Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Man of Ninety
By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)
 
TO yonder boughs that spread so wide,
Beneath whose shade soft waters glide,
  Once more I take the well known way;
With feeble step and tottering knee
I sigh to reach my white-oak tree,        5
  Where rosy health was wont to play.
 
If to the shades, consuming slow,
The shadow of myself, I go,
  When I am gone, wilt thou remain!—
From dust you rose, and grew like me;        10
I man became, and you a tree,
  Both natives of one grassy plain.
 
How much alike, yet not the same!—
You could no kind protector claim;
  Alone you stood, to chance resign’d:        15
When winter came, with blustering sky,
You fear’d its blasts—and so did I,
  And for warm suns in secret pined.
 
When vernal suns began to glow,
You felt returning vigor flow,        20
  Which once a year new leaves supplied;
Like you, fine days I wish’d to see,
And May was a sweet month to me,
  But when November came—I sigh’d.
 
If through your bark some ruffian arm        25
A mark impress’d, you took th’ alarm,
  And tears awhile I saw descend;
Till nature’s kind maternal aid
A plaister on your bruises laid,
  And bade your trickling sorrows end.        30
 
Like you, I fear’d the lightning’s stroke,
Whose flame dissolves the strength of oak,
  And ends at once this mortal dream;—
You saw, with grief, the soil decay
That from your roots was torn away;        35
  You sigh’d—and cursed the stream.
 
With borrow’d earth, and busy spade,
Around your roots new life I laid,
  While joy revived in every vein;
(The care of man shall life impart—)        40
Though nature owns the aid of art,
  No art, immortal, makes her reign.
 
How much alike our fortune—say—
Yet, why must I so soon decay,
  When thou hast scarcely reach’d thy prime—        45
Erect and tall, you joyous stand;
The staff of age has found my hand,
  That guides me to the grave of time.
 
Could I, fair tree, like you resign,
And banish all these fears of mine,        50
  Gray hairs would be no cause of grief;
Your blossoms die, but you remain,
Your fruit lies scatter’d o’er the plain—
  Learn wisdom from the falling leaf.
 
As you survive by heaven’s decree,        55
Let wither’d flowers be thrown on me,
  Sad compensation for my doom,
While winter-greens and withering pines,
And cedars dark, and barren vines,
  Point out the lonely tomb.        60
 
The enlivening sun that burns so bright,
Ne’er had a noon without a night,
  So life and death agree;
The joys of man by years are broke—”
’T was thus the man of ninety spoke.        65
  Then rose, and left his tree.
 
 
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