Verse > Anthologies > Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed. > The Book of New York Verse
Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed.  The Book of New York Verse.  1917.
Nathan Hale, September 22, 1776 (abridged)
By John MacMullen, A.M.
Delivered before the Alumni of Columbia College, October 27, 1858

COME all Alumni gather round;
  I tell of courage high;
Of Nathan Hale, a college boy,
  One not afraid to die.
His father a stout yeoman was;        5
  In Coventry his birth;
And never shone the golden sun
  On one of loftier worth.
When he entered the halls of Mother Yale,
  And trod beneath her elm,        10
He seemed some heaven-sent Mercury,
  With wingèd feet and helm;
For he was tall, well-knit and strong;
  No goodlier youth was seen;
And in after years men proudly showed        15
  His leap on the College Green.
The war cry to New London came,
  Where Hale sat in his school.
Then straightway rose the hero up;
  Left copy-book and rule.        20
“I’ve passed among you pleasant days;
  But those pleasant days are o’er.
My country calls; I leave my books,
  And gird me up for war.”
Hale took the guise of schoolmaster,        25
  Wandering in search of work,
’Neath plain brown clothes and broad-brimmed hat
  His purposes must lurk.
He crossed the Sound at Norwalk
  When all was still and dark        30
And safely trod on hostile ground
  Ere rising of the lark.
Through English, Hessians, Waldeckers,
  He passed in safety on,
Striving their numbers all to note,        35
  And all their works to con.
From Brooklyn he crossed over here
  And passed along our streets;
Though every soldier was his foe,
  Yet all he calmly meets.        40
’Twas early morn, when on the shore
  At Huntington he stood,
He waited but the appointed boat
  To bear him o’er the flood,
’Twas close by Jesse Fleet’s. The leaves        45
  Were fluttering on the trees;
The rippling waves in changing curves,
  Obeyed the wandering breeze.
His task was done; the risk was run;
  His knowledge all secure.        50
He’d but to cross the Sound again,
  And all would then be sure.
A boat comes round the point—’Tis she,—
  The bark to bear him o’er.
He stands to wait, in careless ease,        55
  Her progress from the shore.
Too late! too late! he sees his fault.—
  The British uniform
Is in the boat; and near must float
  Some ship where red-coats swarm.        60
He turns too late! the sheltering trees
  He never more may gain.
“Stand or you die!” He yields perforce,—
  And in the boat is ta’en.
Right close they guarded him, and led,        65
  To where, on Murray Hill,
Sir William Howe’s headquarters were,
  In Beekman’s mansion still.
Its owner, a true patriot,
  Had to Esopus fled.        70
They seized his house; his halls they rang
  To the hated Briton’s tread.
A greenhouse in the garden stood;
  They brought the captive there;
The place was shorn of all its flowers,        75
  The tilèd floor was bare.
Bound, but undaunted, waiting doom,
  The youthful Captain stood,
Whate’er he felt, his manly front
  Betrayed no changing mood.        80
Short was his trial, sharp his doom—
  At daybreak he must die;
They lead him forth to hold secure
  Till dawning tints the sky.
Close guarded to his prison cell,        85
  The doors upon him close,
And he is left to think all night,
  Or seek disturbed repose.
But see! the first grey streaks of dawn
  Come stealing o’er the sky;        90
Hale leaves his restless couch that he
  May dress himself to die.
They come—with calm he meets them,
  And walks with firmest tread;
Upright his graceful, manly form,        95
  Uplifted is his head.
In Chambers Street they halted;
  The brutal Cunningham,
With negro Dick, his hangman foul,
  Their cursèd work began.        100
There was a graveyard to the north,
  And from a branching tree
The fatal noose hangs ready
  That’s to set his spirit free.
“My sole regret is that I have        105
  Only one life to give.”
The furious brute laid hands on him,
  That he might not longer live.—
We know not where they buried him,
  Belike beneath the tree;        110
But patriot memories cluster there,
  Where’er the spot may be.
And still when comes September,
  The month that saw his death,
And the forest leaves begin to change        115
  Beneath the frost-king’s breath,
In cottage and in college hall,
  Throughout our native land
Let each faithful heart recall thy part
  Amidst the patriot band.        120

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