The Rising Glory of America

by Philip Freneau

Philip Freneau

NOW shall the adventurous muse attempt a strain
More new, more noble, and more flush of fame
Than all that went before—
Now through the veil of ancient days renew
The period fam'd when first Columbus touch'd
These shores so long unknown—through various toils,
Famine, and death, the hero forc'd his way,
Thro' oceans pregnant with perpetual storms,
And climates hostile •o advent'rous man.
But why, to prompt your tears, should we resume
The tale of Cortez, furious chief, ordain'd
With Indian blood to dye the sands, and choak,
Fam'd Mexico, thy streams with dead? or why
Once more revive the tale so oft rehears'd
Of Atabilipa, by thirst of gold,
(All conquering motive in the human breast)
Depriv'd of life, which not Peru's rich ore
Nor Mexico's vast mines could then redeem?
Better these northern realms demand our song
Design'd by nature for the rural reign,
For agriculture's toil.—No blood we shed
For metals buried in a rocky waste.
Curs'd be that ore, which brutal makes mankind,
And prompts mankind to shed a brother's blood.

But whence arose
That vagrant race who love the shady vale,
And choose the forest for their dark abode?—
For long has this perplext the sages skill
To investigate.—Tradition seems to hide
The mighty secret from each mortal eye,
How first these various nations, north and south,
Possest these shores, or from what countri•• came.—
Whether they sprang from some primaeval head
In their own lands, like Adam in the east,—
Yet this the sacred oracles deny,
And reason, too, reclaims against the thought:
For when the general deluge drown'd the world
Where could their tribes have found security,
Where find their fate, but in the ghastly deep?—
Unless, as others dream, some chosen few
High on the Andes 'scap'd the general death,
High on the Andes, wrapt in endless snow,
Where winter in his wildest fury reigns,
And subtle ether scarce our life maintains.—
But here Philosophers oppose the scheme;
This earth, say they, nor hills nor mountains knew
Ere yet the universal flood prevail'd;
But when the mighty waters rose aloft,
Rous'd by the winds they shook their solid base,
And, in convulsions, tore the delug'd world,
Till by the winds assuag'd, again they fell,
And all their ragged bed expos'd to view.
PERHAPS far wandering toward the northern pole
The streights of Zembla, and the frozen zone,
And where the eastern Greenland almost joins
America's north point, the hardy tribes
Of banish'd Jews, Siberians, Tartars wild
Come over icy mountains, or on floats
First reach'd these coasts, hid from the world beside.—
And yet another argument more strange,
Reserv'd for men of deeper thought, and late,
Presents itself to view:—In Pel•g's*days,
(So says the Hebrew seer's unerring pen)
This mighty mass of earth, this solid globe
Was cleft in twain,—divided east and west,
While straight between, the deep Atlantic roll'd.—
And traces indisputable remain
Of this primaeval land, now sunk and lost.—
The islands rising in our eastern main
Are but small fragments of this continent,
Whose two extremities were Newfoundland
And St. Helena.—One far in the north,
Where shivering seamen view with strange surprize
The guiding pole-star glittering o'er their heads;
The other near the southern tropic rears
Its head above the waves—Bermudas' isles,
Cape Verd, Canary, Britain, and the Azores,
With fam'd Hibernia, are but broken parts
Of some prodigious waste, which once sustain'd
Nations and tribes of vanish'd memory,
Forests, and towns, and beasts of every class,
Where navies now explore their briny way.

