The Washington Memorial Ode.

A poem by James Barron Hope

Certain events, like architects, build up
Viewless cathedrals, in whose aisles the cup
Of some impressive sacrament is kist -
Where thankful nations taste the Eucharist.
Pressed to their lips by some heroic Past
Enthroned like Pontiff in the temple vast -
Where incense rises t'wards the dome sublime
From golden censers in the hands of Time -
Where through the smoke some sculptured saint appears
Crowned with the glories of historic years;
Before whose shrine whole races tell their beads -
From whose pale front each sordid thought recedes,
Gliding away like white and stealthy ghost,
As Memory rears it's consecrated Host,
As blood and body of a sacred name
Make the last supper of some deathless fame.

This the event! Here springs the temple grand,
Whose mighty arches take in all the land!
Its twilight aisles stretch far away and reach
'Mid lights and shadows which defy my speech:
And near its portal which Morn opened wide -
Grey Janitor! - to let in all this tide
Of prayerful men, most solemnly there stands
One recollection, which, for pious hands
Is ready like the Minster's sculptured vase,
With holy water for each reverent face.
And mystic columns, which my fancy views,
Glow in a thousand soft, subduing hues
Flung through the stained windows of the Past in gloom,
Of royal purple o'er our warrior's tomb.

* * * * *

Oh, proud old Commonwealth! thy sacred name
Makes frequent music on the lips of Fame!
And as the nation, in its onward march,
Thunders beneath the Union's mighty arch,
Thine the bold front which every patriot sees
The stateliest figure on its massive frieze.
Oh, proud old State! well may thy form be grand,
'Twas thine to give a Savior to the land.
For, in the past, when upward rose the cry,
"Save or we perish!" thine 'twas to supply
The master-spirit of the storm whose will
Said to the billows in their wrath: "Be still!"
And though a great calm followed, yet the age
In which he saw that mad tornado rage
Made in its cares and wild tempestuous strife
One solemn Passion of his noble life.

This day, then, Countrymen of all the year,
We well may claim to be without a peer:
Amid the rest - impalpable and vast -
It stands a Cheops looming through the past,
Close to the rushing, patriotic Nile
Which here o'erflows our hearts to make them smile
With a rich harvest of devoted zeal,
Men of Virginia, for the Common-weal!

And to our Bethlehem ye who come to-day -
Ye who compose this multitude's array -
Ye who are here from mighty Northern marts
With frankincense and myrrh within your hearts -
Ye who are here from the gigantic West,
The offspring nurtured at Virginia's breast,
Which in development by magic seems
Straight to embody all that Progress dreams -
Ye who are here from summer-wedded lands -
From Carolina's woods to Tampa's sands,
From Florida to Texas broad and free
Where spreads the prairie, like a dark, green sea -
Ye whose bold fathers from Virginia went
In wilds to pitch brave enterprise's tent,
Spreading our faith and social system wide,
By which we stand peculiarly allied! -
Ye Southern men, whose work is but begun,
Whose course is on t'ward regions of the sun,
Whose brave battalions moved to tropic sods
Solemn and certain as though marching gods
Were ordered in their circumstance and state
Beneath the banner of resistless Fate!

Ye have been welcomed, Countrymen, by him [1]
Beside whose speech my rhetoric grows dim -
Whose thoughts are flint and steel - whose words are flame,
For they all stir us like some hero's name:
But once again the Commonwealth extends
Her open hand in welcome to her friends;
Come ye from North, or South, or West, or East,
No bull's head enters at Virginia's feast.
And ye who've journeyed hither from afar,
Know that fair Freedom's liquid morning star
Still sheds its glories in a thousand beams,
Gilding our forests, fountains, mountains, streams,
With light as luminous as on that morn
When the Messiah of the land was born.
Then as we here partake the mystic rites
To which his memory like a priest invites;
Kneeling beside the altars of this day,
Let every heart subdued one moment pray,

* * * * *

That He who lit our morning star's pure light
Will never blot it from the nation's sight;
That He will banish those portentous clouds
Which from so many its effulgence shrouds -
Which none will deem me Hamlet-mad when I
Say hang like banners on the darkened sky,
Suggesting perils in their warlike shape,
Which Heavenly Father grant that we escape!

* * * * *

Why touch upon these topics, do you ask?
Why blend these themes with my allotted task?
My answer's brief, 'tis, Citizens, because
I see fierce warfare made upon the Laws.
A people's poets are that people's seers,
The prophet's faculty, in part, is theirs,
And thus 'tis fit that from this statue's base,
Beneath great Washington's majestic face,
That I should point the dangers which menace
Our social temple's symmetry and grace.

