Song

John Rollin Ridge - 1827-1867

Come to the river’s side, my love,
     My light canoe is by the shore,—
We’ll float upon the tide my love,
     And thou shalt hold the dripping oar.

Methinks thy hand could guide so well
     The tiny vessel on its course;
The waves would smooth their crests to thee
     As I have done my spirit’s force.

How calmly will we glide my love,
     Through moonlight floating on the deep,
Or, loving yet the safer shore,
     Beneath the fringing willows weep.

Again, like some wild duck, we’ll skim,
     And scarcely touch the water’s face,
While silver streaks our way shall mark,
     And circling lines of beauty trace!

And then the stars shall shine above
     In harmony with those below,
And gazing up, and looking down,
     Give glance for glance, and glow for glow!

And then their light shall be our own,
      Commingled with our souls!—and sweet
As those bright stars of Heaven shall be
     Our hearts, which then shall melting meet.

At last we’ll reach yon silent isle,
     So calm and green amidst the waves;
So peaceful too, it does not spurn
     The friendly tide its shore that laves.

We’ll draw our vessel on the sand,
     And seek the shadow of those trees,
Where all alone, and undisturbed,
     We’ll talk and love as we may please!

And then thy voice shall be so soft,
     ’Twill match the whisper of the leaves,
And then thy breast shall yield its sigh
     So like the wavelet as it heaves!

And oh that eye, so dark and free,
     So like a spirit in itself!
And then that hand so white and small
     It would not shame the loveliest elf!

The world might perish all, for me,
     So that it left that little isle!
The human race might pass away
     If thou wert left me with thy smile!

Then, to the river’s side, my love,
     My boat is waiting on its oar—
We’ll float upon the tide, my love,
     And gaily reach that islet’s shore.

More by John Rollin Ridge

The Atlantic Cable

Let Earth be glad! for that great work is done,
Which makes, at last, the Old and New World one!
Let all mankind rejoice! for time nor space
Shall check the progress of the human race!
Though Nature heaved the Continents apart,
She cast in one great mould the human heart;
She framed on one great plan the human mind
And gave man speech to link him to his kind;
So that, though plains and mountains intervene,
Or oceans, broad and stormy, roll between,
If there but be a courier for the thought—
Swift-winged or slow—the land and seas are nought,
And man is nearer to his brother brought.

First, ere the dawn of letters was, or burst
The light of science on the world, men, nurs’t
In distant solitudes apart, did send,
Their skin-clad heralds forth to thread the woods,
Scale mountain-peaks, or swim the sudden floods,
And bear their messages of peace or war.

Next, beasts were tamed to drag the rolling car,
Or speed the mounted rider on his track;
And then came, too, the vessels, oar-propelled,
Which fled the ocean, as the clouds grew black,
And safe near shore their prudent courses held.
Next came the winged ships, which, brave and free,
Did skim the bosom of the bounding sea,
And dared the storms and darkness in their flight,
Yet drifted far before the winds and night,
Or lay within the dead calm’s grasp of might.
Then, sea-divided nations nearer came,
Stood face to face, spake each the other’s name,
In friendship grew, and learned the truth sublime,
That Man is Man in every age and clime!
They nearer were by months and years—but space
Must still be shortened in Improvement’s race,
And steam came next to wake the world from sleep,
And launch her black-plumed warriors of the deep;
The which, in calm or storm, rode onward still,
And braved the raging elements at will.
Then distance, which from calms’ and storms’ delays
Grew into months, was shortened into days,
And Science’ self declared her wildest dream
Reached not beyond this miracle of steam!
But steam hath not the lightning’s wondrous power,
Though, Titan-like, mid Science’ sons it tower
And wrestle with the ocean in his wrath,
And sweep the wild waves foaming from its path.
A mightier monarch is that subtler thing,
Which gives to human thought a thought-swift wing;
Which speaks in thunder like a God,
Or humbly stoops to kiss the lifted rod;
Ascends to Night’s dim, solitary throne,
And clothes it with a splendor not its own—
A ghastly grandeur and a ghostly sheen,
Through which the pale stars tremble as they’re seen;
Descends to fire the far horizon’s rim,
And paints Mount Etnas in the cloudland grim;
Or, proud to own fair Science’ rightful sway,
Low bends along th’ electric wire to play,
And, helping out the ever-wondrous plan,
Becomes, in sooth, an errand-boy for man!

