A Poem, On the Rising Glory of America

An Electronic Edition · Philip Freneau (1752-1832)

Original Source: Philip Freneau: Poems of Freneau. Ed. Harry Hayden Clark. New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1929.

Copyright 2003. This text is freely available provided the text is distributed with the header information provided.

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The subject proposed—The discovery of America by Columbus——A philosophical enquiry into the origin of the savages of America——The first planters from Europe——Causes of their migration to America——The difficulties they encountered from the jealousy of the natives——Agriculture descanted on——Commerce and navigation——Science——Future prospects of British usurpation, tyranny, and devastation on this side the Atlantic——The more comfortable one of Independence, Liberty and Peace——Conclusion..

Acasto. Now shall the adventurous muse attempt a theme1.
More new, more noble, and more flush of fame 
Than all that went before——3.
Now through the veil of ancient days renew 
The period famed when first Columbus touched 
These shores so long unknown——through various toils, 
Famine, and death, the hero forced his way, 
Through oceans pregnant with perpetual storms,8.
And climates hostile to adventurous man. 
But why, to prompt your tears, should we resume, 
The tale of Cortez, furious chief, ordained 
With Indian blood to dye the sands, and choak, 
Famed Mexico, thy streams with dead? or why13.
Once more revive the tale so oft rehearsed 
Of Atabilipa, by the thirst of gold, 
(Too conquering motive in the human breast.) 
Deprived of life, which not Peru’s rich ore 
Nor Mexico’s vast mines could then redeem?18.
Better these northern realms demand our song, 
Designed by nature for the rural reign, 
For agriculture’s toil.——No blood we shed 
For metals buried in a rocky waste.—— 
Cursed be that ore, which brutal makes our race23.
And prompts mankind to shed their kindred blood. 

Eugenio. ——But whence arose25.
That vagrant race who love the shady vale, 
And choose the forest for their dark abode?——27.
For long has this perplext the sages’ skill 
To investigate.——Tradition lends no aid 
To unveil this secret to the human eye, 
When first these various nations, north and south, 
Possest these shores, or from what countries came,——32.
Whether they sprang from some primaeval head 
In their own lands, like Adam in the east,—— 
Yet this the sacred oracles deny, 
And reason, too, reclaims against the thought: 
For when the general deluge drowned the world37.
Where could their tribes have found security, 
Where find their fate, but in the ghastly deep?—— 
Unless, as others dream, some chosen few 
High on the Andes, wrapt in endless snow, 
Where winter in his wildest fury reigns,42.
And subtile aether scarce our life maintains. 
But here philosophers oppose the scheme: 
This earth, they say, nor hills nor mountains knew 
Ere yet the universal flood prevailed; 
But when the mighty waters rose aloft,47.
Roused by the winds, they shook their solid base, 
And, in convulsions, tore the deluged world, 
‘Till by the winds assuaged, again they fell, 
And all their ragged bed exposed to view. 
Perhaps far wandering toward the northern pole52.
The streights of Zembla, and the frozen zone, 
And where the eastern Greenland almost joins 
America’s north point, the hardy tribes 
Of banished Jews, Siberians, Tartars wild 
Came over icy mountains, or on floats,57.
First reached these coasts, hid from the world beside.—— 
And yet another argument more strange, 
Reserved for men of deeper thought, and late, 
Presents itself to view.——In Peleg’s days.  
(So says the Hebrew seer’s unerring pen)62.
This mighty mass of earth, this solid globe, 
Was cleft in twain,——”divided” east and west, 
While then perhaps the deep Atlantic roll’d,—— 
Through the vast chasm, and laved the solid world; 
And traces indisputable remain67.
Of this primaeval land now sunk and lost.—— 
The islands rising in our eastern main 
Are but small fragments of this continent, 
Whose two extremities were Newfoundland 
And St. Helena.——One far in the north,72.
Where shivering seamen view with strange surprize 
The guiding pole-star glittering o’er their heads; 
The other near the southern tropic rears 
Its head above the waves——Bermuda’s isles, 
Cape Verd, Canary, Britain, and the Azores,77.
With fam’d Hibernia, are but broken parts 
Of some prodigious waste, which once sustain’d 
Nations and tribes, of vanished memory, 
Forests and towns, and beasts of every class, 
Where navies now explore their briny way.82.

