The Rough Rider and Other Poems

by Bliss Carman


 

THE PURITAN CAPTAIN


 

I SAW in Newtowne lately a vision of the Spring,—
The glory of New England come back with blade and wing.
First came the sturdy willows, in coats of greenish grey
They marched beside the river in jubilant array;
And then along the roadsides where whitening orchards lean,
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The pomp of golden hedges, with bannerings of green;
In deepest garden corners, bringing the wildwood near,
I saw the mystic trillium and the violet appear.

The far-off woodlands floated a mist of greyish blue,
With here and there the sanguine of maples showing through,—

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The careless tinge of valor, the tatters of romance,
Inwoven in the habit of sober circumstance.
Through Craigie Street and Brattle the lilacs brushed the eaves,
Old gables stood transfigured in the miracle of leaves.
And where I passed at sundown under the twilight star,
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Musing of those dead people who made us what we are,

From a colonial doorway, brass-knockered, prim and white,
Stepped forth a valiant figure, and in the uncertain light
Came down the sanded footpath with free imperious stride,
His classic cloak about him, his good sword at his side,

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Uncompromising purpose in every move and line,
And in the clean-bred features a temper proud and fine.
His belted coat was homespun, his hat was steeple-crowned;
He walked and looked about him as one who makes a round.

A touch of old-world breeding both gracious and austere

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In habit and deportment held me as he drew near.
"Good evening, Sir," he greeted the stranger passing by,
"It is a pleasant evening." "It is, indeed," said I.
At once his kindly manner had put me at my ease;
And as he stood there under the arch of lilac trees
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Smiling at my amazement, I felt a kinship rise
To meet the thoughtful forehead, droll mouth, and fearless eyes.

My heart warmed of a sudden with deep ancestral fires.
Here were the very features and fervor of my sires.
He calmly spoke, this Pilgrim, half soldier, half divine,

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Beneath whose grim demeanor I knew the soul benign.
"So God’s eternal springtime comes back to earth once more,
His messenger of beauty to each New England door.
Rejoice ye in that message! I long ago but heard
Stern oracles of goodness, high callings of the word.
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"I did not break Charles Stuart, to let the godless rule.
I did not raise up Cromwell, to tolerate the fool.
And I who fronted Andros the tyrant in Cornhill
And sent him back to cover, am with my people still.
Long, long I fought and suffered the blight of heinous things,—
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The insolence of priesthoods, the arrogance of kings.
Against uncurbed oppression I drove with pike and sword;
And in the cry for justice I knew my spirit’s Lord.

"I did not stop to quibble upon the path I chose.
When came the need for freedom, in freedom’s name I rose,

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To champion ideals that save the world to-day.
Through men account me nothing, my strength shall be their stay.
But while among my people, made strong in peace, I find
Those things for which I battled, clean life and open mind,
I miss the one fine treasure for which the heathen strove,
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The light of happy faces made luminous with love.

"For I who fought so fiercely in my relentless youth
For righteousness of conduct, have come to know this truth:
Ye cannot free man’s spirit and leave his senses bound,
Nor leave unused in heaven the joyance of the ground.

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Ye shall forego not, therefore, the magic of the spring,
Nor miss one pang of rapture the pagan year can bring;
But build the fairer wisdom that shall emerge at length
Into immortal manhood, whose joy shall be its strength.

"Strive on; still waits perfection; the good fight is not done,

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Though we have stretched our borders into the setting sun.
Mistake not great possessions nor might of hand and brain
For hostages of gladness; seek first the surer gain,—
The lightsome heart and sweetness that to the spring belong,
The shine on dappled waters that move both deep and strong."
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I glanced round as he pointed to where the river shone,
And when I turned to question him further, he was gone.