The poem “Pocahontas” by L. H. Sigourney, was published in 1841. There are 56 chapters, and I cannot believe the poet wanted the final six to be part of the poem, but wrote them later, in 1841, in order that the poem be published. Those stanzas read outside the language of the first 50, and do not carry the message of the first 50.
1841 was 165 years ago, but 220 or so years after Pocahontas died. In this sense, we in America are closer to Sigourney’s time, than Sigourney is to Pocahontas’s time.
The young cavalier in the last line of that stanza is John Rolfe, who is cast in this poem as an equally Edenic figure, the American Adam destined to bridge the mythical past with the colonial future. In this poem, as in many other19th century Pocahontas odes, the omniscient narrating voice tells us that Pocahontas possesses the ideal Christian, feminine demeanor, even before Englishmen ever set foot on American soil. She is the embodiment of the noble simplicity of nature. The union of the idealized European gentleman— sometimes John Smith, sometimes it is John Rolfe— with the noble savage maiden is the most powerful force behind the Pocahontas mythology. In the marriage of the two, one may clearly read the preferred metaphor of American settlement: the sublime wilderness subdued and converted to English purposes presented as a divine seduction. It serves as a connection to the pre-Columbian history of this land as well as an antidote to the unsavory 19th century reality of Indian removal and genocide.
Without those last add-on stanzas, the poems reads more like a bridge to understanding that Native Americans are people like anyone, women like any women, Christians like any Christians, children like any children, lovers like any lovers.
More importantly, however, is that it is written to show and give respect to Pocahontas, and her story of guts and love. In other words, Pocahontas to Sigourney is not so much a bridge between the red race and the white race, but a story of Pocahontas the human, living in her remarkable human way. That the Native Americans (or Indians) had a nature religion, or that they worshipped in this way or behaved in that, is never put down in the first 50 stanzas. Sigourney shows how Christ was in Pocahonatas’ life before the English landed with their Bibles and sermons. This is a bridge, not only of peoples, but religions.
I am not putting Sigourney into the 20th century here with Gandhi et al, but just to say she saw that much. In this way the poem, whether 165 or 175 or 185 years after is was originally written, has a drama, wherein we can hope Sigourney has the strength of mind to be as great as she can with the great themes she takes up. The added years of history and culture change, from Sigourney’s time to ours, make for a suspenseful read. But moreso, they bring to bear a perspective, with empathy the world can always use.
published in 1841
by L. H. (Lydia Howard) Sigourney (1791-1865)
Clime of the West ! that, slumbering long and deep,
Beneath thy misty mountains’ solemn shade,
And lull’d by melancholy winds that sweep
The unshorn forest and untrodden glade,
Heard not the cry when mighty empires died,
Nor caught one echo from oblivion’s tide,
While age on age its stormy voyage made :
See ! Europe, watching from her sea-girt shore,
Extends the sceptred hand, and bids thee dream no more.
Say, was it sweet, in cradled rest to lie,
And ‘scape the ills the older regions know ?
Prolong the vision’d trance of infancy,
And hide from manhood’s toil, mischance and wo ?
Sweet, by the margin of thy sounding streams
Freely to rove, and nurse illusive dreams,
Nor taste the fruits on thorny trees that grow ?
The evil, and the sorrow, and the crime,
That make the harass’d earth grow old before her time ?
Clime of the West ! that to the hunter’s bow,
And roving hordes of savage men, wert sold,
Their cone-roof’d wigwams pierced the wintry snow,
Their tassel’d corn crept sparsely through the mould,
Their bark canoes thy glorious waters clave,
The chase their glory, and the wild their grave :
Look up ! a loftier destiny behold,
For to thy coast the fair-hair’d Saxon steers,
Rich with the spoils of time, the lore of bards and seers.
Behold a sail ! another, and another !
Like living things on the broad river’s breast ;
What were thy secret thoughts, oh red-brow’d brother,
As toward the shore those white-wing’d wanderers press’d ?
But lo ! emerging from her forest-zone,
The bow and quiver o’er her shoulder thrown,
With nodding plumes her raven tresses dress’d,
Of queenly step, and form erect and bold,
Yet, mute with wondering awe, the New World meets the Old.
