33 Philip Freneau

“Occasioned by General Washington’s arrival in Philadelphia, on his way to his seat in Virginia”

December, 1783[1]

Annotated by Fred Lewis Pattee

 

1

The great, unequal conflict past,

The Briton banish’d from our shore,

Peace, heav’n-descended, comes at last,

And hostile nations rage no more;

From fields of death the weary swain

Returning, seeks his native plain.

 

2

In every vale she smiles serene,

Freedom’s bright stars more radiant rise,

New charms she adds to every scene,

Her brighter sun illumes our skies;

Remotest realms admiring stand,

And hail the Hero of our land:

 

3

He comes!—the Genius of these lands—

Fame’s thousand tongues his worth confess,

Who conquer’d with his suffering bands,

And grew immortal by distress:

Thus calms succeed the stormy blast,

And valour is repaid at last.

 

4

O Washington!—thrice glorious name,

What due rewards can man decree—

Empires are far below thy aim,

And sceptres have no charms for thee;

Virtue alone has thy regard,

And she must be thy great reward.

 

5

Encircled by extorted power,

Monarchs must envy thy Retreat,

Who cast, in some ill fated hour,

Their country’s freedom at their feet;’

Twas thine to act a nobler part

For injur’d Freedom had thy heart.

 

6

For ravag’d realms and conquer’d seas

Rome gave the great imperial prize,

And, swell’d with pride, for feats like these,

Transferr’d her heroes to the skies:—

A brighter scene your deeds display,

You gain those heights a different way.

 

7

When Faction rear’d her snaky head,[2]

And join’d with tyrants to destroy,

Where’er you march’d the monster fled,

Tim’rous her arrows to employ;

Hosts catch’d from you a bolder flame,

And despots trembled at your name.

 

8

Ere war’s dread horrors ceas’d to reign,

What leader could your place supply?—

Chiefs crowded to the embattled plain,

Prepar’d to conquer or to die—

Heroes arose—but none like you

Could save our lives and freedom too.

 

9

In swelling verse let kings be read,

And princes shine in polish’d prose;

Without such aid your triumphs spread

Where’er the convex ocean flows,

To Indian worlds by seas embrac’d,

And Tartar, tyrant of the waste.

 

10

Throughout the east you gain applause,

And soon the Old World, taught by you,

Shall blush to own her barbarous laws,

Shall learn instruction from the New:

Monarchs shall hear the humble plea,

Nor urge too far the proud decree.

 

11

Despising pomp and vain parade,

At home you stay, while France and Spain

The secret, ardent wish convey’d,

And hail’d you to their shores in vain:

In Vernon’s groves you shun the throne,

Admir’d by kings, but seen by none.

 

12

Your fame, thus spread to distant lands,

May envy’s fiercest blasts endure,

Like Egypt’s pyramids it stands,

Built on a basis more secure;

Time’s latest age shall own in you

The patriot and the statesman too.

 

13

Now hurrying from the busy scene,

Where thy Potowmack’s waters flow,

May’st thou enjoy thy rural reign,

And every earthly blessing know;

Thus He* whom Rome’s proud legions sway’d,

Return’d, and sought his sylvan shade.

 

*Cincinnatus.—Freneau’s note.

 

14

Not less in wisdom than in war

Freedom shall still employ your mind,

Slavery shall vanish, wide and far,

‘Till not a trace is left behind;

Your counsels not bestow’d in vain

Shall still protect this infant reign.

 

15

So when the bright, all-cheering sun

From our contracted view retires,

Though fools may think his race is run,

On other worlds he lights his fires:

Cold climes beneath his influence glow,

And frozen rivers learn to flow.

 

16

O say, thou great, exalted name!

What Muse can boast of equal lays,

Thy worth disdains all vulgar fame,

Transcends the noblest poet’s praise,

Art soars, unequal to the flight,

And genius sickens at the height.

 

17

For states redeem’d—our western reign

Restor’d by thee to milder sway,

Thy conscious glory shall remain

When this great globe is swept away,

And all is lost that pride admires,

And all the pageant scene expires.

[1783]

 

The Wild Honeysuckle

Fair flower, that dost so comely grow, 
Hid in this silent, dull retreat, 
Untouched thy honied blossoms blow, 
Unseen thy little branches greet: 
  No roving foot shall crush thee here, 
  No busy hand provoke a tear. 
  
By Nature’s self in white arrayed, 
She bade thee shun the vulgar eye, 
And planted here the guardian shade, 
And sent soft waters murmuring by; 
  Thus quietly thy summer goes, 
  Thy days declining to repose. 
  
