Albery Allson Whitman

(1851-1901 / the United States)

Rape Of Florida: Canto Iii - Poem by Albery Allson Whitman

On Tampa's hights gray rose the battlements:
A summer's day had gone out in the west;
The conflagration in the elements
Was ended, and the quiet shades of rest
Sank like a dreamer's visions on the breast
Of far reposing nature. Soft the hour
Was, brooding on the bay, and gently prest
And smoothed its bosom, as with magic power,
And fragrance there did breathe from many a wind-kissed flow'r.

Ewald before her prison window sate
And leaned her face against the iron bar.
The pensive winds around her seemed to wait,
As o'er Twasinta, beaming out afar,
Beyond the dusk, she saw the evening star!
With friendly gleam, it dropped a ray of cheer,
And seemed to wait for her on Candahar!
And when it beckoned last to disappear,
She felt her eyes grow dim, and brushed away a tear.

She saw the sentry pass with silent feet,
And heard the waters lisping to the shore.
Anon the muffled drums began to beat,
And moving throngs commenced a sullen roar, -
It was the sound of captives driv'n before
The troops! There husbands, wives and little ones,
To look upon Twasinta's fields no more,
Were hurried off. She heard their bitter moans,
And clanking chains that mingled with their rising groans!

The ship was waiting on the busy tide,
Palmecho's faithful friends must soon be gone,
And in her living tomb Ewald must bide
The stony silence of her fate alone!
Ah! how was her young bosom then undone!
'Twere better that her wretched friends might be
Where she might hear, at least, a kindred groan;
But all was over, and the sullen sea
Rolled on as ever, - an unfathomed mystery!

There is a grateful balm for weeping eyes!
And e'en when trouble's little rest has flown,
Slumber, at vision's tender portals, tries
To shut the fevered lids forgetful down!
Happy the soul whose rest can find a stone,
If gentle slumber shut the aching breast!
Ewald across her wretched couch had thrown
Herself, and closed her eyes in childish rest -
Young innocence so sweet could not be long unblest!

Ah! did she dream! for still her natal star,
Above the valleys shed a lingering ray,
And seemed to wait for her on Candahar!
Once more it was the close of gentle day;
A spirit brooded in the hilltops gray,
And in the dusk were mellow sounds abroad!
Up from the solemn woods and far away,
The cheerful lab'rer from his maize fields strode,
And lads were driving home their cattle in the road.

The darkling elms were leaning o'er her gate,
Like keepers of some ancient secret still! -
She stood beneath them, half afraid to wait;
Heard lazy bells come moping from the hill,
And heard the witch-complaining whip-poor-will.
Ah! did she dream! the glow-worm's tiny glare
Was in the dews! she felt a nameless thrill,
And breath - warm flushes in the pulsing air,
Mid sweetest scent of fields and gardens blossom'd fair.

Ah! innocence and beauty! at thy age,
To see thee slumb'ring there in such a place, -
A lovely dreamer in a human cage!
The entranced moon is looking in thy face, -
On thy half-conscious lips, she now doth trace
The quiv'rings of young pleasure's soft delight;
Such as zephyrus wakes as she doth race
With tiniest waves; or such as sunbeams bright
'Mid wild'ring toil of leaves are to the ravished sight!

Twasinta, oh Twasinta! couldst thou see,
Thro' tears, thou now wouldst look upon thy child,
As here she innocently dreams of thee!
Her shy feet press thy meadows undefiled,
'Mid first-born dews! Her heart is gay and wild
In sweet unconsciousness of what impends, -
She hears thy lulling boughs and voices mild,
As o'er her native flow'rs once more she bends! -
But where the spoiler lurks, how soon the bliss-dream ends!

Of creeping things, there's none so vile, or worse
Than man, when he, the creature of his lusts,
Bred in the kennel of Satanic force,
Is woman's lord. Never Brazilian dusts
Were marked by a worse adder's slime! He thrusts
A scorching glare that burns in like a coal,
And fangs the writhing life that vainly trusts
Her charms exposed to move him! His control
Complete, a beast he gloats, extinguishing the soul!

The moving of an iron bolt below,
Harsh thro' the corridor grates on the ear!
Light footfalls follow cautiously and slow, -
Now pausing - dying out - they disappear,
And now returning, stealthily more near.
Ewald springs softly to her bolted door,
And still as statue leans in breathless fear;
Till, pale as moonbeams on her prison floor,
Her young cheeks turn, as nearer draw the steps once more.