Roll on, majestic flood, in power and pride,
Which like a sea doth swell old ocean’s sway ;
With hasting keel, thy pale-faced sponsors glide
To keep the pageant of thy christening day :
They bless thy wave, they bid thee leave unsung
The uncouth baptism of a barbarous tongue,
And take his name–the Stuart’s–first to bind
The Scottish thistle in the lion’s mane,
Of all old Albion’s kings, the most versatile and vain.
Spring robes the vales. With what a flood of light
She holds her revels in this sunny clime ;
The flower-sown turf, like bossy velvet bright,
The blossom’d trees exulting in their prime,
The leaping streamlets in their joyous play,
The birds that frolic mid the diamond spray,
Or heavenward soar, with melody sublime :
What wild enchantment spreads a fairy wing,
As from their prisoning ships the enfranchised strangers spring.
Their tents are pitch’d, their spades have broke the soil,
The strong oak thunders as it topples down,
Their lily-handed youths essay the toil,
That from the forest rends its ancient crown :
Where are your splendid halls, which ladies tread,
Your lordly boards, with every luxury spread,
Virginian sires–ye men of old renown ?
Though few and faint, your ever-living chain
Holds in its grasp two worlds, across the surging main.
Yet who can tell what fearful pangs of wo
Those weary-hearted colonists await,
When to its home the parting ship must go,
And leave them in their exile, desolate ?
Ah, who can paint the peril and the pain,
The failing harvest, and the famish’d train,
The wily foe, with ill-dissembled hate,
The sickness of the heart, the wan despair,
Pining for one fresh draught of its dear native air ?
Yet, mid their cares, one hallow’d dome they rear’d
To nurse devotion’s consecrated flame ;
And there a wondering world of forests heard,
First borne in solemn chant, Jehovah’s name ;
First temple to his service, refuge dear
From strong affliction and the alien’s tear,
How swell’d the sacred song, the glad acclaim :
England, sweet mother ! many fervent prayer
There pour’d its praise to Heaven for all thy love and care.
And they who ‘neath the vaulted roof had bow’d
Of some proud minister of the olden time,
Or where the vast cathedral towards the cloud
Rear’d its dark pile in symmetry sublime,
While through the storied pane the sunbeam play’d,
Tinting the pavement with a glorious shade,
Now breath’d from humblest fane their ancient chime :
And learn’d they not, His presence sure might dwell
With every seeking soul, though bow’d in lowliest cell ?
Yet not quite unadorn’d their house of prayer :
The fragrant offspring of the genial morn
They duly brought ; and fondly offer’d there
The bud that trembles ere the rose is born,
The blue clematis, and the jasmine pale,
The scarlet woodbine, waving in the gale,
The rhododendron, and the snowy thorn,
The rich magnolia, with its foliage fair,
High priestess of the flowers, whose censer fills the air.
Might not such incense please thee, Lord of love ?
Thou, who with bounteous hand dost deign to show
Some foretaste of thy Paradise above,
To cheer the way-worn pilgrim here below ?
Bidd’st thou mid parching sands the flow’ret meek
Strike its frail root and raise its tinted cheek,
And the slight pine defy the arctic snow,
That even the skeptic’s frozen eye may see
On Nature’s beauteous page what lines she writes of Thee ?
What groups, at Sabbath morn, were hither led !
Dejected men, with disappointed frown,
Spoil’d youths, the parents’ darling and their dread,
From castles in the air hurl’d ruthless down,
The sea-bronzed mariner, the warrior brave,
The keen gold-gatherer, grasping at the grave ;
Oft, mid these mouldering walls, which nettles crown,
Stern breasts have lock’d their purpose and been still,
And contrite spirits knelt, to learn their Maker’s will.
Here in this surplice white, the pastor stood,
A holy man, of countenance serene,
Who, mid the quaking earth or fiery flood
Unmoved, in truth’s own paoply, had been
A fair example of his own pure creed ;
Patient of error, pitiful to need,
Persuasive wisdom in his thoughtful mien,
And in that Teacher’s heavenly meekness bless’d,
Who laved his followers’ feet with towel-girded vest.