Your sophistry, Eugenio, makes me smile:
The roving mind of man delights to dwell
On hidden things merely because they're hid:
He thinks his knowledge far beyond all limit,
And boldly fathoms nature's darkest haunts—
But for uncertainties, your broken isles,
Your northern Tartars, and your wandering Jews,
(The flimsy cobwebs of a sophist's brain)
Hear what the voice of history proclaims—
The Carthaginians, ere the Roman yoke
Broke their proud spirits, and enslav'd them too,
For navigation were renown'd as much
As haughty Tyre with all her hundred ••eets,
Full many a league their vent'rous seamen sail'd
Thro' streight Gibraltar, down the western shore
Of Africa, to the Canary isles
By them call'd Fortunate; so Flaccus * sings,
Because eternal spring there clothes the fields
And fruits delicious bloom throughout the year.—
From voyaging here, this inference I draw,
Perhaps some barque with all her numerous crew
Falling to leeward of her destin'd port,
Caught by the eastern trade, was hurried on
Before the unceasing blast to Indian isles,
Brazil, La Plata, or the coasts more south—
There stranded, and unable to return,
Forever from their native skies estrang'd
Doubtless they made these virgin climes their own,
And in the course of long revolving years
A numerous progeny from these arose,
And spread throughout the coasts—those whom we call
Brazilians, Mexicans, Peruvians rich,
The tribes of Chili, Patagon, and those
Who till the shores of Amazonia's stream.
When first the powers of Europe here attain'd
Vast empires, kingdoms, cities, palaces
And polish'd nations stock'd the fertile land.
Who has not heard of Cusco, Lima, and
The town of Mexico—huge cities form'd
From Europe's architecture; ere the arms
Of haughty Spain disturb'd the peaceful soil.—
But here, amid this northern dark domain
No towns were seen to rise.—No arts were here;
The tribes unskill'd to raise the lofty mast,
Or force the daring prow thro' adverse waves,
Gaz'd on the pregnant soil, and crav'd alone
Life from the unaided genius of the ground,—
This indicates they were a different race;
From whom descended 'tis not ours to say—
That power, no doubt, who furnish'd trees, and plants,
And animals, to this vast continent,
Spoke into being man among the rest,
But what a change is here!—what arts arise!
What towns and capitals! how commerce waves
Her gaudy flags, where silence reign'd before!

Speak, my Eugenio, for I've heard you tell
The dismal history, and the cause that brought
The first adventurers to these western shores;
The glorious cause that urg'd our fathers first
To visit climes unknown, and wilder woods
Than e'er Tartarian or Norwegian saw,
And with fair culture to adorn that soil
Which never felt the industrious swain before.

All this long story to rehearse, would tire,
Besides, the sun toward the west retreats,
Nor can the noblest theme retard his speed,
Nor loftiest verse—not that which sang the fall
Of Troy divine, and fierce Achilles ire.
Yet hear a part:—By persecution wrong'd,
And sacerdotal rage, our fathers came
From Europe's hostile shores to these abodes,
Here to enjoy a liberty in faith,
Secure from tyranny and base controul.
For this they left their country and their friends,
And dar'd the Atlantic wave in quest of peace;
And found new shores, and sylvan settlements,
And men, alike unknowing and unknown.
Hence, by the care of each advent'rous chief
New governments (their wealth unenvied yet)
Were form'd on liberty and virtue's plan.
These searching out uncultivated tracts
Conceiv'd new plans of towns, and capitals,
And spacious provinces—Why should I name
Thee, Penn, the Solon of our western lands;
Sagacious legislator, whom the world
Admires, and mourns: an infant colony,
Nurs'd by thy care, now rises o'er the rest
Like that tall Pyramid in Egypt's waste
O'er all thy neighbouring piles, they also great.
Why should I name these heroes so well known,
Who peopled all the rest from Canada
To Georgia's farthest coasts, West Florida,
Or Apalachian mountains?—Yet what streams
Of blood were shed! what Indian hosts were slain,
Before these days of peace were quite restor'd!

Yes, while they overturn'd the rugged soil
And swept the forests from the shaded plain
'Midst dangers, foes, and death, fierce Indian tribes
With vengeful malice arm'd, and black design,
Oft murder'd or dispers'd these colonies—
Encourag'd, too, by Gallia's hostile sons,
A warlike race, who late their arms display'd
At Quebec, Montreal, and farthest coasts
Of Labrador, or Cape Breton, where now
The British standard awes the subject host.
Here, those brave chiefs, who, lavish of their blood,
Fought in Britannia's cause, in battle fell!—
What heart but mourns the untimely fate of Wolfe,
Who, dying, conquer'd!—or what breast but beats
To share a fate like his, and die like him!