Smit with those charms, that must decay, 
I grieve to see your future doom; 
They died—nor were those flowers more gay, 
The flowers that did in Eden bloom; 
  Unpitying frosts and Autumn’s power 
  Shall leave no vestige of this flower. 
  
From morning suns and evening dews 
At first thy little being came; 
If nothing once, you nothing lose, 
For when you die you are the same; 
  The space between is but an hour, 
  The frail duration of flower.

 

THE PICTURES OF COLUMBUS,
THE GENOESE

Picture I. Columbus making Maps [A]

[A] History informs us this was his original profession: and from the disproportionate vacancy observable in the drafts of that time between Europe and Asia to the west, it is most probable he first took the idea of another continent, lying in a parallel direction to, and existing between both.—Freneau’s note.

As o'er his charts Columbus ran,
Such disproportion he survey'd,
He thought he saw in art's mean plan
Blunders that Nature never made;
The land in one poor corner placed,
And all beside, a swelling waste!—
"It can't be so," Columbus said;

"This world on paper idly drawn,
"O'er one small tract so often gone
"The pencil tires; in this void space
"Allow'd to find no resting place.
"But copying Nature's bold design,
"If true to her, no fault is mine;
"Perhaps in these moist regions dwell
"Forms wrought like man, and lov'd as well.
"Yet to the west what lengthen'd seas!
"Are no gay islands found in these,
"No sylvan worlds that Nature meant
"To balance Asia's vast extent?

"As late a mimic globe I made
"(Imploring Fancy to my aid)
"O'er these wild seas a shade I threw,
"And a new world my pencil drew.
"But westward plac'd, and far away
"In the deep seas this country lay
"Beyond all climes already known,
"In Neptune's bosom plac'd alone.
"Who knows but he that hung this ball
"In the clear void, and governs all,
"On those dread scenes, remote from view,
"Has trac'd his great idea too.
"What can these idle charts avail—
"O'er real seas I mean to sail;
"If fortune aids the grand design,
"Worlds yet unthought of shall be mine.
"But how shall I this country find!
"Gay, painted picture of the mind!
"Religion[B] holds my project vain,
"And owns no worlds beyond the main.

[B] The Inquisition made it criminal to assert the existence of the Antipodes.—Freneau’s note.

"'Midst yonder hills long time has stay'd
"In sylvan cells a wondrous maid,
"Who things to come can truly tell,
"Dread mistress of the magic spell.

"Whate'er the depths of time can shew
"All pass before her in review,
"And all events her eyes survey,
"'Till time and nature both decay.

"I'll to her cave, enquiring there
"What mighty things the fates prepare;
"Whether my hopes and plans are vain,
"Or I must give new worlds to Spain."
***

Picture IV. Columbus addresses King Ferdinand

     Prince and the pride of Spain! while meaner crowns,
Pleas'd with the shadow of monarchial sway,
Exact obedience from some paltry tract
Scarce worth the pain and toil of governing,
Be thine the generous care to send thy fame
Beyond the knowledge, or the guess of man.
     This gulphy deep (that bounds our western reign
So long by civil feuds and wars disgrac'd)
Must be the passage to some other shore
Where nations dwell, children of early time,
Basking in the warm sunshine of the south,
Who some false deity, no doubt, adore,
Owning no virtue in the potent cross:
What honour, sire, to plant your standards there,[A]
And souls recover to our holy faith
That now in paths of dark perdition stray
Warp'd to his worship by the evil one!
     Think not that Europe and the Asian waste,
Or Africa, where barren sands abound,
Are the sole gems in Neptune's bosom laid:
Think not the world a vast extended plain:
See yond' bright orbs, that through the ether move,
All globular; this earth a globe like them
Walks her own rounds, attended by the moon,
Bright comrade, but with borrowed lustre bright.[Pg 98]
If all the surface of this mighty round
Be one wide ocean of unfathom'd depth
Bounding the little space already known,
Nature must have forgot her wonted wit
And made a monstrous havock of proportion.
If her proud depths were not restrain'd by lands,
And broke by continents of vast extent
Existing somewhere under western skies,
Far other waves would roll before the storms
Than ever yet have burst on Europe's shores,
Driving before them deluge and confusion.
     But Nature will preserve what she has plann'd:
And the whole suffrage of antiquity,
Platonic dreams, and reason's plainer page
All point at something that we ought to see
Buried behind the waters of the west,
Clouded with shadows of uncertainty.
The time is come for some sublime event
Of mighty fame:—mankind are children yet,
And hardly dream what treasures they possess
In the dark bosom of the fertile main,
Unfathom'd, unattempted, unexplor'd.
These, mighty prince, I offer to reveal,
And by the magnet's aid, if you supply
Ships and some gallant hearts, will hope to bring
From distant climes, news worthy of a king.

