Albery Allson Whitman

(1851-1901 / the United States)

The Runaway - Poem by Albery Allson Whitman

Awake, my muse, ye goodly sights among,
The land of Boone and Kenton claims my song.
Thro' other scenes our lovers take their flight,
See where their wand'ring footsteps pass in sight.
Lo! where yon pleasant valleys meet the eyes,
And goodly hills their forests lifting rise!
Here, as we pass, along our cheerful way,
Small farms adjoining, stretch in green array.
And small farm houses, looking great trees thro,'
And neat dressed orchards, dot th' enlivened view;
And their quaint roofs by Autumn suns embrowned,
With wind-mills rude, and bird-box turrets crowned,
Look thro' the branchy elms and locusts high,
And send a rustic welcome to the eye.
See where yon flocks their even pastures browse,
And lowing homeward, hear the sober cows,
And hear yon plowman whistling as he plows.
Here circling plenty meets returning suns,
And lucid cheer in ev'ry valley runs,
Loud satisfaction fills the evening air,
And jovial comfort soothes the ear of care.

Thrice hail! proud land, whose genius boasts a Clay!
The Cicero of slavery's palmy day,
The gifted champion of Compromise,
Whose mien majestic filled a nation's eyes;
And on the eloquence of whose wise tongue
A learned Senate in rapt silence hung;
A Senate, too, whose fame no one impugns,
Of Websters, Randolphs, Marshals and Calhouns.
And could a land that boasts a mind like this -
That bord'ring on the clime of freedom is -
Suffer a harlot with her whorings vile
To peacefully pollute her gen'rous soil?
Yes, green Kentucky with her native pride,
Proclaiming trust in the great Crucified,
Flaunting her prestige in the world's wide face,
Boasting descent and precedence of race,
And by the greatest of all statesmen led,
Shared the pollutions of a slavish bed.
All o'er her fields, the blood-hound's savage bay
Pressed the poor sable trembling runaway,
And sometimes by the home of Henry Clay!
In all her woods, the wail of wild distress
Was heard, as tattered starving wretchedness
Fled in the shrieking wrath of wintry storm;
Wrapping her babe in rags to keep it warm!
Can I forget the tears a parent shed
When her dear hand she placed upon my head,
And me embracing, tremulously said:
'My heart is sick whene'er the sad winds blow,
And all the ground is buried deep in snow,
For I remember, when I was a child,
The night was dark, the raving winds were wild,
The earth was still, the snow lay deep and white,
When at our door there came a footstep light.
We opened, and a strange black woman's face
Looked in; she held a child in her embrace
And said: 'Ize nearly froz to deaf', oh wont
You let me in? Oh! don't say no! Oh don't!'
She came in, but before we said a word,
Her master's voice was in the quarters heard!
She knew the sound, her babe close to her drew,
And back into the wintry tempest flew.
The morning came, and chilly miles away,
In snow half hid the lifeless mother lay!
But in her arms the babe alive did sleep,
And when discovered, woke, but did not weep!
And lo! uncovered to the mournful light,
The mother's face was black - the babe's was white!'

I love Kentucky; tho' she merit scorn
I can't despise the land where I was born.
Her name I cherish, and expect to see
The day when all her sons will cherish me.
Her many sins have all in common been
With other sisters' who their sins have seen.
Yes, I will pray for that good time to come
When I can say: Kentucky is my home.
And this I now ask at my country's hand,
If I must die in some far distant land,
Then let my countrymen, when I am dead,
Where I was born, make my eternal bed.

But here our lovers are again;
Awake, my muse, thy wonted strain!
The hounds at day-break struck a trail
In deep Green River's lonely vale,
And thro' the dusk of dewy morn,
Echoed the hunter's rousing horn.
'What is it?' flew from tongue to tongue,
As to his horse each rider sprung.
A moment in their saddles still,
They heard the baying on the hill
Not far away, and full well knew
A runaway before them flew.
The chase began, the horses dashed
Away, and thro' the bushes crashed,
Like birds that flutter on the wing
All thro' the wild copse scattering.
Each horseman pressing for the lead
Bore on and on, with champing speed.
On, on and on, and on, o'er hills,
And winding valleys, leaping rills
And fallen trunks like startled hinds,
Wild as a flood, as swift as winds.
The hounds' loud clamor rolled and broke
Morn's drowsy stillness, and awoke
The sleepy hills, that answered back
The lusty tonguing of the pack.
Within his quiet farmhouse wood,
The early rustic list'ning stood,
The plowman whistling in his lane,
Paused, listened, paused and paused again,
Surmised, went on, went on, surmised,
And at their loud speed stood surprised;
As o'er his fences passing near,
He heard them in their mad career.