The dusky shadows seem to glint and move -
The ghostly creatures of expectancy,
Wont mid such scenes in these dark halls to rove,
And perch around and gloat mysteriously!
Yet Ewald leans and listens tremblingly.
But now what pangs! - a hurried footstep lands
Without, a hasty hand thrusts in a key, -
The iron yields! a man before her stands! -
She darts across her cell, she moans! she wrings her hands!

He follows up, - at each approach she flies -
She shrinks - she mutters and entreating stares!
The sullen walls drink up her fruitless cries,
While thus enraged the monster on her glares,
And with brute force to seize his prey prepares!
One pleading look to heav'n she wildly throws,
And sinks upon her couch still mutt'ring prayers;
Then like a flying fury at him goes,
Flings wide her prison door and publishes her woes!

So the caged bird goes struggling from the hand,
To beat and flutter 'gainst her wirery dome;
And 'scapes at last, to leave her troubler stand
Astonished, as she gains her woody home!
How Ewald passed the night, and saved by whom,
No one may tell, but she was saved from shame,
And when my patient reader shall have come
To ponder well a vet'ran leader's name,
He may remember that to him belongs the fame.

Still on misfortune blindly moves her train!
We may not linger here; the time draws nigh,
Twasinta's wasted homes appeal in vain,
Palmecho sees his doom! Ah! must he die?
The lurid morn seems waiting in the sky,
As the avenger's mortal work proceeds!
Surely, if human acts are seen on high,
The bosom of angelic nature bleeds,
As yonder hangman to the death his victim leads!

Lo! where Palmecho stoops within the gate,
How touching is his tender last farewell!
His child from him they cannot separate,
Tho' ruthless hands provoke the purpose fell!
A daughter's sweet affection who can tell?
A father's benediction how sublime,
When on his lips the words of parting dwell,
And he is pausing on the brink of time,
To lift his eyes towards a brighter, holier clime!

Could scenes of bloodshed fill the eyes of death
With mischief too abhorrent, - could the pores
Of cruelty ooze drops, or his hot breath
Grow dull and bated - on the cypress shores
Where Ewald for her aged sire implores,
A cause is seen. Lo! where yon scaffold stands
Gloomy above, while rock-watched Tampa roars!
Clench'd in despair behold her outstretched hands,
Whilst round her grimly press the war-stained soldier-bands!

Ah! doomed to die for shedding human blood,
He who has never caused a mortal pain!
But never martyr's faith more nobly stood
A sacrifice by tyrant madly slain!
Never did resignation less complain!
Stern looking on his executioner,
He pities him, nor hopes to pity gain;
When 'mid the throngs he hears his child demur,
And turns to rest a parent's loving gaze on her!

'Thou last hope of my dotage, oh! my child;
Thou one green branch of age's withered tree,
I see thee shiv'ring in the tempest wild,
That tears thy parent trunk away from thee!
Ah! I could wish thou didst not mourn for me!
Then could I yearn to find the long, long sleep
That kisses down life's damp lids tranquilly
From all their sorrows! But thy courage keep -
The end may come at last, with joy for those who weep!'

Ah! there was Pathos on her very knees,
And chained Endurance pitying his child!
E'en Cruelty, red-handed's ill at ease
Where beauty pleads so tenderly and wild;
And to death's stroke old age stands reconciled.
'Spare! spare my father! won't you! - won't you - spare!'
The daughter cries till vengeance is beguiled
From wanton haste, and seems for once to care,
And hold his doubtful breath at shrieks of wild despair!

'My father! oh, my father! Do not bring
His guiltless hairs dishonored to the grave!
He did not - could not have done such a thing!
He never wronged a soul! - he never gave
A child offense! Oh! do but this, I crave! -
Be not in haste a good man's blood to shed!
Oh! spare! and I will be your willing slave
Till he who to the fatal rescue led
Shall show that by Palmecho's hand no soldier bled!

A brawny guard the frantic pleader grasps,
To force her off, - she breaks away and flies
Thro' the grim throng, towards her father - clasps
His stooping neck, - upon his bosom lies,
And looking cold in her assailant's eyes,
Half hid in raven clouds of falling hair, -
'You shall not! - Oh! you shall not! shall not!' cries.
Ah! what a stroke for tragic art was there, -
Grief on his aged breast supporting young despair!

