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The Missionary - Canto First - Poem by William Lisle Bowles

Beneath aerial cliffs, and glittering snows,
The rush-roof of an aged warrior rose,
Chief of the mountain tribes: high overhead,
The Andes, wild and desolate, were spread,
Where cold Sierras shot their icy spires,
And Chillan trailed its smoke and smouldering fires.
A glen beneath, a lonely spot of rest,
Hung, scarce discovered, like an eagle's nest.
Summer was in its prime;--the parrot-flocks
Darkened the passing sunshine on the rocks;
The chrysomel and purple butterfly,
Amid the clear blue light, are wandering by;
The humming-bird, along the myrtle bowers,
With twinkling wing, is spinning o'er the flowers,
The woodpecker is heard with busy bill,
The mock-bird sings--and all beside is still,
And look! the cataract that bursts so high,
As not to mar the deep tranquillity,
The tumult of its dashing fall suspends,
And, stealing drop by drop, in mist descends;
Through whose illumined spray and sprinkling dews,
Shine to the adverse sun the broken rainbow hues.
Chequering, with partial shade, the beams of noon,
And arching the gray rock with wild festoon,
Here its gay net-work, and fantastic twine,
The purple cogul threads from pine to pine,
And oft, as the fresh airs of morning breathe,
Dips its long tendrils in the stream beneath.
There, through the trunks with moss and lichens white,
The sunshine darts its interrupted light,
And, 'mid the cedar's darksome boughs, illumes,
With instant touch, the Lori's scarlet plumes.
So smiles the scene;--but can its smiles impart
Aught to console yon mourning warrior's heart?
He heeds not now, when beautifully bright,
The humming-bird is circling in his sight;
Nor ev'n, above his head, when air is still,
Hears the green woodpecker's resounding bill;
But gazing on the rocks and mountains wild,
Rock after rock, in glittering masses piled
To the volcano's cone, that shoots so high
Gray smoke whose column stains the cloudless sky,
He cries, Oh! if thy spirit yet be fled
To the pale kingdoms of the shadowy dead,--
In yonder tract of purest light above,
Dear long-lost object of a father's love,
Dost thou abide; or like a shadow come,
Circling the scenes of thy remembered home,
And passing with the breeze, or, in the beam
Of evening, light the desert mountain stream!
Or at deep midnight are thine accents heard,
In the sad notes of that melodious bird,
Which, as we listen with mysterious dread,
Brings tidings from our friends and fathers dead?
Perhaps, beyond those summits, far away,
Thine eyes yet view the living light of day;
Sad, in the stranger's land, thou may'st sustain
A weary life of servitude and pain,
With wasted eye gaze on the orient beam,
And think of these white rocks and torrent stream,
Never to hear the summer cocoa wave,
Or weep upon thy father's distant grave.
Ye, who have waked, and listened with a tear,
When cries confused, and clangours rolled more near;
With murmured prayer, when Mercy stood aghast,
As War's black trump pealed its terrific blast,
And o'er the withered earth the armed giant passed!
Ye, who his track with terror have pursued,
When some delightful land, all blood-imbrued,
He swept; where silent is the champaign wide,
That echoed to the pipe of yester-tide,
Save, when far off, the moonlight hills prolong
The last deep echoes of his parting gong;
Nor aught is seen, in the deserted spot
Where trailed the smoke of many a peaceful cot,
Save livid corses that unburied lie,
And conflagrations, reeking to the sky;--
Come listen, whilst the causes I relate
That bowed the warrior to the storms of fate,
And left these smiling scenes forlorn and desolate.
In other days, when, in his manly pride,
Two children for a father's fondness vied,--
Oft they essayed, in mimic strife, to wield
His lance, or laughing peeped behind his shield;
Oft in the sun, or the magnolia's shade,
Lightsome of heart as gay of look they played,
Brother and sister. She, along the dew,
Blithe as the squirrel of the forest flew;
Blue rushes wreathed her head; her dark-brown hair
Fell, gently lifted, on her bosom bare;
Her necklace shone, of sparkling insects made,
That flit, like specks of fire, from sun to shade.
Light was her form; a clasp of silver braced
The azure-dyed ichella round her waist;
Her ancles rung with shells, as unconfined
She danced, and sung wild carols to the wind.
With snow-white teeth, and laughter in her eye,
So beautiful in youth she bounded by.
Yet kindness sat upon her aspect bland,--
The tame alpaca stood and licked her hand;
She brought him gathered moss, and loved to deck
With flowery twine his tall and stately neck,
Whilst he with silent gratitude replies,
And bends to her caress his large blue eyes.
These children danced together in the shade,