Their loud tongues on the morning breeze
Now Rodney heard, as if the trees
Were yearning in their sympathy,
And stretched, and sighed and whispered 'fly.'

And fly he did, and as away he sped,
Soon of the pack a length'ning space ahead;
His nimble limbs grown strong by punishment,
Bore manly up as on and on he went.
O'er fences high, and gullies wide he leapt,
Skimmed level fields and thro' the briars crept,
Now pricked by these, now by the wanton thorn,
And now by knotty bamboos hung and torn.
His footsteps now had gained a wooded hight,
Now fields and houses all were out of sight;
He paused to listen, heard his heart's quick beat,
And thought it was the sound of coming feet.
Another instant and the flying slave,
Was trying if his legs could well behave.
Thro' pond'rous woods and darkling shades he ran,
Three miles or more from where his flight began,
Sometimes along the wild boar's narrow way,
Sometimes where hunted wolves in cover lay.
He soon could hear the fierce hound on his rear,
Baying out inbred hate, and drawing near.
Loud in the distance angry signals wound,
And furious yells urged on the flying hound.
Dread oaths were muttering on the morn's still air,
Enough to hush the jungle's roaring lair.

Now Rodney, bursting from the wood,
An instant on the high bluffs stood
And gazed upon Green River's flood,
That tossed and growled and rolled beneath,
Like torments in the vaults of death.
The rocks look'd down with angry awe,
And feeble shrubs leant back and saw.
Few moments more the worst must bring,
For now the worst had poised its wing!
The hounds are on him! 'Save! oh save!'
Right downward leaping cries the slave,
But not into a watery grave!
With arms of steel he mounts the wave,
He grapples with the dizzy tide,
Turns downward, where the cliffs doth hide,
And then with strokes manful to see,
He pulls for life and liberty.
Meanwhile the hounds have ceased to bay,
The hunters look and turn away,
And 'Ah! he's drowned!' all seem to say.

Three nights or more curtain the skies,
And now we turn our weary eyes
To where the Creole mother flies.
Thro' dangers led by friends at night,
By day concealed from mortal sight,
Thus far, secure has been her flight.

A storm was low'ring, and the sun was low,
The Creole's weary steps were short and slow,
The air grew sightless, and the fields were still,
The woods were restless on the solemn hill,
The earth seems shrinking from the threat'ning skies,
As night on rayless wings athwart the sun's path flies.
All nature trembles! Lo! the cloud-folds break,
The mountains with their thunder-tongues awake,
While livid lightnings glare on every peak,
And with their arms of flame, their warring lances take.
The startled clouds flee out into the deep
Of troubled night; and headlong down each steep
Rush dizzy torrents from the flood-drenched hills,
And foam along the overflowing rills.
But hark! in all this storm a woman's wail!
A mother's anguish doth the ear assail!
Beneath yon beetling rocks, oh raise thine eyes,
To where Leeona lifts her tender cries!
See now she sinks into the cliff's embrace,
And turns to heaven her entreating face
In tearful beauty! Hark! for help she cries!
And thunders answer from the wrathful skies!
Between the surges of tumultous winds,
Her cry a passage thro' the tempest finds.
'Oh God! my child! my child!' she wails distrest,
And clasps the tender sorrow to her breast.
But like the vaulty whispers of the tomb,
Her words come back from hollow-throated night's deep gloom.
Oh! Heaven, can'st thou thus be pitiless,
And hear, unmoved, the cry of loveliness?
Cause thy rebellious winds to war no more,
The loud disturbers of a nightly shore!
Ah! how the torrents now are pouring down,
They seem as if the whole earth they would drown;
But this last flood descending, hope creates,
For when it slackens, then the storm abates.

The rain has ceased; but the belabored wood
Yet waves and trembles in a troubled mood.
The frantic Creole lifts a piercing cry,
Hoping to rouse some woodsman dwelling nigh;
But in the bluffs above her wolves reply.
'Oh! Heaven,' shrinking in the rock she gasps,
And in her arms her infant tighter clasps,
'The wolves are howling, Ah! What shall I do?
Beset by beasts and human monsters too!'
Then like some doe when dogs and horns surround,
That starts, stops, listens, starts with sudden bound,
Flies from her covert, leaps rock, fence and hedge,
And leaves the baying dangers of the sedge.
Right so Leeona stops, and starts, and leaps,
And bounding onward leaves the howling steeps.
The flashing heavens make her footing good
In darksome paths, through the abodeless wood,
As on she flies, a spirit of the night,
But knows not where her heaven assisted flight.