Leander. Your sophistry, Eugenio, makes me smile;83.
The roving mind of man delights to dwell 
On hidden things, merely because they’re hid:85.
He thinks his knowledge far beyond all limit, 
And boldly fathoms Nature’s darkest haunts;—— 
But for uncertainties, your broken isles, 
Your northern Tartars, and your wandering Jews, 
(The flimsy cobwebs of a sophist’s brain)90.
Hear what the voice of history proclaims—— 
The Carthagenians, ere the Roman yoke 
Broke their proud spirits, and enslaved them too, 
For navigation were renowned as much 
As haughty Tyre with all her hundred fleets,95.
Full many a league their venturous seamen sailed 
Through streight Gibraltar, down the western shore 
Of Africa, to the Canary isles: 
By them called Fortunate; so Flaccus . 
Because eternal spring there clothes the fields100.
And fruits delicious bloom throughout the year.—— 
From voyaging here, this inference I draw, 
Perhaps some barque with all her numerous crew 
Falling to leeward of her destined port, 
Caught by the eastern Trade, was hurried on105.
Before the unceasing blast to Indian isles, 
Brazil, La Plata, or the coasts more south—— 
There stranded, and unable to return, 
Forever from their native skies estranged 
Doubtless they made these virgin climes their own,110.
And in the course of long revolving years 
A numerous progeny from these arose, 
And spread throughout the coasts——those whom we call 
Brazilians, Mexicans, Peruvians rich, 
The tribes of Chili, Patagon, and those115.
Who till the shores of Amazon’s long stream.—— 
When first the power of Europe here attained, 
Vast empires, kingdoms, cities, palaces 
And polished nations stock’d the fertile land. 
Who has not heard of Cusco, Lima, and120.
The town of Mexico——huge cities form’d 
From Indian architecture; ere the arms 
Of haughty Spain disturb’d the peaceful soil.—— 
But here, amid this northern dark domain 
No towns were seen to rise.——No arts were here;125.
The tribes unskill’d to raise the lofty mast, 
Or force the daring prow thro’ adverse waves, 
Gazed on the pregnant soil, and craved alone 
Life from the unaided genius of the ground,—— 
This indicates they were a different race;130.
From whom descended, ’tis not ours to say—— 
That power, no doubt, who furnish’d trees, and plants, 
And animals to this vast continent, 
Spoke into being man among the rest,—— 
But what a change is here!——what arts arise!135.
What towns and capitals! how commerce waves 
Her gaudy flags, where silence reign’d before! 

Acasto. Speak, learned Eugenio, for I’ve heard you tell138.
The dismal story, and the cause that brought 
The first adventurers to these western shores!140.
The glorious cause that urged our fathers first 
To visit climes unknown, and wilder woods 
Than e’er Tartarian or Norwegian saw, 
And with fair culture to adorn a soil 
That never felt industrious swain before.145.

Eugenio. All this long story to rehearse, would tire;146.
Besides, the sun towards the west retreats, 
Nor can the noblest theme retard his speed,148.
Nor loftiest verse——not that which sang the fall 
Of Troy divine, and fierce Achilles’ ire.—— 
Yet hear a part:——By persecution wronged, 
And sacerdotal rage, our fathers came 
From Europe’s hostile shores to these abodes,153.
Here to enjoy a liberty in faith, 
Secure from tyranny and base controul. 
For this they left their country and their friends, 
And plough’d the Atlantic wave in quest of peace; 
And found new shores, and sylvan settlements,158.
And men, alike unknowing and unknown. 
Hence, by the care of each adventurous chief 
New governments (their wealth unenvied yet) 
Were form’d on liberty and virtue’s plan. 
These searching out uncultivated tracts163.
Conceived new plans of towns, and capitals, 
And spacious provinces——Why should I name 
Thee, Penn, the Solon of our western lands; 
Sagacious legislator, whom the world 
Admires, long dead: an infant colony,168.
Nursed by thy care, now rises o’er the rest 
Like that tall pyramid in Egypt’s waste 
Oe’r all the neighbouring piles, they also great. 
Why should I name those heroes so well known, 
Who peopled all the rest of Canada173.
To Georgia’s farthest coasts, West Florida, 
Or Apalachian mountains?——Yet what streams 
Of blood were shed! what Indian hosts were slain, 
Before the days of peace were quite restored! 

Leander. Yes, while they overturn’d the rugged soil178.
And swept the forests from the shaded plain 
‘Midst dangers, foes, and death, fierce Indian tribes180.
With vengeful malice arm’d, and black design, 
Oft murdered, or dispersed, these colonies—— 
Encouraged, too, by Gallia’s hostile sons, 
A warlike race, who late their arms display’d, 
At Quebec, Montreal, and farthest coasts185.
Of Labrador, or Cape Breton, where now 
The British standard awes the subject host. 
Here, those brave chiefs, who, lavish of their blood, 
Fought in Britannia’s cause, in battle fell!—— 
What heart but mourns the untimely fate of Wolfe,190.
Who, dying, conquered!——or what breast but beats 
To share a fate like his, and die like him! 