The spirits of the wood by Tampa seem
To sink their hidings into darker shade.
There lingers not the least reluctant beam
Amid the gloom that doth the scene pervade.
The scaffold specter-like, on high arrayed,
Looks down in grim rebuke. A pause ensues,
A moment flies - another still delayed
Brings indecision, - when the leaders choose
To wait, and to secure Atlassa, Ewald use.

'Return them to their cells!' is the command;
'A fortnight hence shall be the time allowed,
And if Atlassa come not with his band,
Palmecho hangs! And thus this Nation vowed!
Ah! could such be, when all the land was proud
And boastful of the policy of war,
That swept from over Florida the cloud
That brooded in destruction's gloom afar?
Was such majestic battle's only exemplar!

Oh! Florida! how fair and yet how frail,
Thou daughter of the Sun, bereft, forlorn!
'Tis sad to hear thy exiled children's wail,
And hear thy empty fields in concert mourn,
While Rapine dwells where Peace did once sojourn!
'Tis sad that Ewald now in prison pines.
Ah! it were better to have ne'er been born!
But there is still a hope that ne'er resigns,
And woman's heart is strong when this with courage joins.

The moon was low on Tampa's quiet wave,
The drowsy camp was silent in the hill,
And patient earth was all composure, save,
A little while away, a night bird shrill
Trilling her throat was heard, when all was still.
A sentinel lone standing in the moon
Was all that might be seen of life, until
Beneath the prison walls there did commune
Twasinta's child and Abraham, the old Maroon.

Thus spoke the eager maid: 'Oh! Abraham,
Be thou my message-bearing Angel! Fly!
Find out his camp! - inform him where I am -
Tell him his friend Palmecho's doomed to die, -
Tell him to come in haste, the time is nigh!
He is a warrior and a wary chief,
And keeps his guard, but tell him, somehow I
Am anxious that he watch! - be not too brief -
For harm to him will add calamity to grief!

'Hint that the pomp and circumstance of war
Suggest strong body-guards and chosen men.
And let a truce flag, waving from afar,
Impose a friendly aspect; gathering then
His warriors well about him, wait, and when
The garrison comes out, be it declared
Who slew the guards in San Augustine's glen.
Then may Palmecho's life to me be spared,
And him to rescue, mankind know, Atlassa dared!'

Now, Abraham! if you have ever loved
A child - your own - or if you e'er did feel
A fount of sorrow in your bosom moved,
Turn not your ear from wildest grief's appeal!
Earth's last support to woman's trembling weal
Is faith in man! - then covenant with me -
While at the shrine of trust my soul shall kneel, -
Do covenant that thou wilt faithful be,
And woman's prayers in heaven shall breathe a word for thee!

The brave old chief of peace and kindly deeds,
Lifted towards the moon his bronzed brow,
And pond'ring as a man who deeply heeds,
Uttered his answer carefully and low:
'Maiden, the stars are looking at me now, -
They oft have seen me, thro' the long, long past,
Going about for peace; and they will glow
As many witnesses, that, to the last,
The feet of Abraham, for good were ever fast.

'The cypress and the desert pine can tell
How often I have traveled night and day,
And in their shades what perils me befell,
From savage beasts infesting every way,
And scouts more savage that around me lay;
That I should falter now, 'twould seem too late, -
Trust me! is all that Abraham can say!'
Thus ended, Ewald watched him from the gate,
Till lost from view within the moon-lit forests great.

Hail Florida! ye palmy forests hail!
Hail densest pines and fields of endless bloom!
'Twas sweet, I ween, in Apalachi's vale,
To wander forth in the deep foliage gloom,
Where the wide air was scarce of breathing room, -
To see the soft bananas drooping thro',
And the great dusky yellow orange loom
Mid languid leaves: Thus as the aspect grew
From change to change, the eye did fresh delights pursue.

'Twas sweet to see the blossoms, many-hued,
Flush in the Summertide's luxuriant smile,
Soft shim'ring in the sunlight, half subdued
By great dense boughs of green. 'Twas sweet to while
The hours by fenceless paths for many a mile;
To pause 'mid the great shades where the birds swung,
And follow fancy's pleased eye thro' each aisle,
To nymph abodes, the leafy haunts among;
Where hues had speech and fragrance wooed us with her tongue.