Or stretched their hands to see the rainbow fade;
Or sat and mocked, with imitative glee,
The paroquet, that laughed from tree to tree;
Or through the forest's wildest solitude,
From glen to glen, the marmozet pursued;
And thought the light of parting day too short,
That called them, lingering, from their daily sport.
In that fair season of awakening life,
When dawning youth and childhood are at strife;
When on the verge of thought gay boyhood stands
Tiptoe, with glistening eye and outspread hands;
With airy look, and form and footsteps light,
And glossy locks, and features berry-bright,
And eye like the young eaglet's, to the ray
Of noon unblenching as he sails away;
A brede of sea-shells on his bosom strung,
A small stone-hatchet o'er his shoulder slung,
With slender lance, and feathers blue and red,
That, like the heron's crest, waved on his head,--
Buoyant with hope, and airiness, and joy,
Lautaro was a graceful Indian boy:
Taught by his sire, ev'n now he drew the bow,
Or tracked the jagguar on the morning snow;
Startled the condor, on the craggy height;
Then silent sat, and marked its upward flight,
Lessening in ether to a speck of white.
But when the impassioned chieftain spoke of war,
Smote his broad breast, or pointed to a scar,--
Spoke of the strangers of the distant main,
And the proud banners of insulting Spain,--
Of the barbed horse and iron horseman spoke,
And his red gods, that, wrapped in rolling smoke,
Roared from the guns;--the boy, with still-drawn breath,
Hung on the wondrous tale, as mute as death;
Then raised his animated eyes, and cried,
Oh, let me perish by my father's side!
Once, when the moon, o'er Chillan's cloudless height,
Poured, far and wide, its softest, mildest light,
A predatory band of mailed men
Burst on the stillness of the sheltered glen:
They shouted, Death! and shook their sabres high,
That shone terrific to the moonlight sky;
Where'er they rode, the valley and the hill
Echoed the shrieks of death, till all again was still.
The warrior, ere he sank in slumber deep,
Had kissed his son, soft-breathing in his sleep,
Where on a Llama's skin he lay, and said,
Placing his hand, with tears, upon his head,
Aerial nymphs! that in the moonlight stray,
O gentle spirits! here awhile delay;
Bless, as ye pass unseen, my sleeping boy,
Till blithe he wakes to daylight and to joy.
If the GREAT SPIRIT will, in future days,
O'er the fall'n foe his hatchet he shall raise,
And, 'mid a grateful nation's high applause,
Avenge his violated country's cause!
Now, nearer points of spears, and many a cone
Of moving helmets, in the moonlight shone,
As, clanking through the pass, the band of blood
Sprang, like hyaenas, from the secret wood.
They rush, they seize their unresisting prey,
Ruthless they tear the shrieking boy away;
But, not till gashed by many a sabre wound,
The father sank, expiring, on the ground.
He waked from the dark trance to life and pain,
But never saw his darling child again.
Seven snows had fallen, and seven green summers passed,
Since here he heard that son's loved accents last.
Still his beloved daughter soothed his cares,
Whilst time began to strew with white his hairs.
Oft as his painted feathers he unbound,
Or gazed upon his hatchet on the ground,
Musing with deep despair, nor strove to speak,
Light she approached, and climbed to reach his cheek,
Held with both hands his forehead, then her head
Drew smiling back, and kissed the tear he shed.
But late, to grief and hopeless love a prey,
She left his side, and wandered far away.
Now in this still and shelter'd glen, that smiled
Beneath the crags of precipices wild,
Wrapt in a stern yet sorrowful repose,
The warrior half forgot his country's woes;
Forgot how many, impotent to save,
Shed their best blood upon a father's grave;
How many, torn from wife and children, pine
In the dark caverns of the hopeless mine,
Never to see again the blessed morn;--
Slaves in the lovely land where they were born;
How many at sad sunset, with a tear,
The distant roar of sullen cannons hear,
Whilst evening seems, as dies the sound, to throw
A deadlier stillness on a nation's woe!
So the dark warrior, day succeeding day,
Wore in distempered thought the noons away;
And still, when weary evening came, he sighed,
My son, my son! or, with emotion, cried,
When I descend to the cold grave alone,
Who shall be there to mourn for me?--Not one!
The crimson orb of day now westering flung
His beams, and o'er the vast Pacific hung;
When from afar a shrilling sound was heard,
And, hurrying o'er the dews, a scout appeared.
The watchful warrior knew the piercing tones,
The signal-call of war, from human bones,--
What tidings? with impatient look, he cried.
Tidings of war, the hurrying scout replied;
Then the sharp pipe with shriller summons blew,
And held the blood-red arrow high in view.

