The Rough Rider and Other Poems

by Bliss Carman


 

THE ROUGH RIDER


 

THERE lift the peaks of purple,
Where dip the dusty trails,
Where gleaming, teeming cities
Lie linked by shining rails,
By shadow-haunted camp-fire,
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Beneath the great white dome,
In saddle and in council
Intrepid and at home,

Who is the hardy figure
Of virile fighting strain,

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With valor and conviction
In heart, and hand, and brain?
Sprung from our old ideals
To serve our later needs,
He is the modern Roundhead,
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The man who rides and reads.

No pomp of braid and feathers,
No flash of burnished gear,
He wears the plainsman’s outfit
Sufficient and severe.

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With no imperial chevron
Upon his khaki sleeve,
He thinks by no made doctrine,
He speaks by no man’s leave.

The breed and creed and schooling

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Of Harvard and the plains,
Six hundred years of fighting
For freedom in his veins,
Let no one think to wheedle,
To buy, coerce, nor cheat,
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The man who loves the open,
The man who knows the street.

He rides not for vain glory,
He fights not for low gain,
But that the range of freedom

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Unravaged shall remain.
As plain as Bible language
And open as the day,
He challenges injustice,
And bids corruption stay.
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Take up, who will, the challenge;
Stand pat on graft and greed;
Grow sleek on others’ labor,
Surfeit on others’ need;
Let paid and bloodless tricksters
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Devise a legal way
Our common right and justice
"To sell, deny, delay."

Not yesterday nor lightly
We came to know that breed;

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Our quarrel with that cunning
Is old as Runnymede.
We saw enfranchised insult
Deploy in kingly line,
When broke our sullen fury
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On Rupert of the Rhine.

At Newbury and Worcester,
Edgehill and Marston Moor,
We got the stubborn courage
To dare and to endure.

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From Ireton and Cromwell
We learned the sword and rein;
Free speech by truth made fearless,
From Hampden, Pym, and Vane.

A thousand years in peril,

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By privilege oppressed,
With loss beyond requital,
Unflinching in our quest,
We sought and bought our freedom
And bore it oversea;
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To keep it still unblighted,
We rode with Grant and Lee.

Now, masking raid and rapine
In debonair disguise,
The foe we thought defeated

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Deludes our careless eyes,
Entrenched in law and largess
And the vested wrong of things,
Cloaking a fouler treason
Than any faithless king’s.
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He takes our life for wages,
He holds our land for rent,
He sweats our little children
To swell his cent per cent;
With secret grip and levy
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On every crumb we eat,
He drives our sons to thieving,
Our daughters to the street.

He lightly sells his honor,
He boldly shames our pride,

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And makes our cause a scandal
For the nations to deride.
So crafty, yet so craven!
One whisper through the mart
Can send him to his coffers
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With panic in his heart.

With no such feeble rancor
As envy moves to hate,
No ignorant detraction
Of goodly things and great,

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But with the wrath unbridled
Of patriots betrayed,—
Of workers duped by brokers,
Of brothers unafraid,—

Against the grim defenses

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Where might and murrain hide,
Unswerving to the issue
Loose-reined and rough we ride
Full tardily, to rescue
Our heritage from wrong,
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And stablish it on manhood,
A thousand times more strong;

Comes now the fearless Message,
The leader, and the time
For every man to muster

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For honor or for crime.
Who would not ride beside him
Into the toughest fight—
For freedom, the republic,
And everlasting right!
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