Such scenes as these, the exile's pensive eye
Enjoyed with satisfaction deep and true.
The Seminole looked proud and dreamily,
Or musing walked, with scarcely more to do.
Surely there never was a happier view!
From town to town, mid groves and by the sea,
To Mickasukie and the great Wahoo;
The joyous scenes of Summer wild and free,
Lured Care to rest on Pleasure's lap continually.

Hark! in the troubled West what means this roar?
Like forests in a storm's tremendous glee,
Or like the waves on dread Atlantic's shore,
It rolls and breaks around Mickanopy!
Oh! what hath roused this angry human sea?
Why howls the waste in such unwonted throes?
What rends the bosom of tranquillity?
The loud, resistless onset of fierce foes,
Startles a peaceful land and breaks its deep repose!

Lo! the fierce bands from distant solitudes,
And hasty scouts from Apalachi's side!
The mutt'ring foe is threading Tampa's woods,
With savage Creeks and loud-mouthed hounds allied;
Wide o'er the land his mounted patrols ride,
Thro' hommocks dark and forests dense they lead;
While burning villages afar descried,
Proclaim the bold incendiary's deed,
And make the heavens lurid where the hosts proceed!

This is the conquest of the flow'ry land!
He who has earned the fame of many wars -
America's chief captain, in command,
Marshals his battle-hardened regulars!
Proud thro' the pine woods float the stripes and stars,
And restive steeds toward the onset neigh;
While, kindling recollections of his scars,
In his green haunts no longer to give way,
The Seminole looks forth, a hunted beast at bay!

Ah! 'tis the dreadful eve of battle now!
The low'ring storm of nations comes apace;
Deep clouds have settled on Destruction's brow,
And dismal thunders hem Atlassa's race!
Ah! what but valor stands in such a place?
Wives, children, and the old, all mounted wait
To fly at once, while in each warrior's face
The inwrought lines of deep, resentful hate
Betray that now resistance will be desperate.

The threat'ning storm no longer holds its wrath,
The sanguine troops their stubborn foe engage;
While allied Creeks skulk 'round in every path,
Nefarious flankings, right and left to wage;
Torturing Desperation into rage,
And demon yells with roar of muskets blend:
But, rallying fierce upon the hommock's edge,
They who for homes and liberty contend,
As grim as Hate receive the troops and on them bend!

His fearless plume, lo! how Atlassa bears,
For deadly aiming guns a brilliant mark!
The erring bullet hisses at his ears,
But heedless still he walks a god; and hark!
His voice is clear! Loud o'er the battle dark
Its tones of magic urge his braves to fame
And deeds of daring! and the latest spark
Of ebbing life it kindles to a flame,
As each expiring warrior gasps his leader's name!

Ah! ye who con the musty tomes of eld,
To watch the fabled scorpions of ire
Kindle the fatal wrath that mankind held
In mortal dread, behold this chief, in dire
And desp'rate conflict, build a deadlier fire
Around the rude homes of his tribal braves!
Tortured, the angry flames can not expire,
Each warrior like a fury now behaves, -
All like wild beasts hunt death! Ah! can such men be slaves?

Furies imprisoned by infernal hate,
Where the hot irons circumvex their pains,
Surge not more fierce on Torture's brazen gate,
Nor writhe defiant more in blist'ring chains,
When, death inducing not, doth stream their veins;
Than surge and writhe these Seminoles beneath
The hail of angry lead that on them rains!
From tree and hommock rushing to the death,
They blanch grim slaughter's cheeks and drink his very breath!

Flying like wing'd madness on what they seeth,
They hand the foe within the dreadful breach!
Fastening him like torments with hungry teeth,
Till lifeless one shall sink, and sometimes each,
They hew down all within the tom'hawk's reach!
So fly infuriated hornets from their nests,
Upon assailants: Thus doth valor teach,
When roused to desperation's potent tests,
That 'Liberty or Death,' is one of God's behests!

Fierce Spirit of the Seminole! what fate
Can tame thy warring sons upon the field!
I see them for a Nation's strength too great -
Outnumbered and outarmed they will not yield!
Till by the darkness they are well concealed,
They hold an army back and guard their dead;
Thus shall their immortality be sealed,
The bravest of the brave, to victory led,
By one whose plume would honor e'en a Bruce's head!

