April 4, 2014

Mulligan: Sing a song of the long ago

Judge James H. Mulligan was born in Lexington, Kentucky, almost literally just on the other side of the hill from the town of Hustonville. As a poet who almost exclusively celebrated his home state in his writing, it was likely only a matter of time before he wrote about that small central Kentucky town nicknamed "The Crossroads." His poem "Over the Hill to Hustonville" was published in the Lexington Leader on April 4, 1909. Some have called it his first widely read poem:

Over the hill to Hustonville,
   Past mead and vale and waving grain
With fleecy clouds and glad sunshine
   And the balm of the coming rain;
On where hidden beneath the hill,
In the widening vale below —
Chime and smith and distant herd
   Sing a song of the long ago.

Over the hill to Hustonville
   Where silent fields are sad and brown,
And the crow's lone call is blended
   With the anvil beat of the town;
Where sweet the hamlet life flows on,
And the doors ever open wide,
Welcome the worn and wandering
   To the ingle and cheer inside.

Over the hill to Hustonville
   I knew and loved as a child,
A scene that yet lights up to me
   With a radiant glow and mild;
With drowsy lane and quiet street,
Gables quaint and the houses gray,
Ancient inn with battered sign,
   And an air of the far-away.

Over the hill to Hustonville
   Where men are yet sturdy and strong
As were their sires in days long past —
   As true as their flint-locks long.
And maids are shy and soft of speech —
As the wild-rose, lithsome and true,
Eyes alight as the coming dawn,
   Softly blue, as their skies are blue.

Some — sometime — in the bye and bye,
   With all my life-won riches rare —
Dead hopes and faded memories —
   A silken floss of baby hair;
Fast locked close within my heart —
Worn of strife and the empty quest —
I'll over the hill to Hustonville,
   To dream ever — and rest — and rest.

Despite those final thoughts, Mulligan did not rest in Hustonville, but died and was buried in his home town of Lexington, only about six years after this poem was published. Poetry for him was a sort of second career, started after many years in politics and the law. For a time, he served as consul-general to Samoa (where he befriended Robert Louis Stephenson).

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