[A] It is allowed by most historians, that Ferdinand was an implicit believer and one of the must superstitious bigots of his age.—Freneau’s note.


***

Picture XIII. Discontents at Sea

Antonio
Dreadful is death in his most gentle forms!
More horrid still on this mad element,
So far remote from land—from friends remote!
So many thousand leagues already sail'd
In quest of visions!—what remains to us
But perishing in these moist solitudes;
Where many a day our corpses on the sea
Shall float unwept, unpitied, unentomb'd!
O fate most terrible!—undone Antonio!
Why didst thou listen to a madman's dreams,
Pregnant with mischief—why not, comrades, rise!—
See, Nature's self prepares to leave us here;
The needle, once so faithful to the pole,
Now quits his object and bewilders us;
Steering at random, just as chance directs—
O fate most terrible!—undone Antonio!—

Hernando

Borne to creation's utmost verge, I saw
New stars ascending, never view'd before!
Low sinks the bear!—O land, my native land,
Clear springs and shady groves! why did I change
Your aspect fair for these infernal wastes,
Peopled by monsters of another kind;
Ah me! design'd not for the view of man!

Columbus

Cease, dastards, cease; and be inform'd that man
Is nature's lord, and wields her to his will;
If her most noble works obey our aims,
How much more so ought worthless scum, like you,
Whose whole existence is a morning dream,
Whose life is sunshine on a wintry day,
Who shake at shadows, struck with palsied fear:
Measuring the limit of your lives by distance.

Antonio

Columbus, hear! when with the land we parted
You thirty days agreed to plough the main,
Directing westward.—Thirty have elaps'd,
And thirty more have now begun their round,
No land appearing yet, nor trace of land,
But distant fogs that mimic lofty isles,
Painting gay landscapes on the vapourish air,
Inhabited by fiends that mean our ruin—
You persevere, and have no mercy on us—
Then perish by yourself—we must return—
And know, our firm resolve is fix'd for Spain;
In this resolve we are unanimous.

Juan de Villa-Real to Columbus
(A Billet)

"I heard them over night a plot contriving
"Of fatal purpose—have a care, Columbus!—
"They have resolv'd, as on the deck you stand,
"Aiding the vigils of the midnight hour,
"To plunge you headlong in the roaring deep,
"And slaughter such as favour your design
"Still to pursue this western continent."

Columbus, solus

Why, nature, hast thou treated those so ill,
Whose souls, capacious of immense designs,
Leave ease and quiet for a nation's glory,
Thus to subject them to these little things,
Insects, by heaven's decree in shapes of men!
But so it is, and so we must submit,
Bending to thee, the heaven's great chancellor!
But must I fail!—and by timidity!
Must thou to thy green waves receive me, Neptune,
Or must I basely with my ships return,
Nothing accomplish'd!—not one pearl discover'd,
One bit of gold to make our queen a bracelet,
One diamond for the crown of Ferdinand!
How will their triumph be confirm'd, who said
That I was mad!—Must I then change my course,
And quit the country that would strait appear,
If one week longer we pursued the sun!—
The witch's glass was not delusion, sure!—
All this, and more, she told me to expect!—
                                    (To the crew)
"Assemble, friends; attend to what I say:
"Signs unequivocal, at length, declare
"That some great continent approaches us:
"The sea no longer glooms unmeasur'd depths,
"The setting sun discovers clouds that owe
"Their origin to fens and woodland wastes,
"Not such as breed on ocean's salt domain:—
"Vast flocks of birds attend us on our way,
"These all have haunts amidst the watry void.
"Sweet scenes of ease, and sylvan solitude,
"And springs, and streams that we shall share with them.
"Now, hear my most importunate request:
"I call you all my friends; you are my equals,
"Men of true worth and native dignity,
"Whose spirits are too mighty to return
"Most meanly home, when nothing is accomplish'd—
"Consent to sail our wonted course with me
"But one week longer, and if that be spent,
"And nought appear to recompence our toil,
"Then change our course and homeward haste away—
"Nay, homeward not!—for that would be too base—
"But to some negro coast,[57] where we may hide,
"And never think of Ferdinand again."

Hernando

One week!—too much—it shall not be, Columbus!
Already are we on the verge of ruin,
Warm'd by the sunshine of another sphere,
Fann'd by the breezes of the burning zone,
Launch'd out upon the world's extremities!—
Who knows where one week more may carry us?