But why alone commemorate the dead,
And pass these glorious heroes by, who yet
Breathe the same air, and see the light with us?—
The dead, Leander, are but empty names,
And they who fall to-day the same to us
As they who fell ten centuries ago—!
Lost are they all that shin'd on earth before;
Rome's boldest champions in the dust are laid,
Ajax and great Achilles are no more,
And Philip's warlike son, an empty shade!—
A WASHINGTON among our sons of fame
We boast—conspicuous as the morning star
Among the inferior lights—
To distant wilds Virginia sent him forth—*
With her brave sons he gallantly oppos'd
The bold invaders of his country's rights,
Where wild Ohio pours the mazy flood,
And mighty meadows skirt these subject streams.—
But now, delighting in his elm tree's shade?
Where deep Potowmac laves the enchanting shore,
He prunes the tender vine, or bids the soil
Luxuriant harvests to the sun display.—
BEHOLD a different scene—not thus employ'd
Were Cortez and Pizarro, pride of Spain,
Whom blood and murder only satisfy'd,
And all to glut ambition!—

Such is the curse, Acasto, where the soul
Humane is wanting—but we boast no feats
Of cruelty like Europe's murdering bre••—
Our milder epithet is merciful,
And each American, true hearted, le••?
To conquer, and to spare; for coward souls
Alone seek vengeance on a vanquish'd foe.
Gold, fatal gold, was the alluring bait
To Spain's rapacious tribe—hence rose the wars
From Chili to the Caribbean sea,
And Montezuma's Mexican domains:
More blest are we, with whose unenvied soil
Nature decreed no mingling gold to shine,
No flaming diamond, precious emerald,
No blushing sapphire, ruby, chrysalite,
Or jasper red—more noble riches flow
From agriculture, and the industrious swain,
Who tills the fertile vale, or mountain's brow,
Content to lead a safe, a humble life
Among his native hills, romantic shades
Such as the Muse of Greece of old did feign,
Allur'd the Olympian gods from chrystal skies,
Envying such lovely scenes to mortal man.

Long has the rural life been justly fam'd,
And bards of old their pleasing pictures drew
Of flowery meads, and groves, and gliding streams:
Hence, old Arcadia—wood-nymphs, satyrs, swains;
And hence Elysium, fancied heaven below!—
Fair agriculture, not unworthy kings,
Once exercis'd the royal hand, or those
Whose virtues rais'd them to the rank of gods.
See old Laertes* in his shepherd weeds
Far from his pompous throne and court august,
Digging the grateful soil, where round him rise,
Sons of the earth, the tall aspiring oaks,
Or orchards boasting of more fertile boughs,
Laden with apples red, sweet scented peach,
Pear, cherry, apricot, or spungy plumb;
While through the glebe the industrious oxen draw
The earth-inverting plough.—Those Romans too,
Fabricius and Camillus, lov'd a life
Of neat simplicity and rustic bliss,
And from the noisy Forum hastening far,
From busy camps, and sycochants, and crowns,
'Midst woods and fields spent the remains of life,
Which full enjoyment only finds for fools.
HOW grateful, to behold the harvests rise,
And mighty crops adorn the extended plains!—
Fair plenty smiles throughout, while lowing herds
Stalk o'er the shrubby hill or grassy mead,
Or at some shallow river slake their thirst.—
The inclosure now succeeds the shepherd's care,
Yet milk-white flocks adorn the well stock'd farm,
And court the attention of the industrious swain—
Their fleece rewards him well; and when the winds
Blow with a keener blast, and from the north
Pour mingled tempests through a sunless sky
(Ice, sleet, and rattling hail) secure he sits
Warm in his cottage, fearless of the storm,
Enjoying now the toils of milder moons,
Yet hoping for the spring.—Such are the joys,
And such the toils of those whom heaven hath bless'd
With souls enamour'd of a country life.