Down to the end of time be it proclaimed!
Up to the skies of fame let it be rung!
Wherever valor's sacrifice is named,
Whenever plaudits fire the human tongue;
Or by sweet strings expressed, or mortals sung,
Let it go forth, and let mankind attest,
That, Seminoles and exiles, old and young,
Upon the bosom of their country prest;
By valiant deeds are shrined in ev'ry patriot breast!

Thro' the dead desolation of the past,
The eye of Freedom searches not in vain,
For her surviving shrines, - the pomp and blast
Of might and red Dominion, could attain
To manacling the world's limbs and its brain;
But Freedom's sons must dwell unknown, - apart -
Or wander hopeless, in Contempt's sad plain;
Yet ever, and anon, some giant heart, -
Some prince of thought, a revolution's tide would start.

Some Bruce or Tell, who drank the mountain breath
Of Freedom, and arose to meet her morn;
Some Brown or Lovejoy, whose contempt of death,
Was of the sacred love of Freedom born, -
Whose mentioned dust would shame the lips of scorn!
Some Jefferson, the Knight of Justice fair,
Whose thoughts the brow of ages still adorn;
And whose brave lance of independence rare,
Could thrust base Superstition in her dragon lair!

Or some Atlassa, who could call his braves
To turfy beds of glory in the dell,
Or vict'ry o'er those who would make them slaves! -
But for such men the wide earth were a hell,
Where vampire priests and kingly vultures fell,
Plucking the fleshless bones of human woe
Would perch thro' time! and in the waste and spell
Of universal carnage, loud or low,
The owls of Superstition would forever go.

The enthusiasts' torch that lit their beacon fires
From Plymouth's Sea to cold Ontario's coasts,
Shone farther than the ken of Pilgrim sires,
In their brief time surveyed: The sturdy hosts
That throated Tyranny and scorned his boasts,
Knew not that on this continent of streams, -
Of endless summers and eternal frosts -
'Mid first-born woods, the light of Freedom beams
On sovran Nature's lap, inducing patriot dreams!

They saw, but 'comprehended not the light' -
Colonial life was but a prophecy -
They kindled dimly in an unknown hight,
But could no more - and paused there trustingly,
Till sons explored the ages then to be.
And while in silence and eternal dust
They sleep beneath the standard they left free,
A proud Republic - their pathetic trust -
Fraternal hands embellish, and forever must!

And tho' 'tis sad, in truth it must be said,
They died for Freedom and for slavery too!
How noble and ignoble are our dead,
How recreant to right, and yet how true!
But o'er a century's historic view,
The valiant Seminole we proudly see;
He died for Freedom; and the trembling few
Who fled to Florida his wards to be,
He elevated into freemen's dignity!

He could not be enslaved - would not enslave
The meanest exile that his friendship sued,
Brave for himself, defending others brave, -
The matchless hero of his time he stood,
His noble heart with freedom's love imbued,
The strong apostle of Humanity!
'Mid forests wild and habitations rude,
He made his bed of glory by the sea;
The friend of Florida and man, there let him be!

Upon the proud front let Atlassa stand,
Night in the everglades is friendly now.
The foe retires and darkness is at hand,
And seems to listen to the voices low
Of warriors round their chief, whose valiant brow
Is heavy with the horrors of the day!
Upon the turf the wounded in a row,
Painful but silent, for attention lay, -
The dead to Apalachi's shores are borne away.

The war is ended, let the victor rest!
His brave blood seals the title of his fame.
His fair land deems him worthy of her breast,
Historic truth embalms his warlike name,
While hero temples well admit his claim!
And when the epic muse shall cast around,
A theme to kindle valor into flame,
Where Florida's soft palms shade many a mound,
By Mickasukie and the sea, will e'er be found.

Oh! inexorable, oh! righteous Time,
Thy mist-dispersing light o'er us roll on!
Let thy just beams invest the Sunny Clime,
And bring the truth up from the ages gone!
Oh! we are happy as we stand upon
The summit of a century, and view
How hist'ry pales where thy broad beams have shone!
Thou dread revealer of the old and new,
Inevitable are thy judgments, just and true!

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, September 18, 2010

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