* * * * *

But here I pause, for happier omens look,
And playing Flamen turn to Nature's book:
Where late rich Autumn sat on golden throne,
A stern usurper makes the crown his own;
The courtier woodlands, robbed of all their state,
Stripped of their pomp, look grim and desolate;
Reluctant conscripts, clad in icy mail,
Their captive pleadings rise on every gale.
Now mighty oaks stand like bereaved Lears;
Pennons are furled on all the sedgy spears
Where the sad river glides between its banks,
Like beaten general twixt his pompless ranks;
And the earth's bosom, clad in armor now,
Bids stern defiance to the iron plough,
While o'er the fields so desolate and damp
Invading Winter spreads his hostile camp.[2]

And as he shakes his helmet's snowy plume
The landscape saddens into deeper gloom.
But yet ere many moons have flung to lea,
To begging billows of the hungry sea,
Their generous gold - like oriental queens -
A change will pass o'er all these wintry scenes;
There'll come the coronation of glad Spring,
Grander than any made for bride of king.

* * * * *

Earth's hodden grey will change to livelier hues
Enriched with pearl drops of the limpid dews;
Plenty will stand with her large tranquil eyes
To see her treasures o'er the landscape rise.
Thus may the lover of his country hope
To see again the Nation's spring-tide ope,
And freedom's harvest turn to ripened gold,
So that our world may give unto the old
Of its great opulence, as Joseph gave
Bread to his brothers when they came to crave.

But from his name I've paused too long you think?
Yet he who stands beside Niagra's brink
Breaketh not forth at once of its grand strife;
'Tis thus I stand subdued by his great life -

* * * * *

And with his name a host of others rise,
Climbing like planets, Fame's eternal skies:
Great names, my Brothers! with such deeds allied
That all Virginians glow with filial pride -
That here the multitude shall daily pace
Around this statue's hero-circled base,
Thinking on those who, though long sunk in sleep,
Still round our camp the guard of sentries keep -
Who when a foe encroaches on our line,
Prompt the stern challenge for the countersign -
Who with proud memories feed our bright watch-fire
Which ne'er has faded, never will expire;
Grand benedictions, they in bronze will stand
To guard and consecrate our native land!
Great names are theirs! But his, like battle song,
In quicker current sends our blood along;
For at its music hearts throb quick and large,
Like those of horsemen thundering in the charge.
God's own Knight-Errant! There his figure stands!
Our souls are full - our bonnets in our hands!

When the fierce torrent - lava-like - of bronze
To mould this statue burst it furnace bonds,
When it out-thundered in its liquid flow,
With splendid flame and scintillating glow,
'Twas in its wild tumultuous throb and storm
Type of the age which moulded into form
The god-like character of him sublime,
Whose name is reared a statue for all time
In the great minster of the whole world's heart.

* * * * *

I've called his name a statue. Stern and vast
It rests enthroned upon the mighty past:
Fit plinth for him whose image in the mind
Looms up as that of one by God designed!
Fit plinth in sooth! the mighty past for him
Whose simple name is Glory's synonyme!
E'en Fancy's self, in her enchanted sleep,
Can dream no future which may cease to keep
His name in guard, like sentinel and cry
From Time's great bastions: "It shall never die."

* * * * *

His simple name a statue? Yes, and grand
'Tis reared in this and every other land.
Around its base a group more noble stands
Than e'er was carved by human sculptor's hands,
E'en though each form, like that of old should flush
With vivid beauty's animating blush -
Though dusky bronze, or pallid stone should thrill
With sudden life at some Pygmalion's will -
For these great figures, with his own enshrined,
Are seen, my Countrymen, by men, though blind.

There Valor fronts us with her storied shield,
Brave in devices won on many a field;
A splendid wreath snatched from the carnage grim
Is twined around that buckler's burnished rim,
And as we gaze, the brazen trumpets blare
With shrill vibration shakes the frightened air -
The roll of musketry - the clash of steel -
The clang of hoofs as charging squadrons wheel -
The hoarse command - the imprecative cry -
Swell loud and long, while Fancy's eager eye
Sees the stern van move on with crimson strides
Where Freedom's warrior on his war-horse rides,
Sees the great cannon flash out red and fast
Through battle mists which canopy the past.

