May 25, 2012

Pike: A life amid the wild

Albert Pike was born in Boston, Massachusetts but, by 1831, he began traveling south and west. Finally, in 1833, he settled in the Arkansas Territory, the place that would define his life and career. He began submitting poems to the local newspaper while he worked as a teacher. On May 25, 1833, he wrote "Lines," a poem about his new lifestyle in the desert (in a subheadline, he noted "In one month I shall be in the prairie, and under the mountains in another"):

Once more unto the desert! who
         Would live a slave, when he can free
His heart from thraldom thus? O who?
                  Slave let him be.

Once more unto the desert! now
         The world's hard bonds have grown too hard.
No more, oh heart! in dungeons bow,
                  And caves unstarred.

Heart! bid the world farewell: thy task
         Is done;—perhaps thy words may live;—
Thou hast no favor now to ask,
                  And few to give.

Thou hast writ down thy thoughts of fire,
         And deep communion with thine own
Sad spirit; now thy broken lyre
                  Makes its last moan.

Thou hast laid out thy secrecy
         Before the world, and traced each wave
Of feeling, from thy troubled sea
                  Unto its cave.

Within thy dim recesses, where
         The feelings most intense are hidden;
Thou hast outborne thence to the air
                  Thy thoughts, unbidden.

And now unto the desert! Why
         Am I to be a slave forever?
To stay amid mankind, and die
         Like a scorched river,

Wasting in burning sands away?
         Am I to toil, and watch my heart
And spirit, hour by hour decay,
                  Still not depart?—

To pour the treasures of my soul
         Upon the world's parched wilderness,
And feel no answering echo roll
                  My ear to bless?

Once more unto the desert! There
         I ask nor wealth, nor hope, nor praise,
Nor gentle ease, nor want of care
                  On my dark ways;

Nor fame, nor friends, nor joy, nor leisure—
         Here I must have them all, or die,
Or lead a life devoid of pleasure—
                  Such now lead I.

No life of pain and toil for me!
         Of home unhoped for—friends unkind!
Better the desert's waveless sea,
                  And stormy wind.

Better a life amid the wild
         Storm-hearted children of the plain,
Than this, with heart and soul defiled
                  By sorrow's rain.

Out to the desert! from this mart
         Of bloodless cheeks, and lightless eyes,
And broken hopes, and shattered hearts,
                  And miseries.

Out to the desert! from the sway
         Of falsehood, crime, and heartlessness;
Better a free life for a day
                  Than years like this.

Once more unto the desert, where
         My gun and steed shall be my friend:
And I shall ask no aidance there—
                  As little lend.

Farewell, my father-land! Afar
         I make my last and kind farewell.
I did think to have seen thee—ah!
                  How hopes will swell!

Farewell, forever! Take the last
         Sad gift, my father-land, of one
Struck by misfortune's chilling blast,
                  Yet still thy son.

Farewell, my land! Farewell, my pen!
         Farewell, hard world—thy harder life!
Now to the desert once again!
                  The gun and knife!

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