Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
The Declaration of Independence
By George Richards (b. c. 1760–1814)
THE DARING 1 muse with retrospective eye,
  Throws back her glance, to that immortal day,
When millions sworn to conquer or to die,
  Roused as a lion panting for the prey,
And rushing headlong to the field of war,        5
Rode, vengeful rode, on slaughter’s gore-besprinkled car.
Why burnt thus fierce within the frenzied soul,
  Undying freedom’s life-enkindled flame?
Who led the lightning? bade the thunder roll?
  What godlike power? what deathless son of fame,        10
Rent the dark veil of ancient days in twain,
And gave to independence, liberty’s loosed rein?
Say, can’st thou count the sum of untold wrong,
  Which fired to rage this last discover’d world,
To high wrought valor drove the impassion’d throng,        15
  And the hot bolt of tricene vengeance hurl’d,
At the proud puppets of a venal throne,
Whom eastern lust of haughtiest rule had blush’d to own?
As well, might gaze intense on you gemm’d spheres,
  Bring to one point of view the stars of heaven;—        20
As soon, the dew drops, nature’s pearly tears,
  Or autumn’s leaves by rapid whirlwinds driven,
Shall be wrote down on registers of time,
As art numeric, number more than countless crime.
Heard ye that sigh? it is the sigh of law,        25
  The grand palladium of terrestrial right;
Lies crush’d by despotism’s Typhæan paw,
  And justice sinks to realms of brooding night:
Juries are driven before the rising storm,
And king-paid judges, judgment’s gold-ruled bench deform.        30
Are there no Hampdens, Pyms who dare to rise
  No Marvels who abhor the Danaen shower?
Yes! Roman patriots crowd these western skies,
  Nor heed the scorpion lash of Nimrod power:
Temperate, yet firm, they poise the dubious scales—        35
But private vice, awhile, o’er public good prevails.
The mild petition, bold remonstrance fail;
  Infuriate demons, lust of power and gold,
(Whose cheeks ne’er turn’d at human misery pale)
  The reins of government triumphant hold:        40
New deeds of wrong, and acts first penn’d in blood,
Howl, as wild furies, o’er the Atlantic flood.
Spirit of Wolfe! and ghost of gallant Howe:
  Was it for this, Columbia’s yeomen bled,
When ’mid the vale, or on the mountain’s brow,        45
  Your arms to death, or crest-plumed victory led,
A bold, intrepid, hardy, rustic train,
Whose life, with elder Albion’s, dyed the reeking plain.
Lo, ’mid the bowers of sweet, domestic peace,
  Intrusive treads the son of hated war:        50
Whilst harpies sworn, a bleeding land to fleece,
  The merchant trap in iron nets of law:
Trade dies away—and commerce quits the shore,
Where right to hard earn’d property, is known no more.
*      *      *      *
See, ravage mark a desolated coast.—        55
  Old ocean groans beneath the sharks of power.—
In panoply of steel, a Gorgon host,
  Snuff blood afar—and wait the opening hour,
Which hurl’d on Lexington the volleyed storm,
And onward pour’d, in vengeance, life-demanding form.        60
Behold! that curling flame which mounts in air,
  ’T is Charlestown, rolling flagrant to the skies:
How deep those groans of agony, despair!
  What piercing screams in wild discordance rise!
These run, those fly, t’ avoid encircling fire,        65
Give one fond look at home, fall down, convulse, expire.
*      *      *      *
Cry not the ghosts of gallant freemen slain,
  How long! how long! ere vengeance strikes the blow?
The dust of Charlestown flitting o’er the plain,
  All eloquent, accuses loud the foe.        70
Heavens! shall their union’d voice a boon demand,
And rouse not into agonies a madd’ning land?
*      *      *      *
Black in the south, grim Afria’s soot-steep’d race,
  Lift at a master’s throat the sharp edged knife.
Red in the north, the biped of the chase,        75
  Quaffs from embowell’d captives streaming life;
Whilst fierce Areskoui, frantic, fires his soul,
And raging, stamps to atoms, mercy’s wine fill’d bowl.
All ages, sexes, ranks are doom’d the prey,
  Of loosen’d havock’s cannibalian hounds:        80
Cities and villas melt in flame away:
  And foul dishonor tramples virgin mounds:
The son, the sire, the husband, wife are kill’d:
And Abel’s righteous blood, by Cain’s rude hand, is spill’d.
Eternal Judge of everlasting right!        85
  Shall thine own image bend beneath the stroke?
Forbid it earth! forbid it worlds of light!
  Oh nerve the arm, as nature nerves the oak,
Which, whilst the sounding axe repeats the blow,
Acquires new strength, and scorns the idly threatening foe.        90
’T is done! the councils of the sky decree,
  That ancient compacts shall for ever cease:
The trump of heaven, it hails Columbia, free:
  As enemies, in war; as friends, in peace,
America, henceforth, Britannia eyes:        95
The last appeal is lodged; it thunders to the skies.
Strong, in reliance on the power divine,
  United Delegates impress the seal:—
Heroes and statesmen, hail! Your names shall shine
  On glory’s page, when heaven, earth, ocean, feel,        100
Those chymic fires which purge the dross away,
And leave creation’s gold impassive of decay.
Shall not the muse, record each patriot name,
  On the rich tablet of harmonic sound?
Glows not the goddess of immortal fame,        105
  To waft their praises, wide, the world around?
Yes! poesy and fame enraptured join,
Inspire the beating heart, and swell the emphatic line.
Note 1. Richards was born in Rhode Island. He lived for some time in Boston, where he became a preacher of the Universalist persuasion. He afterwards removed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and thence to Philadelphia. He has been deceased we believe, twenty years or more. He wrote much poetry in the Massachusetts Magazine, among other pieces, a long poem called the Zenith of Glory, which was published from time to time in that journal. He printed in 1793, a poem called The Declaration of Independence; in this production he has contrived to introduce the name of every individual who signed the Declaration. We shall extract the first part. [back]

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