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1842

THE ANTIQUITY OF FREEDOM

by William Cullen Bryant

THE ANTIQUITY OF FREEDOM -

Here are old treestall oaksand gnarled pines

That stream with gray-green mosses; here the ground

Was never trenched by spadeand flowers spring up

Unsownand die ungathered. It is sweet

To linger hereamong the flitting birds

And leaping squirrelswandering brooksand winds

That shake the leavesand scatteras they pass

A fragrance from the cedarsthickly set

With pale-blue berries. In these peaceful shades-

Peacefulunprunedimmeasurably old-

My thoughts go up the long dim path of years

Back to the earliest days of liberty. -

O Freedom! thou art notas poets dream

A fair young girl with light and delicate limbs

And wavy tresses gushing from the cap

With which the Roman master crowned his slave

When he took off the gyves. A bearded man

Armed to the teethart thou; one mailed hand

Grasps the broad shieldand one the sword; thybrow

Glorious in beauty though it beis scarred

With tokens of old wars; thy massive limbs

Are strong with struggling. Power at thee has launched

His boltsand with his lightnings smitten thee;

They could not quench the life thou hast from heaven;

Merciless Power has dug thy dungeon deep

And his swart armorersby a thousand fires

Have forged thy chain; yetwhile he deems thee bound

The links are shiveredand the prison-walls

Fall outward; terribly thou springest forth

As springs the flame above a burning pile

And shoutest to the nationswho return

Thy shoutingswhile the pale oppressor flies. -

Thy birthright was not given by human hands:

Thou wert twin-born with man. In pleasant fields

While yet our race was fewthou sat'st with him

To tend the quiet flock and watch the stars

And teach the reed to utter simple airs.

Thou by his sideamid the tangled wood

Didst war upon the panther and the wolf

His only foes; and thou with him didst draw

The earliest furrow on the mountain-side

Soft with the deluge. Tyranny himself

Thy enemyalthough of reverend look

Hoary with many yearsand far obeyed

Is later born than thou; and as he meets

The grave defiance of thine elder eye

The usurper trembles in his fastnesses. -

Thou shalt wax stronger with the lapse of years

But he shall fade into a feebler age-

Feebleryet subtler. He shall weave his snares

And spring them on thy careless stepsand clap

His withered handsand from their ambush call

His hordes to fall upon thee. He shall send

Quaint maskerswearing fair and gallant forms

To catch thy gazeand uttering graceful words

To charm thy ear; while his sly impsby stealth

Twine round thee threads of steellight thread on thread

That grow to fetters; or bind down thy arms

With chains concealed in chaplets. Oh! not yet

Mayst thou unbrace thy corsletnor lay by

Thy sword; nor yetO Freedom! close thy lids

In slumber; for thine enemy never sleeps

And thou must watch and combat till the day

Of the new earth and heaven. But wouldst thou rest

Awhile from tumult and the frauds of men

These old and friendly solitudes invite

Thy visit. Theywhile yet the forest-trees

Were young upon the unviolated earth

And yet the moss-stains on the rock were new

Beheld thy glorious childhoodand rejoiced. -

THE END




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