Music upon the breeze ! the savage stays
His flying arrow as the strain goes by ;
He starts ! he listens ! lost in deep amaze,
Breath half-suppress’d, and lightning in his eyes.
Have clouds spoken ? Do the spirits rise
From his dead fathers’ graves, with wildering melodies ?
Oft doth he muse, ‘neath midnight’s solemn sky,
On those deep tones, which, rising o’er the sod,
Bore forth, from hill to hill, the white man’s hymn to God.
News of the strangers stirr’d Powhatan’s dreams,
The mighty monarch of the tribes that roam
A thousand forests, and on countless streams
Urge the swift bark and dare the cataract’s foam ;
The haughtiest chieftains in his presence stood
Tame as a child, and from the field of blood
His war-cry thrill’d with fear the foeman’s home :
His nod was death, his frown was fix’d as fate,
Unchangeable his love, invincible his hate.
A forest-child, amid the flowers at play !
Her raven locks in strange profusion flowing ;
A sweet, wild girl, with eye of earnest ray,
And olive cheek, at each emotion glowing ;
Yet, whether in her gladsome frolic leaping,
Or ‘neath the greenwood shade unconscious sleeping,
Or with light oar her fairy pinnace rowing,
Still, like the eaglet on its new-fledged wing,
Her spirit-glance bespoke the daughter of a king.
But he, that wily monarch, stern and old,
Mid his grim chiefs, with barbarous trappings bright,
That morn a court of savage state did hold.
The sentenced captive see–his brow how white !
Stretch’d on the turf his manly form lies low,
The war-club poises for its fatal blow,
The death-mist swims before his darken’d sight :
Forth springs the child, in tearful pity bold,
Her head on his declines, her arms his neck enfold.
“The child ! what madness fires her ? Hence ! Depart !
Fly, daughter, fly ! before the death-stroke rings ;
Divide her, warriors, from that English heart.”
In vain ! for with convulsive grasp she clings :
She claims a pardon from her frowning sire ;
Her pleading tones subdue his gather’d ire ;
And so, uplifting high his feathery dart,
That doting father gave the child her will,
And bade the victim live, and be his servant still.
Know’st thou what thou hast done, thou dark-hair’d child ?
What great events on thy compassion hung ?
What prowess lurks beneath yon aspect mild,
And in the accents of that foreign tongue ?
As little knew the princess who descried
A floating speck on Egypt’s turbid tide,
A bulrush-ark the matted reeds among,
And yielding to an infant’s tearful smile,
Drew forth Jehovah’s seer, from the devouring Nile.
In many a clime, in many a battle tried,
By Turkish sabre and by Moorish spear ;
Mid Afric’s sands, or Russian forests wide,
Romantic, bold, chivalrous, and sincere,
Keen-eyed, clear-minded, and of purpose pure,
Dauntless to rule, or patient to endure,
Was he whom thou hast rescued with a tear :
Thou wert the saviour of the Saxon vine,
And for this deed alone our praise and love are thine.
Nor yet for this alone shall history’s scroll
Embalm thine image with a grateful tear ;
For when the grasp of famine tried the soul,
When strength decay’d, and dark despair was near,
Who led her train of playmates, day by day,
O’er rock, and stream, and wild, a weary way,
Their baskets teeming with the golden ear ?
Whose generous hand vouchsafed its tireless aid
To guard a nation’s germ ? Thin, thine, heroic maid !
On sped the tardy seasons, and the hate
Of the pale strangers wrung the Indian breast.
Their hoary prophet breathed the ban of fate :
“Hence with the thunderers ! Hide their race, un-bless’d
Deep ‘neath the soil they falsely call their own ;
For from our fathers’ graves a hollow moan,
Like the lash’d surge, bereaves my soul of rest.
‘They come ! They come !’ it cries. ‘Ye once were brave :
Will ye resign the world that the Great Spirit gave ?'”
Yet ‘neath the settled countenance of guile
They veil’d their vengeful purpose, dark and dire,
And wore the semblance of a quiet smile,
To lull the victim of their deadly ire :
But ye, who hold of history’s scroll the pen,
Blame not too much those erring, red-brow’d men,
Though nursed in wiles. Fear is the white-lipp’d sire
Of subterfuge and treachery. ‘Twere in vain
To bid the soul be true, that writhes beneath his chain.