CHIEF.

Where speed the foes?

INDIAN.

Along the southern main,
Have passed the vultures of accursed Spain.

CHIEF.

Ruin pursue them on the distant flood,
And be their deadly portion--blood for blood!

INDIAN.

When, round and red, the moon shall next arise,
The chiefs attend the midnight sacrifice
In Encol's wood, where the great wizard dwells,
Who wakes the dead man by his thrilling spells;
Thee, Ulmen of the Mountains, they command
To lift the hatchet for thy native land;
Whilst in dread circle, round the sere-wood smoke,
The mighty gods of vengeance they invoke;
And call the spirits of their fathers slain,
To nerve their lifted arm, and curse devoted Spain.
So spoke the scout of war;--and o'er the dew,
Onward along the craggy valley, flew.
Then the stern warrior sang his song of death--
And blew his conch, that all the glens beneath
Echoed, and rushing from the hollow wood,
Soon at his side three hundred warriors stood.

WARRIOR.

Children, who for his country dares to die?

Three hundred brandished spears shone to the sky:
We perish, or we leave our country free;
Father, our blood for Chili and for thee!
The mountain-chief essayed his club to wield,
And shook the dust indignant from the shield.
Then spoke:--

O Thou! that with thy lingering light
Dost warm the world, till all is hushed in night;
I look upon thy parting beams, O sun!
And say, ev'n thus my course is almost run.
When thou dost hide thy head, as in the grave,
And sink to glorious rest beneath the wave,
Dost thou, majestic in repose, retire,
Below the deep, to unknown worlds of fire!
Yet though thou sinkest, awful, in the main,
The shadowy moon comes forth, and all the train
Of stars, that shine with soft and silent light,
Making so beautiful the brow of night.
Thus, when I sleep within the narrow bed,
The light of after-fame around shall spread;
The sons of distant Ocean, when they see
The grass-green heap beneath the mountain tree,
And hear the leafy boughs at evening wave,
Shall pause and say, There sleep in dust the brave!
All earthly hopes my lonely heart have fled!
Stern Guecubu, angel of the dead,
Who laughest when the brave in pangs expire;
Whose dwelling is beneath the central fire
Of yonder burning mountain; who hast passed
O'er my poor dwelling, and with one fell blast
Scattered my summer-leaves that clustered round,
And swept my fairest blossoms to the ground;
Angel of dire despair, oh! come not nigh,
Nor wave thy red wings o'er me where I lie;
But thou, O mild and gentle spirit! stand,
Angel of hope and peace, at my right hand,
(When blood-drops stagnate on my brow) and guide
My pathless voyage o'er the unknown tide,
To scenes of endless joy, to that fair isle,
Where bowers of bliss, and soft savannahs smile:
Where my forefathers oft the fight renew,
And Spain's black visionary steeds pursue;
Where, ceased the struggles of all human pain,
I may behold thee--thee, my son, again!
He spoke, and whilst at evening's glimmering close
The distant mist, like the gray ocean, rose,
With patriot sorrows swelling at his breast,
He sank upon a jagguar's hide to rest.
'Twas night: remote on Caracalla's bay,
Valdivia's army, hushed in slumber, lay.
Around the limits of the silent camp,
Alone was heard the steed's patroling tramp
From line to line, whilst the fixed sentinel
Proclaimed the watch of midnight--All is well!
Valdivia dreamed of millions yet untold,
Villrica's gems, and El Dorado's gold!
What different feelings, by the scene impressed,
Rose in sad tumult o'er Lautaro's breast!
On the broad ocean, where the moonlight slept,
Thoughtful he turned his waking eyes, and wept,
And whilst the thronging forms of memory start,
Thus holds communion with his lonely heart:
Land of my fathers, still I tread your shore,
And mourn the shade of hours that are no more;
Whilst night-airs, like remembered voices, sweep,
And murmur from the undulating deep.
Was it thy voice, my father! Thou art dead,
The green rush waves on thy forsaken bed.
Was it thy voice, my sister! Gentle maid,
Thou too, perhaps, in the dark cave art laid;
Perhaps, even now, thy spirit sees me stand
A homeless stranger in my native land;
Perhaps, even now, along the moonlight sea,
It bends from the blue cloud, remembering me!
Land of my fathers! yet, oh yet forgive,
That with thy deadly enemies I live:
The tenderest ties (it boots not to relate)
Have bound me to their service, and their fate;
Yet, whether on Peru's war-wasted plain,
Or visiting these sacred shores again,
Whate'er the struggles of this heart may be,
Land of my fathers, it shall beat for thee!


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