Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year: From the New South

A bit of a New Years celebration here at AoT. This is a poem I came across during my thesis research that I've always loved. It's from the Lexington Observer & Reporter, owned and edited by W.C.P. Breckinridge, Colonel of the 9th Ky. Cav (CS), and lately (by the time of this poem) passed off to Confederate sympathizer George S. Ranck. The paper was a leading spokesman for the Kentucky Democracy, a New South booster, eventually a New Departure paper following Henry Watterson's lead, and one of the best sources I have for news and (favorable) opinion about anti-black militia and Kuklux activity.

Notice the "cut down in the prime of life" and "whipped but defiant" South imagery. And, of course, the section towards the end about guarding the "annals and altars of state" from the "wolf" is, going into 1869, a commentary on Kentucky's position on the upcoming 15th Amendment debate.

Lexington Observer & Reporter,
The 1st of January, 1869.

Looking backward for the glory,
Of a gilded summer dawn,
Down a weary waste of whiteness,
Down a dreary winter lawn.

Looking backward, down the shadow
Of an iron beaten way,
Whence the armoured TIME came silent,
On the animate to-day.

Oh, it startles human reason;
Oh, it withers human pride,
Looking backward, ever backward,
On the living things that died.
Tread lightly – tread softly – oh, merciful Time,
O’er the land of the sun, and the lemon and lime,

For leaves of the flowers so faded and strewn,
Were fair in the morning and fallen at noon.

Go back to the plane of your ice-hidden lakes –
Go back with your breath of the frost and the flakes,

Go northward, oh, season of winter and gloom,
From the emerald South and its odorous bloom.
Oh, better to die and be hidden away,
Than to live in the circle and sight of decay.

Our metals of life in their crucibles run,
When the pulses are red in the glow of the sun.

But come to the South with the ice of your heel,
And the channels are still and the currents congeal.

Go backward, oh, winter, go back to the lakes,
With your withering frost and your wandering flakes.
The bush is borne down, and the blossom is shed
And we gather to-day at the grave of the dead.

The course that is stark, and the body that’s cold,
Is a lick of the past to be lost in the mold;

And armies may go the sepulcher plain,
To laurel the bier of the body that’s slain,

But never again at the death of the years,
Will the heart of the Southron be lavish of tears,

Go seek in the far-reaching fields of his land,
For the shade of his column and capital grand;

Go look for the mosque of his worship and pride;
Go look for his brother go look for his bride;

Go look for all things he has cherished and loved,
The garden be haunted – the valley be roved,

And the desolate track, and the ravens that fly.
Will tell that the fount of the Southron is dry.

Time was, when a sentinel stood at the gate,
And guarded the annals and altars of state;

When the gleam of his eye and the glare of his blade
Kept the wolf in the covet afar and afraid;

When the good and the pure, and the noble and true,
Were all in the land that the sentinel knew –

Time was when the tyrant would blanch in the sight,
Of the column and arch of our temple of right,

When the marbles of state in their purity stood –
That our fathers had builded and hallowed in blood;

But time is long gone with the sands of the glass,
When honor was watchword, and virtue the pass.

Go banish the dust from your lexicons old
Ye people that glitter and seek to be gold;

Go back to the schools of your earlier days,
For their lessons of truth, and their patriot lays;

Go study the greatness, that tried in the fires,
Shone bright in the glory that covered your sires;

Go feel in the spell that encircles their graves
That tyrants and cowards are meaner than slaves.

Oh, men of the nation – oh, rulers and kings,
Do ye know that your riches and powers have wings?

Do ye know that the ashes ye scatter and spurn,
Must quicken in time, and arise from the urn?

Do you know that the gates where ye gather your tolls,
Are peopled with things that have pulses and souls?

Do ye dare from your source in the dust and the clods
To covet the robe and the thrones of the Gods?

Ye may look at the waves that go out on the sea,
And learn from the past, what your future will be;
But evening must come from the shadow at last
With a garment of gloom and a gathering blast.

Happy New Year from a still-defiant South!


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