The Rough Rider and Other Poems

by Bliss Carman


 

THE SPIRIT IN ARMS

(AN INCIDENT OF 1675)


 

WHEN the just ire of England
Arose in daring might
Against the perfidious Stuart,
To uphold a diviner right,
"Let kings learn," said her Commons,
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"Their duty once for all,"
And sent the Lord’s anointed
To the headsman of Whitehall.

But strange are the shifts for freedom,
Heavy tradition’s hand,

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And the days of the avenger
Were not long in the land.
No sooner another Stuart
Was safe on the throne once more,
Than his father’s judges were outlawed,
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Hunted from door to door.

Two oversea for safety
To wild New England fled,
To haunt her forest borders,
With a price upon each head.

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Harried from hiding to hiding,
Eating their bread in haste,
By many a hearth and camp-fire
Their unresting trail was traced.

To-day in sleepy Hadley,

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In its wide, green-shaded street,
They will point you out a dwelling
Was the regicides’ retreat.
Here between ranks of homesteads
Their public common was made
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For pasture and pleasure, protected
From Indian pillage and raid.

Deep in the seeding grasses
The arching elm trees stand,
Under the blue of August,

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With peace over all the land.
On such a day in summer
Seasons and seasons ago,
On this lovely Puritan haven
Descended the stealthy foe.
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The people were all at worship,
When a sudden fiendish yell
Broke on the fast-day stillness;
They knew what it meant full well.
Forth rushed the men from the meeting
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(Armed were they always then),
To find their quiet Main Street
Swarming with painted men.

Trapped, for the instant panic
Unmanning the stoutest there,

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Drove them back to the doorway;
Disaster was in the air.
They saw their wives and children
Given to knife and brand,
And the blood ran back for a moment
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From every hardy hand.

Mazed by the din and horror,
Stampeded by savage war,
Where was the spirit that triumphed
At Naseby and Dunbar?

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Suddenly there before them,
Taking command, was seen
A thrilling resolute presence,
With heroic right in his mien.

At the call of that confident leader

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Their sickened hearts grew bold,
And they thought how the Lord had smitten
The Midianites of old.
Then did the Puritan spirit
Come back to them where they stood,
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And they fell on the shrieking Nipmucks
And drove them back to the wood.

But when the rout was over,
Ere the sweat was wiped away
From the tanned and toil-worn faces

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In thankfulness that day,
They turned to behold the stranger
Who had saved them from worse than death,
And the spirit in arms had vanished,
He had come and gone like a breath.
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Had they but looked on a vision?
Or, seeing them too sore tried,
Had the Lord sent His angel among them?
It was Goffe the regicide.
He had seen from his place of hiding
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The redskins creeping down,
Malignant shapes in the shadows,
On the unoffending town.

And quick to the call of outrage,
He who could have no part

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In the open life of his fellows
Had come to strengthen their heart.
The intrepid soldier of justice
Once more had unsheathed his sword
To defend the rights of a people,
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Ere he passed to the great award.