Day came - an ugly, wet and sluggish day -
When in the woods, far on Leeona's way,
A band of sun-browned cleavers she beheld,
That near their lonely homes their forests felled.
Their great rough arms, as rough as oak limbs are,
Dropt on their knees, and to their elbows bare;
Held up their chins, as from their logs they gazed
Upon the fleeing woman, sore amazed.
And when she came to them with tales of woe,
They pressed around her eagerly to know
From whence she was, and whither she would go.
And then they grouped and muttered to themselves,
Smote on their breasts, and seized their pond'rous helves,
And breathing out a gale of oaths and threats,
They led her to their humble forest seats.

Of how the Creole, by these woodsmens' aid,
Her further flight toward Ohio made;
Of how she wandered two long months, beset
By shrewd suspicions, and by mistrust met,
By day concealed, by night hurried along,
Cannot be uttered on the tongue of song,
But raise your eyes to where the verging land
Of Bondage touches Freedom's holier strand.

Low in the cheerless West, deceitful rays
Kindle their fires to a feeble blaze.
The leafless woods send up a ceaseless howl,
As looking down upon them with a scowl,
From voiceless hills, the wintry blasts doth stand,
And shake their shrieking tops from hand to hand.
The hoarse Ohio chafes his bleak shores gray,
And sullen, rolls to warmer climes away.

But list! is that the moaning of a gale
Disconsolate, within yon leafless vale?
Draw nearer, listen, now it rises high,
Now lower sinks, recedes, and now comes nigh.
Is it the blast of all its mildness shorn?
Ah! no, 'tis poor Leeona that dost mourn!
See where on yonder rising rock she stands,
And holds her tattered garments in her hands;
Scarce able to rescue them from the wind,
That flings them, with her streaming locks behind;
Unwraps her perfect limbs, that white and bare,
Empurple in the bitter Northern air.
From her bare feet blood trickles down the stone!
Ah, God! Why is she here? Why thus alone?
Oh, what hath driven her from home away,
And Comfort's hearth, upon this ruthless day?

Ah! see her driven from warm Care's embrace
A lone sweet exile of the Creole race!
By heaven forsaken, and denied by earth,
As if too crime-stained to deserve a birth.
By native streams no more in peace to rove,
And hear the sylvan music of the grove.
No more to pluck the fruits of gen'rous growth,
And gather flowers of the fragrant South,
How can she meet the fierce wrath of the North,
Houseless and clotheless, thus to wander forth?
Ah! Ask you? Turn to where yon hounds pursue,
And circle swift the clam'ring forests thro.'
Hark! how loud horns resound upon her rear,
Oh! heaven save her! Is no helper near?
Must she beneath the angry tide be borne,
Or by the savage hounds be seized and torn?

Beyond the river is a fisher's hut,
Close in a cove beneath tall forests shut;
Beyond the hut a narrow path climbs o'er
The crescent bluffs, and winds along the shore.
Within this hut Ben Guildern sate all day,
Mending his nets and lines, and smoked away.
He dreamed of this wide world and all its cares,
Its hopes and doubts, its pleasures, pains and snares,
Of man's pilgrimage to a better bourne,
Where toil shall rest, and man shall cease to mourn;
And of the days and other faces gone,
Ere he was left to pass thro' life alone;
Of pleasant tasks his manly arms had wrought,
Of slumbers sweet that toil remitting brought;
And of the many times he climbed that hill,
And found a wife and children waiting still;
And supper smoking, and a ready plate,
When all day's luckless toil had made him late.
'All gone!' within his wave-tossed soul he sighs,
And o'er the waters lifts his tear-dimmed eyes,
'A cold and blustry night the boat went down,
And my poor wife and babes were left to drown!'

He sees a signal from the other shore -
A woman beckons him to set her o'er;
He hears the hounds, and not a word is said,
A fugitive he sees imploring aid;
His boat is launched, and from her moorings thrown,
The tide awaits her, rolling up and down,
A moment near the shore she slow doth move,
And waits another and another shove;
This way and that the eddy smooth she tries,
Ventures and darts, and with the current flies.
So when the speedy roe is brought to bay,
Where rising cliffs oppose her woody way,
Within some nook embraced by rocks and logs,
She turns her head upon the bristling dogs,
Bends here and there until her way is clear,
Flies through her foes and leaves them on the rear.

Seized by the heaving tide, the feath'ry boat,
Midway the river down begins to float,
But Guildern with his strong arms grasps the oars,
Plies all his strength, and up the current soars.
The angry billows clamor at his keel,
And on his prow in sudden fury wheel,
Till, at an angle of a good degree
Above the hound-pressed Creole pausing, he
Wheels short his flight, athwart the current shaves,
And shoreward glides before the rolling waves.
So when the untiring mistress of the winds
Discovers in the covert feeding hinds,
Midway she meets the current of the skies,
And by its adverse strength succeeds to rise,
Till high above the destined point she swings,
Drops from the clouds and shaves on level wings.