Acasto. But why alone commemorate the dead,193.
And pass those glorious heroes by, who yet 
Breathe the same air, and see the light with us?——195.
The dead, Leander, are but empty names, 
And they who fall to-day the same to us 
As they who fell ten centuries ago!—— 
Lost are they all that shined on earth before; 
Rome’s boldest champions in the dust are laid,200.
Ajax and great Achilles are no more, 
And Philip’s warlike son, an empty shade!—— 
A Washington among our sons of fame 
Will rise conspicuous as the morning star 
Among the inferior lights——205.
To distant wilds Virginia sent him forth—— 
With her brave sons he gallantly opposed 
The bold invaders of his country’s rights, 
Where wild Ohio pours the mazy flood, 
And mighty meadows skirt his subject streams.——210.
But now delighting in his elm tree’s shade, 
Where deep Potowmac laves the enchanting shore, 
He prunes the tender vine, or bids the soil 
Luxuriant harvests to the sun displayed.—— 
Behold a different scene——not thus employed215.
Were Cortez, and Pizarro, pride of Spain, 
Whom blood and murder only satisfied, 
And all to glut their avarice and ambition!—— 

Eugenio. Such is the curse, Acasto, where the soul219.
Humane is wanting——but we boast no feats 
Of cruelty like Europe’s murdering breed——221.
Our milder epithet is merciful, 
And each American, true hearted, learns 
To conquer, and to spare; for coward souls 
Alone seek vengeance on a vanquished foe. 
Gold, fatal gold, was the alluring bait226.
To Spain’s rapacious tribes——hence rose the wars 
From Chili to the Caribbean sea, 
And Montezuma’s Mexican domains: 
More blest are we, with whose unenvied soil 
Nature decreed no mingling gold to shine,231.
No flaming diamond, precious emerald, 
No blushing sapphire, ruby, chrysolite, 
Or jasper red——more noble riches flow 
From agriculture, and the industrious swain, 
Who tills the fertile vale, or mountain’s brow236.
Content to lead a safe, a humble life, 
Among his native hills, romantic shades 
Such as the muse of Greece of old did feign, 
Allured the Olympian gods from chrystal skies, 
Envying such lovely scenes to mortal man.241.

Leander. Long has the rural life been justly fam’d,242.
And bards of old their pleasing pictures drew 
Of flowery meads, and groves, and gliding streams:244.
Hence, old Arcadia——wood-nymphs, satyrs, fauns; 
And hence Elysium, fancied heaven below!—— 
Fair agriculture, not unworthy kings, 
Once exercised the royal hand, or those 
Whose virtues raised them to the rank of gods.249.
See old Laertes in his shepherd weeds 
Far from his pompous throne and court august, 
Digging the grateful soil, where round him rise, 
Sons of the earth, the tall aspiring oaks, 
Or orchards, boasting of more fertile boughs,254.
Laden with apples red, sweet scented peach, 
Pear, cherry, apricot, or spungy plumb; 
While through the glebe the industrious oxen draw 
The earth-inverting plough.——Those Romans too, 
Fabricius and Camillus, loved a life259.
Of neat simplicity and rustic bliss, 
And from the noisy Forum hastening far, 
From busy camps, and sycophants, and crowns, 
‘Midst woods and fields spent the remains of life, 
Where full enjoyment still awaits the wise.264.
How grateful, to behold the harvests rise, 
And mighty crops adorn the extended plains!—— 
Fair plenty smiles throughout, while lowing herds 
Stalk o’er the shrubby hill or grassy mead, 
Or at some shallow river slake their thirst.——269.
The inclosure, now, succeeds the shepherd’s care, 
Yet milk-white flocks adorn the well stock’d farm, 
And court the attention of the industrious swain—— 
Their fleece rewards him well, and when the winds 
Blow with a keener blast, and from the north274.
Pour mingled tempests through a sunless sky 
(Ice, sleet, and rattling hail) secure he sits 
Warm in his cottage, fearless of the storm, 
Enjoying now the toils of milder moons, 
Yet hoping for the spring.——Such are the joys,279.
And such the toils of those whom heaven hath bless’d 
With souls enamoured of a country life. 

