor shook his frame,
Save when at intervals he heard        55
  Some trembler lisp his name.
In vain the foe, those fiends unchain’d,
  Like famish’d tigers chafe,
The sheltering roof is near’d, is gain’d,
  All, all the dear ones safe!        60
Note 1. In the year 1697, a body of Indians attacked the town of Haverhill, Massachusetts, killed and carried into captivity forty inhabitants. A party of the Indians approached the house of an individual, who was abroad at his labor, but who, on their approach, hastened to the house, sent his children out, and ordered them to fly in a course opposite to that in which danger was approaching. He then mounted his horse, and determined to snatch up the child with which he was unwilling to part, when he should overtake the little flock. When he came up to them, about two hundred yards from his house, he was unable to make a choice, or to leave any one of the number. He therefore determined to take his lot with them, and defend them from their murderers, or die by their side. A body of the Indians pursued, and came up with him; and when at a short distance, fired on him and his little company. He returned the fire, and retreated alternately; still, however, keeping a resolute face to the enemy, and so effectually sheltered his charge, that he finally lodged them all safe in a distant house. [back]

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