Old Hudson Rovers

A poem by Michael Earls

(For Joyce Kilmer)

When the dreamy night is on, up the Hudson river,
And the sheen of modern taste is dim and far away,
Ghostly men on phantom rafts make the waters shiver,
Laughing in the sibilance of the silver spray.
Yea, and up the woodlands, staunch in moonlit weather,
Go the ghostly horsemen, adventuresome to ride,
White as mist the doublet-braize, bandolier and feather,
Fleet as gallant Robin Hood in an eventide.

Times are gone that knew the craft in the role of rovers,
Fellows of the open, care could never load:
Unalarmed for bed or board, they were leisure's lovers,
Summer bloomed in story on the Hyde Park Road.
Summer was a blossom, but the fruit was autumn,
Fragrant haylofts for a bed, cider-cakes in store,
Warmer was a cup they know, when the north wind caught 'em
Down at Benny Havens' by the West Point shore.

Idlers now-and loafers pass, joy is out of fashion,
Honest fun that fooled a dog or knew a friendly gate,
Now the craft are vagabonds, sick with modern passion,
Riding up and down the shore, on an aching freight;
Sullen are the battered looks, cheerless talk or tipsy,
Sickly in the smoky air, starving in the day,
Pining for a city's noise at Kingston or Po'keepsie,
Eager more for Gotham and a great White Way.

Rich is all the countryside, but glory has departed,
What if yachts and mansions be, by the river's marge!
Dim though was a hillside, lamps were happy-hearted,
Near the cove of Rondout in a hut or barge.
Silken styles are tyrants, fashion kills the playtime,
Robs the heart of largess that is kindly to the poor,
Richer were the freemen, welcome as the Maytime,
Glad was boy or maiden, seeing Brennan of the moor.

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