Night, moonless night ! The forest hath no sound
But the low shiver of its dripping leaves,
Save here and there, amid its depths profound,
The sullen sigh the prowling panther heaves,
Save the fierce growling of the cubless bear,
Or tramp of gaunt wolf rushing from his lair,
Where its slow coil the poisonous serpent weaves :
Who dares the dangerous path at hour so wild,
With fleet and fawnlike step ? Powhattan’s fearless child !
“Up, up–away ! I heard the words of power,
Those secret vows that seal a nation’s doom,
Bid the red flame burst forth at midnight hour,
And make th’ unconscious slumberer’s bed his tomb,
Spare not the babe–the rose-leaf of a day–
But shred the sapling, like the oak, away.
I heard the curse ! My soul is sick with gloom :
Wake, chieftains, wake ! avert the hour of dread !”
And with that warning voice the guardian fled.
On sped the seasons, and the forest-child
Was rounded to the symmetry of youth ;
While o’er her features stole, serenely mild,
The trembling sanctity of woman’s truth,
Her modesty, and simpleness, and grace :
Yet those who deeper scan the human face,
Amid the trial-hour of fear or ruth,
Might clearly read, upon its heaven-writ scroll,
That high and firm resolve which nerved the Roman soul.
The simple sports that charm’d her childhood’s way,
Her greenwood gambols mid the matted vines,
The curious glance of wild and searching ray,
Where innocence with ignorance combines,
Were changed for deeper thought’s persuasive air,
Or that high port a princess well might wear :
So fades the doubtful star when morning shines ;
So melts the young dawn at the enkindling ray,
And on the crimson cloud casts off its mantle gray.
And holy was the voice that taught her ear
How for our sins the Lord of life was slain ;
While o’er the listener’s bosom flow’d the tear
Of wondering gratitude, like spring-tide rain.
New joys burst forth, and high resolves were born
To choose the narrow path that worldlings scorn,
And walk therein. Oh, happy who shall gain
From the brief cloud that in his path may lie
A heritage sublime, a mansion in the sky.
In graceful youth, within the house of prayer,
Who by the sacred font so humbly kneels,
And with a tremulous yet earnest air,
The deathless vow of Christian fealty seals ?
The Triune Name is breathed with hallow’d power,
The dew baptismal bathes the forest-flower,
And, lo ! her chasten’d smile that hope reveals
Which nerved the weary dove o’er floods unbless’d
The olive-leaf to pluck, and gain the ark of rest.
Another change. The captive’s lot grew fair :
A soft illusion with her reveries blent,
New charms dispell’d her solitary care,
And hope’s fresh dewdrops gleam’d where’er she went ;
Earth seem’d to glow with Eden’s purple light,
The fleeting days glanced by on pinions bright,
And every hour a rainbow lustre lent ;
While, with his tones of music in her ear,
Love’s eloquence inspired the high-born cavalier.
Yet love, to her pure breast was but a name
For kindling knowledge, and for taste refined,
A guiding lamp, whose bright, mysterious flame
Led on to loftier heights the aspiring mind.
Hence flow’d the idiom of a foreign tongue
All smoothly o’er her lip ; old history flung
Its annal wide, like banner on the wind,
And o’er the storied page, with rapture wild,
A new existence dawn’d on nature’s fervent child.
A throng is gathering ; for the hallow’d dome
At evening tide is rich with sparkling light,
And from its verdant bound each rural home
Sends forth its blossom’d gifts, profusely bright ;
While here and there, amid the clustering flowers,
Some stately chief or painted warrior towers,
Hail’d as a brother mid the festal rite :
Peace waves her garland o’er the favour’d place
Where weds the new-born West, with Eurpoe’s lordly race.
A group before the altar. Breathe thy vow,
Loving and stainless one, without a fear ;
For he who wins thee to his bosom now,
Gem of the wild, unparalleled and dear,
Will guard thee ever, as his treasure rare,
With changeless tenderness and constant care ;
How speaks his noble brow a soul sincere,
While the old white-hair’d king, with eye of pride,
Gives to his ardent hand the timid, trusting bride.