Antonio

Nay, talk not to the traitor!—base Columbus,
To thee our ruin and our deaths we owe!
Away, away!—friends!—men at liberty,
Now free to act as best befits our case,
Appoint another pilot to the helm,
And Andalusia be our port again!

Columbus

Friends, is it thus you treat your admiral,
Who bears the honours of great Ferdinand,
The royal standard, and the arms of Spain!
Three days allow me—and I'll show new worlds.

Hernando

Three days!—one day will pass too tediously—
But in the name of all our crew, Columbus,
Whose speaker and controuler I am own'd;
Since thou indeed art a most gallant man,
Three days we grant—but ask us not again!

Picture XIV. Columbus at Cat Island

Columbus, solus

Hail, beauteous land! the first that greets mine eye
Since, bold, we left the cloud capp'd Teneriffe,
The world's last limit long suppos'd by men.—
Tir'd with dull prospects of the watry waste
And midnight dangers that around us grew,
Faint hearts and feeble hands and traitors vile,
Thee, Holy Saviour, on this foreign land
We still adore, and name this coast from thee![A]
In these green groves who would not wish to stay,[Pg 116]
Where guardian nature holds her quiet reign,
Where beardless men speak other languages,
Unknown to us, ourselves unknown to them.

[A] He called the island San Salvador (Holy Saviour). It lies about ninety miles S.E. from Providence; is one of the Bahama cluster, and to the eastward of the Grand Bank.—Freneau's note.

Antonio

In tracing o'er the isle no gold I find—
Nought else but barren trees and craggy rocks
Where screaming sea-fowl mix their odious loves,
And fields of burning marle, where devils play
And men with copper skins talk barbarously;—
What merit has our chief in sailing hither,
Discovering countries of no real worth!
Spain has enough of barren sands, no doubt,
And savages in crowds are found at home;—
Why then surmount the world's circumference
Merely to stock us with this Indian breed?

Hernando

Soft!—or Columbus will detect your murmuring—
This new found isle has re-instated him
In all our favours—see you yonder sands?—
Why, if you see them, swear that they are gold,
And gold like this shall be our homeward freight,
Gladding the heart of Ferdinand the great,
Who, when he sees it, shall say smilingly,
"Well done, advent'rous fellows, you have brought
"The treasure we expected and deserv'd!"—
Hold!—I am wrong—there goes a savage man
With gold suspended from his ragged ears:
I'll brain the monster for the sake of gold;
There, savage, try the power of Spanish steel—
'Tis of Toledo[B]—true and trusty stuff![Pg 117]
He falls! he falls! the gold, the gold is mine!
First acquisition in this golden isle!—

[B] The best steel-blades in Spain are manufactured at Toledo and Bilboa.—Freneau's note.

Columbus, solus

Sweet sylvan scenes of innocence and ease,
How calm and joyous pass the seasons here!
No splendid towns or spiry turrets rise,
No lordly palaces—no tyrant kings
Enact hard laws to crush fair freedom here;
No gloomy jails to shut up wretched men;
All, all are free!—here God and nature reign;
Their works unsullied by the hands of men.—
Ha! what is this—a murder'd wretch I see,
His blood yet warm—O hapless islander,
Who could have thus so basely mangled thee,
Who never offer'd insult to our shore—
Was it for those poor trinkets in your ears
Which by the custom of your tribe you wore,—
Now seiz'd away—and which would not have weigh'd
One poor piastre!
Is this the fruit of my discovery!
If the first scene is murder, what shall follow
But havock, slaughter, chains and devastation
In every dress and form of cruelty!
O injur'd Nature, whelm me in the deep,
And let not Europe hope for my return,
Or guess at worlds upon whose threshold now
So black a deed has just been perpetrated!—
We must away—enjoy your woods in peace,
Poor, wretched, injur'd, harmless islanders;—
On Hayti's[C] isle you say vast stores are found
Of this destructive gold—which without murder
Perhaps, we may possess!—away, away!
And southward, pilots, seek another isle,
Fertile they say, and of immense extent:
There we may fortune find without a crime.

[C] This island is now called Hispaniola, but is of late recovering its ancient name.—Freneau's note



  1. Published in the Freeman's Journal, December 10, 1783. Washington arrived in Philadelphia from New York, December 8th. The earliest version of this poem remained practically unchanged in the later editions. The text follows the edition of 1786.
  2. "Bristly head."—Ed. 1809.

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Philip Freneau by Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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