By Philip Freneau
(1752 - 1832)
 
 
Death’s Epitaph
 
From “The House of Night”
 
 
DEATH in this tomb his weary bones hath laid,
Sick of dominion o’er the human kind;
Behold what devastations he hath made,
Survey the millions by his arm confined.
 
“Six thousand years has sovereign sway been mine,
None but myself can real glory claim;
Great Regent of the world I reigned alone,
And princes trembled when my mandate came.
 
“Vast and unmatched throughout the world, my fame
Takes place of gods, and asks no mortal date—
No: by myself, and by the heavens, I swear
Not Alexander’s name is half so great.
 
“Nor swords nor darts my prowess could withstand,
All quit their arms, and bowed to my decree,—
Even mighty Julius died beneath my hand,
For slaves and Cæsars were the same to me!”
 
Traveller, wouldst thou his noblest trophies seek,
Search in no narrow spot obscure for those;
The sea profound, the surface of all land,
Is moulded with the myriads of his foes.
 
 
Epitaph
 
From “The Fading Rose”
 
 
HERE—for they could not help but die—
The daughters of the Rose-Bush lie:
Here rest, interred without a stone,
What dear Lucinda gave to none,—
What forward beau, or curious belle,
Could hardly touch, and rarely smell.
 
Dear Rose! of all the blooming kind
You had a happier place assigned,
And nearer grew to all that ’s fair,
And more engaged Lucinda’s care,
Than ever courting, coaxing swain,
Or ever all who love, shall gain.
 
 
Eutaw Springs
 
 
AT Eutaw Springs the valiant died:
  Their limbs with dust are covered o’er;
Weep on, ye springs, your tearful tide;
  How many heroes are no more!
 
If in this wreck of ruin they
  Can yet be thought to claim a tear,
O smite thy gentle breast, and say
  The friends of freedom slumber here!
 
Thou, who shalt trace this bloody plain,
  If goodness rules thy generous breast,
Sigh for the wasted rural reign;
  Sigh for the shepherds sunk to rest!
 
Stranger, their humble groves adorn;
  You too may fall, and ask a tear:
’T is not the beauty of the morn
  That proves the evening shall be clear.
 
They saw their injured country’s woe,
  The flaming town, the wasted field;
Then rushed to meet the insulting foe;
  They took the spear—but left the shield.
 
Led by thy conquering standards, Greene,
  The Britons they compelled to fly:
None distant viewed the fatal plain,
  None grieved in such a cause to die—
 
But, like the Parthians famed of old,
  Who, flying, still their arrows threw,
These routed Britons, full as bold,
  Retreated, and retreating slew.
 
Now rest in peace our patriot band;
  Though far from nature’s limits thrown,
We trust they find a happier land,
  A brighter Phœbus of their own.
 

On a Travelling Speculator
 
 
ON scent of game from town to town he flew,
  The soldier’s curse pursued him on his way;
Care in his eye, and anguish on his brow,
  He seemed a sea-hawk watching for his prey.
 
With soothing words the widow’s mite he gained,
  With piercing glance watched misery’s dark abode,
Filched paper scraps while yet a scrap remained,
  Bought where he must, and cheated where he could;
 
Vast loads amassed of scrip, and who knows what;
  Potosi’s wealth seemed lodged within his clutch,—
But wealth has wings (he knew) and instant bought
  The prancing steed, gay harness, and gilt coach.
 
One Sunday morn to church we saw him ride
  In glittering state—alack! and who but he—
The following week, with Madam at his side,
  To routs they drove—and drank Imperial tea!
 
In cards and fun the livelong day they spent,
  With songs and smut prolonged the midnight feast,—
If plays were had, to plays they constant went,
  Where Madam’s top-knot rose a foot at least.
 
Three weeks, and more, thus passed in airs of state,
  The fourth beheld the mighty bubble fail,—
And he, who countless millions owned so late,
  Stopped short—and closed his triumphs in a jail.
 
On the Ruins of a Country Inn
 
 
WHERE now these mingled ruins lie
  A temple once to Bacchus rose,
Beneath whose roof, aspiring high,
  Full many a guest forgot his woes.
 
No more this dome, by tempests torn,
  Affords a social safe retreat;
But ravens here, with eye forlorn,
  And clustering bats henceforth will meet
 
The Priestess of this ruined shrine,
  Unable to survive the stroke,
Presents no more the ruddy wine,—
  Her glasses gone, her china broke.
 
The friendly Host, whose social hand
  Accosted strangers at the door,
Has left at length his wonted stand,
  And greets the weary guest no more.
 
Old creeping Time, that brings decay,
  Might yet have spared these mouldering walls,
Alike beneath whose potent sway
  A temple or a tavern falls.
 
Is this the place where mirth and joy,
  Coy nymphs, and sprightly lads were found?
Indeed! no more the nymphs are coy,
  No more the flowing bowls go round.
 
Is this the place where festive song
  Deceived the wintry hours away?
No more the swains the tune prolong,
  No more the maidens join the lay.
 