Such are the visions of the rustic re•gn—
But this alone, the fountain of support,
Would scarce employ the varying mind of man;
Each seeks employ, and each a different way:
Strip Commerce of her sail, and men once more
Would be converted into savages—
No nation e'er grew social and refin'd
Till Commerce first had wing'd the adventurous prow,
Or sent the slow-pac'd caravan afar,
To waft their produce to some other clime,
And bring the wish'd exchange—thus came, of old,
Golconda's golden ore, and thus the wealth
Of Ophir to the wisest of mankind.

Great is the praise of commerce, and the men
Deserve our praise, who spread thè undaunted sail,
And traverse every sea—their dangers great,
Death still to combat in the unfeeling gale,
And every billow but a gaping grave:—
There, skies and waters, wearying on the eye,
For weeks and months no other prospect yield
But barren wastes, unfathom'd depths, where not
The blessful haunt of human form is seen
To chear the unsocial horrors of the way—
Yet all these bold designs to Science owe
Their rise and glory—Hail, fair Science! thou,
Transplanted from the eastern skies, dost bloom
In these blest regions—Greece and Rome no more
Detain the Muses on Cithaeron's brow
Or old Olympus, crown'd with waving woods,
Or Haemus' top, where once was heard the harp,
Sweet Orpheus' harp, that gain'd his cause below,
And pierc'd the heart of Orcus and his bride;
That hush'd to silence by its voice divine
Thy melancholy waters, and the gales
O Hebrus! that o'er thy sad surface blow.—
No more the maids round Alpheus' waters stray,
Where he with Arethusa's wave doth mix,
Or where swift Tiber disembogues his waves
Into the Italian sea, so long unsung;
Hither they wing their way, the last the best
Of countries, where the arts shall rise and grow,
And arms shall have their day—Even now we boast
A Franklin, prince of all philosophy,
A genius piercing as the electric fire,
Bright as the lightning's flash, explain'd so well
By him, the rival of Britannia's sage *.—
This is a land of every joyous sound,
Of liberty and life, sweet liberty!
Without whose aid the noblest genius fails,
And Science irretrievably must die.

But come, Eugenio, since we know the past—
What hinders to pervade with searching eye
The mystic scenes of dark Futurity!
Say, shall we ask what empires yet must rise,
What kingdoms, powers and STATES, where now are seen
Mere dreary wastes and awful solitude,
Where melancholy sits, with eye forlorn,
And time anticipates, when we shall spread
Dominion from the north, and south, and west,
Far from the Atlantic to Pacific shores,
And shackle half the convex of the main!—
A glorious theme!—but how shall mortals dare
To pierce the dark events of future years
And scenes unravel, only known to fate?

This might we do, if warm'd by that bright coal
Snatch'd from the altar of cherubic fire
Which touch'd Isaiah's lips—or of the spirit
Of Jeremy and Amos, prophets old,
Might swell the heaving breast—I see, I see
A thousand kingdoms rais'd, cities, and men,
Numerous as sand upon the ocean shore!—
The Ohio soon shall glide by many a town
Of note; and where the Missisippi stream,
By forests shaded, now runs weeping on,
Nations shall grow, and STATES not less in fame
Than Greece and Rome of old!—we too shall boast
Our Alexanders, Pompeys, heroes, kings,
That in the womb of time yet dormant lie,
Waiting the joyous hour of life and light—
O snatch me hence, ye muses, to those days
When through the veil of dark antiquity
Our sons shall hear of us as things remote,
That blossom'd in the morn of days—Alas!
How could I weep that we were born so soon,
Just in the dawning of these mighty times,
When scenes are pregnant with eternity!
Dissentions that shall swell the trump of fame,
And ruin brooding o'er one monarchy!