This Power it was, which, not content with aught
As yet achieved by human will or thought,
Disdained the slow account of months or days,
In navigation of the ocean ways,
And days would shorten into hours, and these
To minutes, in the face of sounding seas.
If Thought might not be borne upon the foam
Of furrowing keel, with speed that Thought should roam,
It then should walk, like light, the ocean’s bed,
And laugh to scorn the winds and waves o’er head!
Beneath the reach of storm or wreck, down where
The skeletons of men and navies are,
Its silent steps should be; while o’er its path
The monsters of the deep, in sport or wrath,
The waters lashed, till like a pot should boil
The sea, and fierce Arion seize the upcast spoil.

America! to thee belongs the praise
Of this great crowning deed of modern days.
’T was Franklin called the wonder from on high;
’T was Morse who bade it on man’s errands fly—
’T was he foretold its pathway ’neath the sea:
A daring Field fulfilled the prophecy!
’T was fitting that a great, free land like this,
Should give the lightning’s voice to Liberty;
Should wing the heralds of Earth’s happiness,
And sing, beneath the ever-sounding sea,
The fair, the bright millennial days to be.

Now may, ere long, the sword be sheathed to rust,
The helmet laid in undistinguished dust;
The thund’rous chariot pause in mid career,
Its crimsoned wheels no more through blood to steer;
The red-hoofed steed from fields of death be led,
Or turned to pasture where the armies bled;
For Nation unto Nation soon shall be
Together brought in knitted unity,
And man be bound to man by that strong chain,
Which, linking land to land, and main to main,
Shall vibrate to the voice of Peace, and be
A throbbing heartstring of Humanity!


To a Star Seen at Twilight

Hail solitary star!
That shinest from thy far blue height,
And overlookest Earth
And Heaven, companionless in light!
The rays around thy brow
Are an eternal wreath for thee;
Yet thou’rt not proud, like man,
Though thy broad mirror is the sea,
And thy calm home eternity!

Shine on, night-bosomed star!
And through its realms thy soul’s eye dart,
And count each age of light,
For their eternal wheel thou art.
Thou dost roll into the past days,
Years, and ages too,
And naught thy giant progress stays.

I love to gaze upon
Thy speaking face, thy calm, fair brow,
And feel my spirit dark
And deep, grow bright and pure as thou.
Like thee it stands alone:
Like thee its native home is night,
But there the likeness ends,—
It beams not with thy steady light.
Its upward path is high,
But not so high as thine—thou’rt far
Above the reach of clouds,
Of storms, of wreck, oh lofty star!
I would all men might look
Upon thy pure sublimity,
And in their bosoms drink
Thy lovliness and light like me;
For who in all the world
Could gaze upon thee thus, and feel
Aught in his nature base,
Or mean, or low, around him steal!

Shine on companionless
As now thou seem’st. Thou art the throne
Of thy own spirit, star!
And mighty things must be alone.
Alone the ocean heaves,
Or calms his bosom into sleep;
Alone each mountain stands
Upon its basis broad and deep;
Alone through heaven the comets sweep,
Those burning worlds which God has thrown
Upon the universe in wrath,
As if he hated them—their path
No stars, no suns may follow, none
’T is great, ’t is great to be alone!

October Hills

I look upon the purple hills
     That rise in steps to yonder peaks,
And all my soul their silence thrills
     And to my heart their beauty speaks.

What now to me the jars of life,
     Its petty cares, its harder throes?
The hills are free from toil and strife,
     And clasp me in their deep repose.

They soothe the pain within my breast
     No power but theirs could ever reach,
They emblem that eternal rest
      We cannot compass in our speech.

From far I feel their secret charm—
     From far they shed their healing balm,
And lost to sense of grief or harm
     I plunge within their pulseless calm.

How full of peace and strength they stand,
     Self-poised and conscious of their weight!
We rise with them, that silent band,
     Above the wrecks of Time or Fate;

For, mounting from their depths unseen,
     Their spirit pierces upward, far,
A soaring pyramid serene,
     And lifts us where the angels are.

I would not lose this scene of rest,
     Nor shall its dreamy joy depart;
Upon my soul it is imprest,
     And pictured in my inmost heart.