And solemn-fronted Truth with earnest eyes,
Stands there serenely beautiful and wise;
Her stately form in undisturbed repose,
Rests by her well, where limpid crystal flows
While on her face, which can severely frown,
A smile is breaking as she gazes down;
For clearly marked upon that tranquil wave
Slumbers his image in a picture brave,
And leaning on the fountain's coping stone,
She scarce can tell his shadow from her own.

And Wisdom, with her meditative gaze,
Beside its base her mighty chart displays;
There with her solemn and impressive hand
Writes as she stoops - as Christ wrote on the sand -
But what she traces all may read - 'tis this:
An invocation by our dreams of bliss -
By hopes to do and by our great deeds done,
The war of sections thro' all time to shun -
She writes the words which almost seem divine,
"Our deadliest foe's a geographic line!"
And Justice, with her face severely grand,
Stands 'mid the group, her balances in hand:
Faultless in judging trivial deeds, or great,
Unmoved by love and unimpressed by hate.
Beside her gleams undimmed by spot, or rust,
A mighty blade to strike when strike she must;
And this bright falchion like that which defends
The guarded gate where earth in Eden ends,
With flame terrific and with ponderous sway
Frightens each Brennus from her scales away.

And there we see pale, pleading Mercy bow,
A troubled shadow on her saintly brow;
Her fringed lashes tremulous with tears,
Which glitter still through all the change of years:
And as we see those tear drops slowly rise,
Giving new softness to her tender eyes,
Away the mists which o'er the dark past drift
Are rent and scattered, while the sudden rift
Shows, like some distant headland vast and dim
Seen through the tempest, the great soul of him
Who guarding against the native traitor, could
Turn from her pleadings for his country's good.

And Honor last completes the stately group,
With eye like eagle's in descending swoop,
Fronted like goddess beautiful and proud
When sailing on the "lazy-pacing cloud":
Prouder her port than that of all the rest,
With radiant forehead and translucent breast,
She needs no gesture of supreme command
For us to know her foremost of the band:
They were his counsellors, she as the mind
By which their promptings were in deeds combined -
In deeds which Fame, like fasces bears before
The noblest consul that earth ever bore.

* * * * *

Why are we here? It were a bitter shame
To pay this homage to a hero's name,
And yet forget the principles which gave
His true defiance to oblivion's wave!
Aye! Sirs, remember when the day is spent,
In Freedom's camp our soldier pitched his tent!
Maintain your own - respect your brother's right -
Thus will you praise Jehovah's belted Knight.

Are we Pompeians gathered here to-day,
Gazing upon our last superb display?
Crowning the hours with many a festal wreath,
While red Vesuvius bubbles underneath?
Oh! no, my Countrymen! This cloud must be
The smoke of incense floating o'er the free!
No lava-flood can e'er o'erwhelm this land,
Held as 'tis holden, in God's mighty hand.

And when the garlands of to-day are pale,
Shall clang of armorers riveting our mail
Rise in harsh dissonance where now the song
In surging music sweeps the land along?
No, Brothers, no! The Providence on high
Stretches above us like the arching sky;
As o'er the world that broad empyrean field,
So o'er the nation God's protecting shield!

* * * * *

His the great will which sways the tide of earth -
His the great will which giveth empires birth -
And this grand truth through every age and clime
Is written out in characters sublime;
But most we see the traces of His hand
In the great Epic of our native land.

This new world had its Adam and he fled -
God's was the voice and God's the mighty tread
Which scared the red man from his Eden bowers
God's the decree which made the garden ours!
And Eden 'twas and such it still remains:
Oh, Brothers! shall we prove a race of Cains?
Shall impious hands be armed with deadly things,
Because we bring up different offerings
Unto our altars? To the Nation's shrine
I take my gift; my brother, take thou thine!
Again I ask: While this proud bronze remains,
Shall this great people prove a race of Cains?
Here make your answer at this statue's base,
Beneath this warrior's calm, majestic face;
And here remember that your best applause
To him is shown in standing by the Laws!
But if our rights shall ever be denied,
I call upon you, by your race's pride,
To seek some "West Augusta" and unfurl
Our banner where the mountain vapors curl:
Lowland and valley then will swell the cry,
He left us free: thus will we live, or die!
One other word, Virginia, hear thy son,
Whose filial service now is nearly done -
Hear me old State! Thou art supremely blest:
A hero's ashes slumber in thy breast!
Oh, Mother! if the ashes of a king
Could nerve to deeds with which Fame's trumpets ring,
What glove of challenger shall make thee start,
When thy great son lies sleeping on thy heart!

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