Nor shall these angry tumults here subside
Nor murders * cease, through all these Provinces,
Till foreign crowns have vanish'd from our view
And dazzle here no more—no more presume
To awe the spirit of fair Liberty—
Vengeance shall cut the thread—and Britain, sure,
Will curse her fatal obstinacy for it!
Bent on the ruin of this injur'd country,
She will not listen to our humble prayers,
Though offer'd with submission.
Like vagabonds, and objects of destruction,
Like those whom all mankind are sworn to hate,
She casts us off from her protection,
And will invite the nations round about,
Russians and Germans, slaves and savages,
To come and have a share in our perdition—
O cruel race, O unrelenting Britain,
Who bloody beasts will hie to cut our throats,
Who war will wage with prattling innocence,
And basely murder unoffending women!—
Will stab their prisoners when they cry for quarter,
Will burn our towns, and from his lodging turn
The poor inhabitant to sleep in tempests!—
These will be wrongs; indeed, and all sufficient
To kindle up our souls to deeds of horror,
And give to every arm te nerves of Sampson—
These are the men that fill the world with ruin,
And every region mourns their greedy sway,
Nor only for ambition!—
But what are this world's goods, that they for them
Should exercise eternal butchery?
What are these mighty riches we possess,
That they should send so far to finger them—?—
Already have we felt their potent arm—
And ever since that inauspicious day,
When first Sir Francis Bernard
His canons planted at the council door,
And made the assembly room a home for strumpets,
And soldiers rank and file—e'er since that day
This wretched land, that drinks its children's gore,
Has been a scene of tumult and confusion—!
Are there not evils in the world enough?
Are we so happy that they envy us?
Have we not toil'd to satisfy their Harpies,
King's deputies, that are insatiable;
Whose practice is to incense the royal mind,
And make us despicable in his view?—
Have we not all the evils to contend with
That, in this life, mankind are subject to,
Pain, sickness, poverty, and natural death—
But into every wound that nature gave
They will a dagger plunge, and make them mortal!

Enough, enough—such dismal scenes you paint,
I almost shudder at the recollection—
What, are they dogs that they would mangle us?—
To brighter skies I turn my ravish'd view,
And fairer prospects from the future draw—
Here independent power shall ?…? sway,
And public virtue warm the patrireast:
No traces shall remain of tyranny,
And laws, a pattern to the world beside
Be here enacted first.—

And when a train of rolling years are past,
(So sung the exil'd seer in Patmos isle)
A new Jerusalem, sent down from heaven,
Shall grace our happy earth—perhaps this land,
Whose ample breast shall then receive, tho' late,
Myria•s of saints, with their immortal king,
To live and reign on earth a thousand years,
Thence called Millennium? Paradise anew
Shall flourish, by no second Adam lost.
No dangerous tree with deadly fruit shall grow,
No tempting serpent to allure the soul
From native innocence.—A Canaan here,
Another Canaan shall excel the old,
And from a fairer Pisgah's top be seen.
No thistle here, nor thorn, nor briar shall spring,
Earth's curse before: The lion and the lamb
In mutual friendship link'd, shall browse the shrub,
And tim'rous deer with soften'd tygers stray
O'er mead, or lofty hill, or grassy plain:
Another Jordan's stream shall glide along,
And Sil•ah's brook in circling eddies flow:
Groves shall adorn their verdant banks, on which
The happy people, free from toils and death,
Shall find secure repose. No fierce disease,
No fevers, slow consumption, ghastly plague,
(Death's ancient ministers) again proclam
Perpetual war with man: Fair fruits shall bloom,
Fair to the eye and grateful to the taste;
Nature's loud streams be hush'd, and seas no more
Rage hostile to mankind—and, worse than all,
The fiercer passions of the human breast
Shall kindle up to deeds of death no more,
But all subside in universal peace.—
Such days the world,
And such, AMERICA, thou first shalt have,
When ages, yet to come, have run their round,
And future years of bliss alone remain.

Last updated January 11, 2023