Acasto. Such are the visions of the rustic reign——282.
But this alone, the fountain of support, 
Would scarce employ the varying mind of man;284.
Each seeks employ, and each a different way: 
Strip Commerce of her sail, and men once more 
Would be converted into savages—— 
No nation e’er grew social and refined 
‘Till Commerce first had wing’d the adventurous prow,289.
Or sent the slow-paced caravan, afar, 
To waft their produce to some other clime, 
And bring the wished exchange——thus came, of old, 
Golconda’s golden ore, and thus the wealth 
Of Ophir, to the wisest of mankind.294.

Eugenio. Great is the praise of Commerce, and the men295.
Deserve our praise, who spread the undaunted sail, 
And traverse every sea——their dangers great,297.
Death still to combat in the unfeeling gale, 
And every billow but a gaping grave:—— 
There, skies and waters, wearying on the eye, 
For weeks and months no other prospect yield 
But barren wastes, unfathomed depths, where not302.
The blissful haunt of human form is seen 
To cheer the unsocial horrors of the way—— 
Yet all these bold designs to Science owe 
Their rise and glory——Hail, fair Science! thou, 
Transplanted from the eastern skies, dost bloom307.
In these blest regions——Greece and Rome no more 
Detain the Muses on Citheron’s brow, 
Or old Olympus, crowned with waving woods, 
Or Haemus’ top, where once was heard the harp, 
Sweet Orpheus’ harp, that gained his cause below,312.
And pierced the souls of Orcus and his bride; 
That hushed to silence by its voice divine 
Thy melancholy waters, and the gales 
O Hebrus! that o’er thy sad surface blow.—— 
No more the maids round Alpheus’ waters stray,317.
Where he with Arethusa’s stream doth mix, 
Or where swift Tiber disembogues his waves 
Into the Italian sea, so long unsung; 
Hither they wing their way, the last, the best 
Of countries, where the arts shall rise and grow,322.
And arms shall have their day——even now we boast 
A Franklin, prince of all philosophy, 
A genius piercing as the electric fire, 
Bright as the lightning’s flash, explained so well, 
By him, the rival of Britannia’s sage. 327.
This is the land of every joyous sound, 
Of liberty and life, sweet liberty! 
Without whose aid the noblest genius fails, 
And Science irretrievably must die. 

Leander. But come, Eugenio, since we know the past——332.
What hinders to pervade with searching eye 
The mystic scenes of dark futurity!334.
Say, shall we ask what empires yet must rise, 
What kingdoms, powers and states, where now are seen 
Mere dreary wastes and awful solitude, 
Where Melancholy sits, with eye forlorn, 
And time anticipates, when we shall spread339.
Dominion from the north, and south, and west, 
Far from the Atlantic to Pacific shores, 
And people half the convex of the main!—— 
A glorious theme!——but how shall mortals dare 
To pierce the dark events of future years344.
And scenes unravel, only known to fate? 

Acasto. This might we do, if warmed by that bright coal.
Snatch’d from the altar of cherubic fire 
Which touched Isaiah’s lips——or if the spirit347.
Of Jeremy and Amos, prophets old, 
Might swell the heaving breast——I see, I see 
Freedom’s established reign; cities, and men, 
Numerous as sands upon the ocean shore, 
And empires rising where the sun descends!——352.
The Ohio soon shall glide by many a town 
Of note; and where the Mississippi stream, 
By forests shaded, now runs weeping on, 
Nations shall grow, and states not less in fame 
Than Greece and Rome of old!——we too shall boast357.
Our Scipio’s, Solon’s, Cato’s, sages, chiefs 
That in the lap of time yet dormant lie, 
Waiting the joyous hour of life and light—— 
O snatch me hence, ye muses, to those days 
When, through the veil of dark antiquity,362.
A race shall hear of us as things remote, 
That blossomed in the morn of days——Indeed, 
How could I weep that we exist so soon, 
Just in the dawning of these mighty times, 
Whose scenes are painting for eternity!367.
Dissentions that shall swell the trump of fame, 
And ruin hovering o’er all monarchy! 