Is this the place where Nancy slept
  In downy beds of blue and green?
Dame Nature here no vigils kept,
  No cold unfeeling guards were seen.
 
’T is gone!—and Nancy tempts no more;
  Deep, unrelenting silence reigns;
Of all that pleased, that charmed before,
  The tottering chimney scarce remains.
 
Ye tyrant winds, whose ruffian blast
  Through doors and windows blew too strong,
And all the roof to ruin cast,—
  The roof that sheltered us so long,—
 
Your wrath appeased, I pray be kind
  If Mopsus should the dome renew,
That we again may quaff his wine,
  Again collect our jovial crew.
 
 
Plato to Theon
 
 
THE GRANDEUR of this earthly round,
  Where Theon would forever be,
Is but a name, is but a sound—
  Mere emptiness and vanity.
 
Give me the stars, give me the skies,
  Give me the heaven’s remotest sphere,
Above these gloomy scenes to rise
  Of desolation and despair.
 
These native fires that warmed the mind.
  Now languid grown, too dimly glow;
Joy has to grief the heart resigned,
  And love itself is changed to woe.
 
The joys of wine are all you boast,—
  These for a moment damp your pain;
The gleam is o’er, the charm is lost,
  And darkness clouds the soul again.
 
Then seek no more for bliss below,
  Where real bliss can ne’er be found;
Aspire where sweeter blossoms blow
  And fairer flowers bedeck the ground;
 
Where plants of life the plains invest,
  And green eternal crowns the year;
The little god within your breast
  Is weary of his mansion here.
 
Like Phosphor, sent before the day,
  His height meridian to regain,—
The dawn arrives—he must not stay
  To shiver on a frozen plain.
 
Life’s journey past, for death prepare,—
  ’T is but the freedom of the mind;
Jove made us mortal—his we are;
  To Jove, dear Theon, be resigned.
 
 
Song of Thyrsis
 
In “Female Frailty”
 
 
THE TURTLE on yon withered bough,
That lately mourned her murdered mate,
Has found another comrade now—
Such changes all await!
Again her drooping plume is drest,
Again she ’s willing to be blest
And takes her lover to her nest.
If nature has decreed it so
With all above, and all below,
Let us like them forget our woe,
    And not be killed with sorrow.
If I should quit your arms to-night
And chance to die before ’t was light,
I would advise you—and you might—
    Love again to-morrow.
 
 
The Indian Burying-Ground
 
 
IN spite of all the learned have said,
  I still my old opinion keep;
The posture that we give the dead
  Points out the soul’s eternal sleep.
 
Not so the ancients of these lands;—
  The Indian, when from life released,
Again is seated with his friends,
  And shares again the joyous feast.
 
His imaged birds, and painted bowl,
  And venison, for a journey dressed,
Bespeak the nature of the soul,
  Activity, that wants no rest.
 
His bow for action ready bent,
  And arrows with a head of stone,
Can only mean that life is spent,
  And not the old ideas gone.
 
Thou, stranger, that shalt come this way,
  No fraud upon the dead commit,—
Observe the swelling turf, and say,
  They do not lie, but here they sit.
 
Here still a lofty rock remains,
  On which the curious eye may trace
(Now wasted half by wearing rains)
  The fancies of a ruder race.
 
Here still an aged elm aspires,
  Beneath whose far projecting shade
(And which the shepherd still admires)
  The children of the forest played.
 
There oft a restless Indian queen
  (Pale Shebah with her braided hair),
And many a barbarous form is seen
  To chide the man that lingers there.
 
By midnight moons, o’er moistening dews,
  In habit for the chase arrayed,
The hunter still the deer pursues,
  The hunter and the deer—a shade!
 
And long shall timorous Fancy see
  The painted chief, and pointed spear,
And Reason’s self shall bow the knee
  To shadows and delusions here.
 

The Parting Glass
 

THE MAN that joins in life’s career
And hopes to find some comfort here,
To rise above this earthly mass,—
The only way ’s to drink his glass.
 
But still, on this uncertain stage
Where hopes and fears the soul engage,
And while, amid the joyous band,
Unheeded flows the measured sand,
Forget not as the moments pass
That time shall bring the parting glass!
 
In spite of all the mirth I ’ve heard,
This is the glass I always feared,
The glass that would the rest destroy,
The farewell cup, the close of joy.
 
With you, whom reason taught to think,
I could for ages sit and drink;
But with the fool, the sot, the ass,
I haste to take the parting glass.
 
The luckless wight, that still delays
His draught of joys to future days,
Delays too long—for then, alas!
Old age steps up, and—breaks the glass!
 
The nymph who boasts no borrowed charms,
Whose sprightly wit my fancy warms,—
What though she tends this country inn,
And mixes wine, and deals out gin?
With such a kind, obliging lass,
I sigh to take the parting glass.
 
With him who always talks of gain
(Dull Momus, of the plodding train),
The wretch who thrives by others’ woes,
And carries grief where’er he goes,—
With people of this knavish class
The first is still my parting glass.
 