Not with more heartfelt joy the warlike bands
Of Albion, spent with long, disastrous fray,
Beheld young Tudor cleanse his blood-stain’d hands,
And lead the blooming heir of York away,
“Neath the sweet music of the marriage bells ;
Then on those tented hills and ravage dells
The War of Roses died : no more the ray
Of white or red, the fires of hate illumed,
But from their blended roots the rose of Sharon bloom’d.
Young wife, how beautiful the months swept by.
Within thy bower methinks I view thee still :
The meek observance of thy lifted eye
Bent on thy lord, and prompt to do his will,
The care for him, the happiness to see
His soul’s full confidence repose in thee,
The sacrifice of self, the ready skill
In duty’s path, the love without alloy,
These gave each circling year a brighter crown of joy.
Out on the waters ! On the deep, deep sea !
Out, out upon the waters ! Surging foam,
Swell’d by the winds, rolls round her wild and free,
And memory wandereth to her distant home,
To fragrant gales, the blossom’d boughs that stir,
To the sad sire who fondly dreams of her ;
But kindling smiles recall the thoughts that roam,
For at her side a bright-hair’d nursling plays,
While bends her bosom’s lord with fond, delighted gaze.
And this is woman’s world. It matters not
Though in the trackless wilderness she dwell,
Or on the cliff where hangs the Switzer’s cot,
Or in the subterranean Greenland cell :
Her world is in the heart. Rude storms may rise,
And dark eclipse involve ambition’s skies,
But dear affection’s flame burns pure and well,
And therefore ’tis, with such a placid eye,
She sooths her loved one’s pangs, or lays her down to die.
Lo ! Albion’s cliffs, in glorious light that shine,
Welcome the princess of the infant West.
‘Twas nobly done, thou queen of Stuart’s line,
To sooth the tremours of that stranger’s breast ;
And when, upon thy ladies richly dight,
She, through a flood of ebon tresses bright,
Uplifts the glances of a timid guest,
What saw she there ? The greeting smiles that brought
O’er her own lofty brow its native hues of thought.
But what delighted awe her accents breathed,
The gorgeous domes of ancient days to trace,
The castellated towers, with ivy wreathed,
The proud mementoes of a buried race ;
Or ‘neath some mighty minster’s solemn pile,
Dim arch, and fretted roof, and long-drawn aisle,
How rush’d the heart’s blood wildly to her face,
When, from the living organ’s thunder-chime,
The full Te Deum burst in melody sublime.
Yet, mid the magic of those regal walls,
The glittering train, the courtier’s flattering tone,
Or by her lord, through fair ancestral halls,
Led on, to claim their treasures as her own,
Stole back the scenery of her solitude :
An aged father, in his cabin rude,
Mix’d with her dreams a melancholy moan,
Notching his simple calendar with pain,
And straining his red eye to watch the misty main.
Prayer, prayer for him ! when the young dawn arose
With its gray banner, or red day declined,
Up went his name, forever blent with those
Most close and strong around her soul entwined,
Husband and child ; and, as the time drew near
To fold him to her heart with filial tear,
For her first home her warm affections pined.
That time–it came not ! for a viewless hand
Was stretch’d to bar her foot from her green childhood’s land.
Sweet sounds of falling waters, cool and clear,
The crystal streams, her playmates, far away,
Oft, oft their dulcet music mock’d her ear,
As, restless, on her fever’d couch she lay ;
Strange visions hover’d round, and harpings high,
From spirit-bands, and then her lustrous eye
Welcomed the call ; but earth resumed its sway,
And all its sacred ties convulsive twined.
How hard to spread the wing, and leave the loved behind.
Sunset in England at the autumn prime !
Through foliage rare, what floods of light were sent !
The full and whitening harvest knew its time,
And to the sickle of the reaper bent ;
Forth rode the winged seeds upon the gale,
New homes to find ; but she, with lip so pale,
Who on the arm of her beloved leant,
Breathed words of tenderness, with smile serene,
Though faint and full of toil, the gasp and groan between.
