Southern Poets and Poems, Part IX

A series by Clyde Wilson

EDWARD COOTE PINKNEY (1802-1828) of Maryland was born and partly raised in England where his father, William Pinkney, was the U.S. Minister.  After publishing a good deal of poetry, he attempted to join the Mexican Navy during that country’s war of independence. From this venture Pinkney returned home to Baltimore, his health shattered.  He continued to write prolifically well-regarded verse until his death at 27.  Pinkney’s grave is located near Sidney Lanier’s in Baltimore.

The Indian’s Bride

I

Why is that graceful female here

With yon red hunter of the deer?

Of gentle mien and shape, she seems

For civil halls designed,

Yet with the stately savage walks

As she were of his kind.

Look on her leafy diadem,

Enriched with many a floral gem:

Those simple ornaments about

Her candid brow, disclose

The loitering Spring’s last violet,

And Summer’s earliest rose;

But not a flower lies breathing there,

Sweet as herself, or half so fair.

Exchanging lustre with the sun,

A part of day she strays—

A glancing, living, human smile,

On nature’s face she plays.

Can none instruct me what are these

Companions of the lofty trees?—

II

Intent to blend with his her lot,

Fate formed her all that he was not;

And, as by mere unlikeness thoughts

Associate we see,

Their hearts from very difference caught

A perfect sympathy.

The household goddess here to be

Of that one dusky votary—

She left her pallid countrymen,

An earthling most divine.

And sought in this sequestered wood

A solitary shrine.

Behold them roaming hand in hand,

Like night and sleep, along the land;

Observe their movements:—he for her

Restrains his active stride,

While she assumes a bolder gait

To ramble at his side:

Thus, even as the steps they frame,

Their souls fast alter to the same.

The one forsakes ferocity,

And momently grows mild;

The other tempers more and more

The artful with the wild.

She humanizes him, and he

Educates her to liberty.

III

Oh, say not they must soon be old,

Their limbs prove faint, their breasts feel cold!

Yet envy I that sylvan pair,

More than my words express,

The singular beauty of their lot,

And seeming happiness.

They have not been reduced to share

The painful pleasures of despair:

Their sun declines not in the sky,

Nor are their wishes cast,

Like shadows of the afternoon,

Repining towards the past:

With naught to dread, or to repent,

The present yields them full content.

In solitude there is no crime;

Their actions are all free,

And passion lends their way of life

The only dignity;

And how should they have any cares

Whose interest contends with theirs?—

IV

The world, or all they know of it,

Is theirs:—for them the stars are lit;

For them the earth beneath is green,

The heavens above are bright;

For them the moon doth wax and wane,

And decorate the night;

For them the branches of those trees

Wave musick in the vernal breeze;

For them upon that dancing spray

The free bird sits and sings,

And glitt’ring insects flit about

Upon delighted wings;

For them that brook, the brakes among,

Murmurs its small and drowsy song;

For them the many coloured clouds

Their shapes diversify,

And change at once, like smiles and frowns,

Th’ expression of the sky.

For them, and by them, all is gay,

And fresh and beautiful as they:

The images their minds receive,

Their minds assimilate,

To outward forms imparting thus

The glory of their state.

Could aught be painted otherwise

Than fair, seen through her star-bright eyes?

He too, because she fills his sight,

Each object falsely sees;

The pleasure that he has in her,

Makes all things seem to please.

And this is love;—and it is life

They lead, that Indian and his wife.

*

The Old Tree

And is it gone, that venerable tree,

The old spectator of my infancy!—

It used to stand upon this very spot,

And now almost its absence is forgot.

I knew its mighty strength had known decay,

Its heart, like every old one, shrunk away,

But dreamt not that its frame would fall, ere mine

At all partook my weary soul’s decline.

II

The great reformist, that each day removes

The old, yet never on the old improves

The dotard, Time, that like a child destroys,

As sport or spleen may prompt, his ancient toys,

And shapes their ruins into something new—

Has planted other playthings where it grew.

The wind pursues an unobstructed course,

Which once among its leaves delayed perforce;

The harmless Hamadryad, that, of yore,

Inhabited its bole, subsists no more;

Its roots have long since felt the ruthless plow—

There is no vestige of its glories now!

But in my mind, which doth not soon forget,

That venerable tree is growing yet;

Nourished, like those wild plants that feed on air,

By thoughts of years unconversant with care,

And visions such as pass ere man grows wholly

A fiendish thing, or mischief adds to folly.

I still behold it with my fancy’s eye,

A vernant record of the days gone by:

I see not the sweet form and face more plain,

Whose memory was a weight upon my brain.

—Dear to my song, and dearer to my soul,

Who knew but half my heart, yet had the whole

Sun of my life, whose presence and whose flight

Its brief day caused, and never ending night!

Must this delightless verse, which is indeed

The mere wild product of a worthless weed,

(But which, like sun-flowers, turns a loving face

Towards the lost light, and scorns its birth and place,)

End with such cold allusion unto you,

To whom, in youth, my very dreams were true?

It must; I have no more of that soft kind,

*My age is not the same, nor is my mind.

*Horace.  [Pinkney’s note.]

                                  * * * * ** * * *

THE ALAMO

Last Message from the Alamo

Commandancy of the Alamo, Bexar, Feb. 24, 1836

FELLOW-CITIZENS AND COMPATRIOTS:  I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa  Anna.  I have sustained a continued  bombardment for twenty-four hours, and have not lost a man.  The enemy  have demanded a surrender at discretion; otherwise the garrison is to be  put to the sword, if the place is taken. I have answered the summons with a cannon-shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism, and of everything dear to the American character to come to our aid with all dispatch. The enemy are receiving reinforcements daily, and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. Though this call may be neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible, and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honour and that of his country. Victory or death!

          W. Barrett Travis, Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding

*

Original Memorial Inscription at the Alamo

To the God of the Fearless and Free is dedicated this Altar made  from the Ruins of the Alamo.

Thermopylae had her Messenger of Defeat, but the Alamo had none.

Be they enrolled with Leonidas in the Host of the Mighty

Dead.

Blood of Heroes hath stained me, let the Stones of the Alamo speak that their Immolation be not forgotten.

*

STARK YOUNG (1881—1963) of Mississippi is best known as one of the Twelve Southerners of the manifesto I’ll Take My Stand, for his novel So Red the Rose, and for his drama criticism. He wrote this tribute to Southern history early in his career. 

The Alamo

Is then Thermopylae come from the shade

Of  ancient death and grand oblivion?

Ere dawn they charge.  Stand,  little  garrison!

On, fail not God and Texas! They have made

The wall—hold  then your church and carronade.

The loop-holes flame, the aqueducts will run

Crimson with blood—ye fight a score with one.

The smoke dies down,  your glory cannot fade.

The rising sun finds death and silence there.

Beside the wall Travis lies slain, and nigh

The chapel glorious Crockett, fallen among

The hostile carnage and our few. Hear,

O Mexico! This is no victory,

For from these veins are wells of  freedom sprung!

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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