With those that drink before they dine,
With him that apes the grunting swine,
Who fills his page with low abuse,
And strives to act the gabbling goose
Turned out by fate to feed on grass—
Boy, give me quick, the parting glass.
 
The man whose friendship is sincere,
Who knows no guilt, and feels no fear,—
It would require a heart of brass
With him to take the parting glass.
 
With him who quaffs his pot of ale,
Who holds to all an even scale,
Who hates a knave in each disguise,
And fears him not—whate’er his size—
With him, well pleased my days to pass,
May heaven forbid the Parting Glass!

 
The Scurrilous Scribe
 
 
HIS soul extracted from the public sink,
For discord born he splasht around his ink;
In scandal foremost, as by scandal fed,
He hourly rakes the ashes of the dead.
 
Secure from him no traveller walks the streets,
His malice sees a foe in all he meets;
With dark design he treads his daily rounds,
Kills where he can, and, where he cannot, wounds.
 
Nature to him her stings of rancor gave
To shed, unseen, the venom of a knave;
She gave him cunning, every treacherous art,
She gave him all things but an upright heart;
 
And one thing more—she gave him but the pen,
No power to hurt, not even the brass of men,
Whose breasts though furies with their passions rule
Yet laugh at satire, pointed by a fool.
 
Was there no world but ours to give you room?
No Patagonia, for your savage home,
No region, where antarctic oceans roll,
No icy island, neighboring to the pole?
 
By dark suspicion led, you aim at all
Who will not to your sceptred idol fall;
To work their ruin, every baseness try,
First envy, next abuse us, then belie.
 
Such is your stretch! and thus awhile go on!
Your shafts rebound, and yet have injured none.
Hurt whom they will, let who will injured be,
The sons of smut and scandal hurt not me.
 
 
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.
 

To a Caty-Did
 
 
  IN a branch of willow hid
Sings the evening Caty-did:
From the lofty-locust bough
Feeding on a drop of dew,
In her suit of green arrayed
Hear her singing in the shade—
  Caty-did, Caty-did, Caty-did!
 
  While upon a leaf you tread,
Or repose your little head
On your sheet of shadows laid,
All the day you nothing said:
Half the night your cheery tongue
Revelled out its little song,—
  Nothing else but Caty-did.
 
  From your lodging on the leaf
Did you utter joy or grief?
Did you only mean to say,
I have had my summer’s day,
And am passing, soon, away
To the grave of Caty-did:
  Poor, unhappy Caty-did!
 
  But you would have uttered more
Had you known of nature’s power;
From the world when you retreat,
And a leaf’s your winding sheet,
Long before your spirit fled,
Who can tell but nature said,—
Live again, my Caty-did!
  Live, and chatter Caty-did.
 
  Tell me, what did Caty do?
Did she mean to trouble you?
Why was Caty not forbid
To trouble little Caty-did?
Wrong, indeed, at you to fling,
Hurting no one while you sing,—
  Caty-did! Caty-did! Caty-did!
 
  Why continue to complain?
Caty tells me she again
Will not give you plague or pain;
Caty says you may be hid,
Caty will not go to bed
While you sing us Caty-did,—
  Caty-did! Caty-did! Caty-did!
 
  But, while singing, you forgot
To tell us what did Caty not:
Caty did not think of cold,
Flocks retiring to the fold,
Winter with his wrinkles old;
Winter, that yourself foretold
  When you gave us Caty-did.
 
  Stay serenely on your nest;
Caty now will do her best,
All she can, to make you blest;
But you want no human aid,—
Nature, when she formed you, said,
  “Independent you are made,
My dear little Caty-did:
Soon yourself must disappear
With the verdure of the year,”
And to go, we know not where,
  With your song of Caty-did.
 

To a Honey Bee
 
 
THOU, born to sip the lake or spring,
  Or quaff the waters of the stream,
Why hither come, on vagrant wing?
  Does Bacchus tempting seem,—
    Did he for you this glass prepare?
    Will I admit you to a share?
 
Did storms harass or foes perplex,
  Did wasps or king-birds bring dismay,—
Did wars distress, or labors vex,
  Or did you miss your way?
    A better seat you could not take
    Than on the margin of this lake.
 
Welcome!—I hail you to my glass:
  All welcome here you find;
Here let the cloud of trouble pass,
  Here be all care resigned.
    This fluid never fails to please,
    And drown the griefs of men or bees.
 
What forced you here we cannot know,
  And you will scarcely tell,
But cheery we would have you go
  And bid a glad farewell:
    On lighter wings we bid you fly,—
    Your dart will now all foes defy.
 
Yet take not, oh! too deep a drink,
  And in this ocean die;
Here bigger bees than you might sink,
  Even bees full six feet high.
    Like Pharaoh, then, you would be said
    To perish in a sea of red.
 
Do as you please, your will is mine;
  Enjoy it without fear,
And your grave will be this glass of wine,
  Your epitaph—a tear;
    Go, take your seat in Charon’s boat;
    We ’ll tell the hive, you died afloat.
 
BACK | TOC | FORWARD