The shore is touched, the Creole boards the boat
With child in arms, and all are now afloat.
Old Guildern speaks not, but plies all his skill,
And looks the firm monition, 'now be still,'
Leeona's heart with hope and awe is swelled,
She meets an eye that danger never quelled,
A face as rough as wintry hills, but bland,
An arm of massive strength, but gentle hand,
And mien of dreadful soberness, that braves
The sullen fury of the wind and waves.
The boat is now far out into the stream,
And as her quick oars in the low sun gleam,
Rides up and down the wave, and oe'r and oe'r,
And level swims towards the other shore.
Ah! nobly bearing up her precious freight,
How steadily she rocks beneath the weight!
Her keel has touched, it cleaves the yellow sand,
Thank God! thank God! they land, they land! they land!

Within a fisher's hut all night,
And leaving by the early light
Of bleak December's lurid morn,
Leeona passes into sight,
Cast down and faint, and travel-worn.

From naked hills loud shrieking flew the blast,
And out of hearing moaned along the waste,
Like some torn beggar all disconsolate,
That mutters from harsh Opulence's gate;
As 'Ona trudged along her lonly way,
Beneath a nightly vault of starless gray.

Her murmuring infant shivered in the blast,
As houses by her way she hurried past,
Where rustic comfort sat with smiling pride,
At honest labor's genial fireside.
Thus thro' the hoary landscape's wintry scorn,
She forced her mind's consent to journey on till morn.

The clouds dispersed as night wore slowly on,
And stars from their high glist'ring fields looked down,
Till late the moon-top'd hills in white arose,
And peerless night unveiled her shivering realms of snows.

Ah! bent and trembling, see that gentle form,
Where shelt'ring rocks oppose the wrathful storm,
Chased like some beast, that hovers with her young
In yawning caves, and desert rocks among.
Her tender infant in her arms is prest,
Hushed are its cries - it gently seems to rest.
Where vagrant swine their wintry beds have made
Of leaves and branches from the forest shade,
Now 'Ona stoops to rest her darling's head,
When lo! she starts, she shrieks - her child is dead!
Her wounded bosom feels a nameless dart,
A ghastly sorrow clutches at her heart -
Nor fear assails, tho' now to leave she tries,
But trying stays, her babe embraces, cries,
The cold cliffs groan, and hollow night replies.
The dismal gorges murmur at the sound,
And empty fields spread echoless around.

Beside her babe the weeping mother kneels,
With anguish dumb its pulseless hands she feels;
Its placid cheek against her face is prest,
Her ear is leant upon its silent breast;
Her hopes are gone! and Heaven's pure ear hears
Deep grief entreating thro' a flood of tears.
Above the cliffs where winds a country way,
A voice is heard in cautious tones to say:
'Leeona! Oh Leeona! Oh my dear!
Is it my 'Ona's mournful voice I hear?'
The Creole hushed, afraid to trust her soul,
The felt a mighty burden sudden roll;
Quick claspt her bosom in aching suspense,
But now distincter heard the voice commence:
'Leeona! Oh, my 'Ona! are you near?'
The Creole answers, 'Rodney, I am here!'
Rodney had heard along Leeona's way,
Of her wild flight, and her pursued all day.
Now down the cliffs in breathless haste he flies,
And clasps his life, as thus to him she cries:
'Oh! see, my Rodney; see where baby lies!'

The bosom that had life-long sorrow borne,
The heart which had so long been taught to mourn,
With real manly sympathetic heaves,
Bent o'er the little corpse and raised it from the leaves.
'Poor harmless comer!' then he gently said,
'Better for thee that thy pure soul has fled
With angel watches to the waiting skies,
Where peace e'er flows, and happier climes arise.
Conceived in trouble and in sorrow born,
Thy life rose clouded in its very morn,
And wore along with unpropitious suns;
But to a happy close at last it runs!
Sweet be thy rest upon this lonely shore,
Rocked in the cradle of the winds no more,
And ne'er awakened by the tempest's roar.'
This said, to roll the stone away he stoops,
And in its bed a hasty resting scoops,
Commits his tender burden to the ground,
In poor Leeona's last torn apron wound.
She from a mother's anguish pours out cries,
Bends o'er her infant where entombed it lies,
Its calm cheek moistens from her tender eyes,
Its pale lips kisses o'er and o'er and o'er,
And deeper sobs with each long last once more,
Till Rodney's kindly touch she feels implore;
Then murmurs, 'good-bye, good-bye, mamma's May!'
And with a loud wail tears her wounded heart away.

Here sadness ends,
A new sun lends
His beams to light our way,
And pleasant sights,
And fair delights
Unite to rise our lay.
Where Freedom is what Freedom means,
Our lovers pass to other scenes.

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, September 18, 2010

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