Eugenio. Nor shall these angry tumults here subside370.
Nor murder cease, through all these provinces, 
Till foreign crowns have vanished from our view372.
And dazzle here no more——no more presume 
To awe the spirit of fair Liberty—— 
Vengeance must cut the thread——and Britain, sure 
Will curse her fatal obstinacy for it! 
Bent on the ruin of this injured country,377.
She will not listen to our humble prayers, 
Though offered with submission: 
Like vagabonds and objects of destruction, 
Like those whom all mankind are sworn to hate, 
She casts us off from her protection,382.
And will invite the nations round about, 
Russians and Germans, slaves and savages, 
To come and have a share in our perdition—— 
O cruel race, O unrelenting Britain, 
Who bloody beasts will hire to cut our throats387.
Who war will wage with prattling innocence, 
And basely murder unoffending women!—— 
Will stab their prisoners when they cry for quarter, 
Will burn our towns, and from his lodging turn 
The poor inhabitant to sleep in tempests!——392.
These will be wrongs, indeed, and all sufficient 
To kindle up our souls to deeds of horror, 
And give to every arm the nerves of Sampson—— 
These are the men that fill the world with ruin, 
And every region mourns their greedy sway,——397.
Not only for ambition—— 
But what are this world’s goods, that they for them 
Should exercise perpetual butchery? 
What are these mighty riches we possess, 
That they should send so far to plunder them————402.
Already have we felt their potent arm—— 
And ever since that inauspicious day, 
When first Sir Francis Bernard 
His ruffians planted at the council door, 
And made the assembly room a home for vagrants,407.
And soldiers, rank and file——e’er since that day 
This wretched land, that drinks its children’s gore, 
Has been a scene of tumult and confusion——! 
Are there not evils in the world enough? 
Are we so happy that they envy us?412.
Have we not toiled to satisfy their harpies, 
Kings’ deputies, that are insatiable; 
Whose practice is to incense the royal mind 
And make us despicable in his view?—— 
Have we not all the evils to contend with417.
That, in this life, mankind are subject to, 
Pain, sickness, poverty, and natural death—— 
But into every wound that nature gave 
They will a dagger plunge, and make them mortal! 

Leander. Enough, enough!——such dismal scenes you paint,422.
I almost shudder at the recollection—— 
What! are they dogs that they would mangle us?——424.
Are these the men that come with base design 
To rob the hive, and kill the industrious bee!—— 
To brighter skies I turn my ravished view, 
And fairer prospects from the future draw—— 
Here independent power shall hold her sway,428.
And public virtue warm the patriot breast: 
No traces shall remain of tyranny, 
And laws, a pattern to the world beside, 
Be here enacted first.—— 

Acasto. And when a train of rolling years are past,434.
(So sung the exiled seer in Patmos isle) 
A new Jerusalem, sent down from heaven,436.
Shall grace our happy earth,——perhaps this land, 
Whose ample bosom shall receive, though late, 
Myriads of saints, with their immortal king, 
To live and reign on earth a thousand years, 
Thence called Millennium. Paradise anew441.
Shall flourish, by no second Adam lost, 
No dangerous tree with deadly fruit shall grow, 
No tempting serpent to allure the soul 
From native innocence.——A Canaan here, 
Another Canaan shall excel the old,446.
And from a fairer Pisgah’s top be seen. 
No thistle here, nor thorn, nor briar shall spring, 
Earth’s curse before: the lion and the lamb 
In mutual friendship linked, shall browse the shrub, 
And timorous deer with softened tygers stray451.
O’er mead, or lofty hill, or grassy plain; 
Another Jordan’s stream shall glide along, 
And Siloah’s brook in circling eddies flow: 
Groves shall adorn their verdant banks, on which 
The happy people, free from toils and death,456.
Shall find secure repose. No fierce disease, 
No fevers, slow consumption, ghastly plague, 
(Fate’s ancient ministers) again proclaim 
Perpetual war with man: fair fruits shall bloom, 
Fair to the eye, and sweeter to the taste;461.
Nature’s loud storms be hushed, and seas no more 
Rage hostile to mankind——and, worse than all, 
The fiercer passions of the human breast 
Shall kindle up to deeds of death no more, 
But all subside in universal peace.——466.
——Such days the world, 
And such America at last shall have 
When ages, yet to come, have run their round, 
And future years of bliss alone remain. 

Full Colophon Information

Genre: Poetry
Subjects: wars of independence
Location: British America
Format: verse

This text was first published in 1772.

The text of the document was initially prepared from Philip Freneau: Poems of Freneau. Ed. Harry Hayden Clark. New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1929. It has subsequently been proofed against Philip Freneau: Poems of Freneau. Ed. Harry Hayden Clark. New York: Hafner Publishing Co.,1929. All preliminaries have been omitted except those for which the author is responsible and those in which editorial notes indicate significant textual variations. Line and paragraph numbers contained in the source text have been retained. In cases where the source text displays no numbers, numbers are automatically generated. In the header, personal names have been regularized according to the Library of Congress authority files as "Last Name, First Name" for the REG attribute and "First Name Last Name" for the element value. Names have not been regularized in the body of the text.