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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

From Legends of New England (1831)

 

Metacom

[Metacom, or Philip, the chief of the Wampanoags, was the most powerful and sagacious Sachem who ever made war upon the English. He had all the qualities of a high statesman—a noble monarch, and a courageous warrior. The rude majesty of untamed and unchastened nature was never more boldly developed than in the character of Metacom. He had the elements of a giant mind—the unformed chaos of a world of intellect. He perilled his all in one fast enterprise—in one mighty effort to shake off the White Vampyre which was draining the life-blood of his people; and had his enemies been any other than the stern settlers of New-England, they must assuredly have fallen. The War of King Philip forms a dark page in the history of New-England.—It is red with blood,—with the blood of the strong man and the meek and beseeching woman, and the fair-haired child, and the cradled infant.]

 

 

 

RED as the banner which enshrouds
The warrior-dead, when strife is done,

A broken mass of crimson clouds
Hung over the departed sun.
The shadow of the western hill
Crept swiftly down, and darkly still,
As if a sullen wave of night
Were rushing on the pale twilight—
The forest-openings grew more dim,
As glimpses of the arching blue
And waking stars came softly through
The rifts of many a giant limb.
Above the wet and tangled swamp
White vapors gathered thick and damp,

And through their cloudy-curtaining
Flapped many a brown and dusky wing—
Pinions that fan the moonless dun,
But fold them at the rising sun!

 

 

Beneath the closing veil of night,
And leafy bough and curling fog,
With his few warriors ranged in sight—
Scarred relics of his latest fight—
Rested the fiery Wampanoag.
He leaned upon his loaded gun,
Warm with its recent work of death,
And, save the struggling of his breath
That, slow and hard, and long-suppressed,

Shook the damp folds around his breast.
An eye, that was unused to scan
The sterner moods of that dark man.
Had deemed his tall and silent form,
With hidden passion fierce and warm,
With that fixed eye, as still and dark
As clouds which veil their lightning spark—
That of some forest-champion,
Whom sudden death had passed upon—
A giant frozen into stone!
Son of the throned Sachem!—Thou,
The sternest of the forest kings,—

Shall the scorned pale-one trample now,
Unambushed on thy mountain's brow,
Yea, drive his vile and hated plough
Among thy nation's holy things,
Crushing the warrior-skeleton
In scorn beneath his armed heel,
And not a hand be left to deal
A kindred vengeance fiercely back,
And cross in blood the Spoiler's track!

 

 

He started,—for a sudden shot
Came booming through the forest-trees—
The thunder of the fierce Yengeese:
It passed away, and injured not;
But, to the Sachem's brow it brought

The token of his lion thought.
He stood erect—his dark eye burned,
As if to meteor-brightness turned;
And o'er his forehead passed the frown
Of an archangel stricken down,
Ruined and lost, yet chainless still—
Weakened of power but strong of will!
It passed—a sudden tremor came
Like ague o'er his giant frame,—
It was not terror—he had stood
For hours, with death in grim attendance,

When moccasins grew stiff with blood,
And through the clearing's midnight flame,
Dark, as a storm, the Pequod came,
His red, right arm their strong dependence—
When thrilling through the forest gloom
The onset-cry of "Metacom!"
Rang on the red and smoky air!—
No—it was agony which passed
Upon his soul—the strong man's last
And fearful struggle with despair.

 

 

He turned him to his trustiest one—
The old and war-tried Annawon—

"Brother!"—The favored warrior stood
In hushed and listening attitude—
"This night the Vision-Spirit hath
Unrolled the scroll of fate before me;
And ere the sunrise cometh, Death
Will wave his dusky pinion o'er me!
Nay, start not—well I know thy faith—
Thy weapon now may keep its sheath;
But, when the bodeful morning breaks,
And the green forest widely wakes,
Unto the roar of Yengeese thunder,
Then trusted brother, be it thine
To burst upon the foeman's line,

And rend his serried strength asunder.
Perchance thyself and yet a few
Of faithful ones may struggle through,
And, rallying on the wooded plain,
Strike deep for vengeance once again,
And offer up in Yengeese blood
An offering to the Indian's God."

 

Another shot—a sharp, quick yell—
And then the stifled groan of pain,
Told that another red man fell,—
And blazed a sudden light again
Across that kingly brow and eye,
Like lightning on a clouded sky,—
And a low growl, like that which thrills
The hunter of the Eastern hills,
Burst through clenched teeth and rigid lip—
And, when the Monarch spoke again
His deep voice shook beneath its rein,
As wrath and grief held fellowship.

 

"Brother! methought when as but now
I pondered on my nation's wrong,
With sadness on his shadowy brow
My father's spirit passed along!
He pointed to the far south-west,

Where sunset's gold was growing dim,
And seemed to beckon me to him,
And to the forests of the blest!—
My father loved the Yengeese, when
They were but children, shelterless,

For his great spirit at distress
Melted to woman's tenderness—
Nor was it given him to know
That, children whom he cherished then,
Would rise at length, like armed men,
To work his people's overthrow.
Yet thus it is;—the God, before
Whose awful shrine the pale ones bow,
Hath frowned upon, and given o'er
The red man to the stranger now!—
A few more moons—and there will be

No gathering to the council tree—
The scorched earth—the blackened log—
The naked bones of warriors slain,
Be the sole relics which remain
Of the once mighty Wampanoag!
The forests of our hunting-land,
With all their old and solemn green,
Will bow before the Spoiler's axe—
The plough displace the hunter's tracks,

And the tall Yengeese altar stand
Where the Great Spirit's shrine hath been!

 

 

Yet, brother, from this awful hour
The dying curse of Metacom
Shall linger with abiding power
Upon the spoilers of my home.
The fearful veil of things to come,
By Kitchtan's hand is lifted from
The shadows of the embryo years;
And I can see more clearly through
Than ever visioned Powwah did,
For all the future comes unbid
Yet welcome to my tranced view,
As battle-yell to warrior-ears!
From stream and lake and hunting-hill,
Our tribes may vanish like a dream,
And even my dark curse may seem
Like idle winds when Heaven is still—
No bodeful harbinger of ill,
But, fiercer than the downright thunder,
When yawns the mountain-rock asunder,
And riven pine and knotted oak
Are reeling to the fearful stroke,
That curse shall work its master's will!
The bed of yon blue mountain stream

Shall pour a darker tide than rain—
The sea shall catch its blood-red stain,
And broadly on its banks shall gleam
The steel of those who should be brothers
Yea—those whom one fond parent nursed
Shall meet in strife, like fiends accursed—
And trample down the once loved form,
While yet with breathing passion warm,
As fiercely as they would another's!"

 

The morning star sat dimly on
The lighted eastern horizon—
The deadly glare of levelled gun
Came streaking through the twilight haze
And naked to its reddest blaze,
A hundred warriors sprang in view—
One dark red arm was tossed on high—
One giant shout came hoarsely through
The clangour and the charging cry,
Just as across the scattering gloom,
Red as the naked hand of Doom,
The Yengeese volley hurtled by—
The arm—the voice of Metacom!—
One piercing shriek—one vengeful yell,
Sent like an arrow to the sky,
Told when the hunter-monarch fell!

 

 

 

 

Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-1892: Legends of New England (1831) : a facsimile reproduction / by John Greenleaf Whittier ; with an introduction by John B. Pickard [electronic text]

 

 

 

Courtesy of the The American Verse Project, the University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative (HTI), and the University of Michigan Press.

 

 

 

Source:  Legends of New England (1831) : a facsimile reproduction by John Greenleaf Whittier.  Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints.  Gainesville, Florida, 1965.  Pages 37-44.

 



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