“Oh, dearest friend, Death, cometh ! He is here,
Here at my heart ! Air ! air ! that I may speak
My hoarded love, my gratitude sincere,
To thee and to thy people. But I seek
In vain. Though most unworthy, yet I hear
A call, a voice too bless’d for mortal ear ;”
And with a marble coldness on her cheek,
And one long moan, like breaking harp-string sweet,
She bare the unspoken lore to her Redeemer’s feet.
Gone ? Gone ? Alas ! the burst of wild despair
That rent his bosom who had loved so well ;
He had not yet put forth his strength to bear,
So suddenly and sore the death-shaft fell :
Man hath a godlike might in danger’s hour,
In the red battle, ot the tempest’s power ;
Yet is he weak when tides of anguish swell ;
Ah, who can mark with cold and tearless eyes
The grief of stricken man when his sole idol dies !
And she had fled, in whom his heart’s deep joy
Was garner’d up ; fled, like the rushing flame,
And left no farewell for her fair young boy.
Lo ! in his nurse’s arms he careless came,
A noble creature, with his full dark eye
And clustering curls, in nature’s majesty ;
But, with a sudden shriek, his mother’s name
Burst from his lips, and, gazing on the clay,
He stretch’d his eager arms where the cold sleeper lay.
“Oh mother ! mother !” Did that bitter cry
Send a shrill echo through the realm of death ?
Look, to the trembling fringes of the eye.
List, the sharp shudder of returning breath,
The spirit’s sob ! They lay him on her breast ;
One long, long kiss on his bright brow she press’d ;
Even from heaven’s gate of bliss she lingereth,
To breathe one blessing o’er his precious head,
And then her arm unclasps, and she is of the dead.
The dead ! the sainted dead ! why should we weep
At the last change their settled features take ?
At the calm impress of that holy sleep
Which care and sorrow never more shall break ?
Believe we not His word who rends the tomb,
And bids the slumberers from that transient gloom
In their Redeemer’s glorious image wake ?
Approach we not the same sepulchral bourne
Swift as the shadow fleets ? What time have we to mourn ?
A little time thou found’st, O pagan king,
A little space, to murmur and repine :
Oh, bear a few brief months affliction’s sting,
And gaze despondent o’er the billowy brine,
And then to the Great Spirit, dimly traced
Through cloud and tempest, and with fear embraced,
In doubt and mystery, thy breath resign ;
And to thy scorn’d and perish’d people go,
From whose long-trampled dust our flowers and herbage grow.
Like the fallen leaves those forest-tribes have fled :
Deep ‘neath the turf their rusted weapon lies ;
No more their harvest lifts its golden head,
Nor from their shaft the stricken red-deer flies :
But from the far, far west, where holds, so hoarse,
The lonely Oregon, its rock-strewn course,
While old Pacific’s sullen surge replies,
Are heard their exiled murmurings deep and low,
Like one whose smitten soul departeth full of wo.
I would ye were not, from your father’s soil,
Track’d like the dun wolf, ever in your breast
The coal of vengeance and the curse of toil ;
I would we had not to your mad lip prest
The fiery poison-cup, nor on ye turn’d
The blood-tooth’d ban-dog, foaming, as he burn’d
To tear your flesh ; but thrown in kindness bless’d
The brother’s arm around ye, as ye trod,
And led ye, sad of heart, to the bless’d Lamb of God.
Forgotten race, farewell ! Your haunts we tread,
Our mighty riverse speak your words of yore,
Out mountains wear them on their misty head,
Our sounding cataracts hurl them to the shore ;
But on the lake your flashing oar is still,
Hush’d is your hunter’s cry on dale and hill,
Your arrow stays the eagle’s flight no more ;
And ye, like troubled shadows, sink to rest
In unremember’d tombs, unpitied and unbless’d.
The council-fires are quench’d, that erst so red
Their midnight volume mid the groves entwined ;
King, stately chief, and warrior-host are dead,
Nor remnant nor memorial left behind :
But thou, O forest-princess, true of heart,
When o’er our fathers waved destruction’s dart,
Shalt in their children’s loving hearts be shrined ;
Pure, lonely star, o’er dark oblivion’s wave,
It is not meet thy name should moulder in the grave.
. . .