Sunday, April 24, 2011
I Like It Not
It is the spot I came to seek—Elizabeth Kuebler-Wolf, "The 'Earlier, Wilder Image': Early Artists of the American West," in The World of the American West, ed. Gordon Morris Bakken (New York: Routledge, 2011), pp. 183-200 (at 187-189) astutely compares Bryant's poem with an anonymous folk painting, ca. 1850, entitled The Indian's Lament (Columbus Museum of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 1967.057). I can't find a good color reproduction of the painting, but here it is from figure 7.5 of Kuebler-Wolf (p. 189):
My father's ancient burial-place,
Ere from these vales, ashamed and weak,
Withdrew our wasted race.
It is the spot—I know it well— 5
Of which our old traditions tell.
For here the upland bank sends out
A ridge toward the river-side;
I know the shaggy hills about,
The meadows smooth and wide, 10
The plains, that, toward the southern sky,
Fenced east and west by mountains lie.
A white man, gazing on the scene,
Would say a lovely spot was here,
And praise the lawns, so fresh and green, 15
Between the hills so sheer.
I like it not—I would the plain
Lay in its tall old groves again.
The sheep are on the slopes around,
The cattle in the meadows feed, 20
And laborers turn the crumbling ground,
Or drop the yellow seed,
And prancing steeds, in trappings gay,
Whirl the bright chariot o'er the way.
Methinks it were a nobler sight 25
To see these vales in woods arrayed,
Their summits in the golden light,
Their trunks in grateful shade,
And herds of deer that bounding go
O'er hills and prostrate trees below. 30
And then to mark the lord of all,
The forest hero, trained to wars,
Quivered and plumed, and lithe and tall,
And seamed with glorious scars,
Walk forth, amid his reign, to dare 35
The wolf, and grapple with the bear.
This bank, in which the dead were laid,
Was sacred when its soil was ours;
Hither the silent Indian maid
Brought wreaths of beads and flowers, 40
And the gray chief and gifted seer
Worshipped the god of thunders here.
But now the wheat is green and high
On clods that hid the warrior's breast,
And scattered in the furrows lie 45
The weapons of his rest;
And there, in the loose sand, is thrown
Of his large arm the mouldering bone.
Ah, little thought the strong and brave
Who bore their lifeless chieftain forth— 50
Or the young wife that weeping gave
Her first-born to the earth,
That the pale race, who waste us now,
Among their bones should guide the plough.
They waste us—ay—like April snow 55
In the warm noon, we shrink away;
And fast they follow, as we go
Toward the setting day—
Till they shall fill the land, and we
Are driven into the Western sea. 60
But I behold a fearful sign,
To which the white men's eyes are blind;
Their race may vanish hence, like mine,
And leave no trace behind,
Save ruins o'er the region spread, 65
And the white stones above the dead.
Before these fields were shorn and tilled,
Full to the brim our rivers flowed;
The melody of waters filled
The fresh and boundless wood; 70
And torrents dashed and rivulets played,
And fountains spouted in the shade.
Those grateful sounds are heard no more,
The springs are silent in the sun;
The rivers, by the blackened shore, 75
With lessening current run;
The realm our tribes are crushed to get
May be a barren desert yet.
Note both the burial place and the tree stumps. Cf. also William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870), The Yemassee. A Romance of Carolina, Vol. I (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1843), p. 102 (Chapter XI):
To one, he painted the growing insolence of the whites, increasing with their increasing strength, almost too great already, for any control or management from them. To another, he described the ancient glories of his nation, rapidly departing in the subservience with which their chiefs acknowledged the influence, and truckled to the desires of the English. To a third he deplored the loss of the noble forests of his forefathers, hewn down by the axe, to make way for the bald fields of the settler; despoiled of game, and leaving the means of life utterly problematical to the hunter. In this way, with a speech accommodated to every feeling and understanding, he went over the town. To all, he dwelt with Indian emphasis upon the sacrilegious appropriation of the old burial-places of the Yemasseeone of which, a huge tumulus upon the edge of the river, lay almost in their sight, and traces of which survive to this day, in melancholy attestation of their past history.