African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Edward Smyth Jones, "The Sylvan Cabin: A Centenary Ode on the Birth of Lincoln" (1911)



O, FAIREST Dame of sylvan glades,
We come to pay thee homage due,
Embrace thee softly and to kiss
Thy lovely, long-forsaken cheeks;
To smooth thy flowing silver locks
And bind about thy snowy neck
A necklace golden studded full
With rarest gems and shining pearls.
Our eyes, though sometimes dimmed with tears,
In purer lustre sparkle forth
Whene'er they fall agaze on thee!
Our ears attuned to thy sweet lay
Catch every flowing, cadent note
And bear it ever safe within
Our rapturous hearts, which gladly leap
Whene'er thy name is called!
Deep in our souls the quenchless fire
Of love full brightly burns upon
The sacred altar, set apart
For sprite commune and sacrifice;
Whose high-priest tends with loving care,
And unto thee sweet incense burns.
Our tongues most gladly sing thy praise,
And from it ne'er shall cease-till all
The land be free!


A century lonely hast thou stood
Here all forsaken and forgot!
All men failed thee to visit save
Some idle lover of sylvan haunts
Who trod, perchance, this hallowed spot,
And cast a pensive eye upon
This lovely glade, thy sole abode
(Full lost in these continuous woods),
And brooding o'er thy lowly lot,
Oft thus did muse: "This cabin lone
Here stands to tell the tale of him,
Back-woodsman brave, who having scaled
The mystic mountains ne'er returned
To them, though loved yet left behind;
But here he chose his last abode,
These gloomy woods whose blackness stands
Up hard against horizon's slope;
Grim, spectral, dreaded, and untrod
Save monsters great of savage mien,
That prowled, or crouched upon their prey;
Sent forth a vicious roar that fairly shook
Old Sylvia far and near, from vale
Through crag to mountain peak!
Upon this spot the redskin oft
Has danced his 'War dance' and his 'Feast,'
His face a reddish hue aglow-
Long locks with eaglets' plumes bedecked;
His bow and never-failing dart,
And scalper dangling at his side.
More brightly gleamed his wary eye,
As braves the war-whoop loudly yelled—
A sight more like the fiery fiends
From Pluto's ghastly shore returned
Than human blood and bone!
They all have gone and left no tale
But woe which hurled them ever hence
To that shore whence no bark returns.
Old Cabin, thou, a land-mark art,
Of human progress' steady march!"


Of thee
Thus has time passed with naught more said;
For man in his pedantic art
Soars far in feeble flights of song
From Nature's heart, and thus he fails
With Nature's God to hold commune!
The bard has slept, dreamed many a dream,
But failed to dream one dream of thee.
High hangs his lyre on willow reed,
And sitting 'neath yon shady nook,
He fails to catch one note of thy
Immortal song that fills the air.
Awake, O bard, from sleep so deep!
Attune thy lyre; let Nature breathe
In her immortal breath of song;
Then wilt thou sing a song most sweet,
The song by Nature's vesper choir,
Through all the countless ages sung,-
And still is singing day by day.
Then all the world will join thy sweet
Refrain in praise and ardent love
Of this fair forest Dame!


The nations all their day shall have;
Yet each in turn shall rise and fall,
As falls the dark brown autumn leaf;
Or as those dread sky-kissing tides,
Which toss frail barks high upon
Some ghastly, frowning storm-beat shore,—
Though slowly, yet quite surely ebb away.
-Aye! Egypt fair once spread the Nile,
And green-bay-tree-like proudly flourished;
Her snowy sails sea-ports bedecked,
And deeply ploughed the rolling main,
Or clave the placid lakes, as does
The gentle swan, when some soft breeze
The bulrush stirs, flings its perfume
Upon the rippling silver waves!
Fair cities dotted here and there
Her vast domain. Her royal line
Of Pharaohs held the sceptre gold
Upon her all-emblazoned throne.
Now Egypt fair is wreck and ruin.
For, as fled on the flight of years,
The unrelenting Hand of time
Wiped her sweet visage off the globe!
Naught save the grim, grey pyramid,
Sublimest work of man, yet stands
To greet the rosy morn, with proud
Uplifted head, expanded chest-
A death defiant scoff at time!
Yet hoary Time in his wild rage
Of wreck and ruin, like Jove shall hurl
His fiery bolts upon the head
Of pyramid with ire, and crush
And raze it to its base with scorn!


Next Greece, the fairest nymph that trod
This belted globe upon, once shone
As shines the Morning Orb, long ere
The Dawn the rosy East has kissed;
High reared her sacred temples in
Olympia's shady groves, and built
There sacred altars to her gods.
Old Zeus and Phoebus oft here sat
In council with their fellow gods.
And Homer, fiery bard, was first
To smite the chords of nature's lyre;
Sweet sang he till the earth was filled
With rarest strains of rapturous song!
Then art and letters blew and blushed,
The fairest flowers of ages past,
Whose essence, spilled upon the breeze,
Is wafted still forever on
The twin deft with the flight of years;
And man in calm delight inhales
The fragrance of pure classic lore!
But Greece is gone! Her statues fair
Are mingled with the dust; each god
Has flown some fairer clime to rule,
Or, subdued, walks the dark abyss.


Then Rome, the gaudy Southern Queen,
On seven rugged, rock-ribbed hills
Securely built her throne. The world
Then saw a mighty power rise
In splendor great, as does the sun
On some young, swift-winged morn of June.
A brighter dawning seemed to break;
Another life was lived, for through
The Roman vein there coursed a blood,
A fiery burning blood of ire,
That rose and conquered all the world.
Great Cæsar led her legions forth
From victory on to victory,
And hung her royal pennons high
In tower, palace-hall, and throne;
The Roman sceptre swayed the globe.
Soft music soothed her savage ear,
Fine arts and sculptor were her toys,
And glory was her "starry crown."
But now we read the "Fall of Rome,"
The doleful lay that tells the tale
Of all who thus have passed away.


To thee, fair Dame, we thus relate
The things which were but are no more;
That thou mightest know the worldly way,
And knowing, have no timid fear
To ever stir thy peaceful breast.
No fate like theirs awaits for thee;
For Fortune's maid shall tend with care
Thy every nod and beck—yes, place
Upon thy queenly brow a crown,
The "starry crown" by Freedom worn!
"Tis true no flint rock ribs thy base,
No stone thy corner marks; for that
What carest thou? For boasted pride?
Thy frame is of the sturdy oak,
Inlaid with ribs of stately pine;
The Prince and Princess twain are they
Of all Columbia's giant woods.
The sylvan songsters sing thy praise
From dawn till set of sun, and then
The nightingale, the queen of song,
In praise of thee poureth forth her lay
Till every mellow silver note,
Far floating in the silent trees,
Is taken by an elfish choir,
And chanted softly to the moon.
The eagle her wee eaglets tells
Of thee, that they may freedom love;
Then soaring full beyond the clouds,
She looks with vaunted pride on thee.
So must thy spirit fill the hearts
Of all Columbia's youth, as once
It filled old "Honest Abe," thy son,
Thy pride the first-born of thy love.
For when each lowly lad well knows
That ever upwards he may soar,
Beyond vain tyrants' galling sway
To fairer climes where Freedom reigns:
Then will the shadow of thy wing
For aye to them a shelter be!

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