August 17, 2011

That mighty arm which none can stay

The patriotic optimism of William Cullen Bryant was nearly shattered by the Union loss at the First Battle of Bull Run. He had expected that federal troops would quickly destroy the rebellious Confederacy and normalcy would resume. He admitted that the loss would "take the conceit out of us" and, further, that it would "give the contest [e.g. the war] so serious a character that when we do settle it we shall insist on so crippling the slave interest that it will never lift its head again." On August 17, 1861, about a month after the battle, the New York Ledger published his poem, "Not Yet":

Oh country, marvel of the earth!
   Oh realm to sudden greatness grown!
The age that gloried in thy birth,
   Shall it behold thee overthrown?
Shall traitors lay that greatness low?
No, land of Hope and Blessing, No!

And we, who wear thy glorious name,
   Shall we, like cravens, stand apart,
When those whom thou hast trusted aim
   The death-blow at thy generous heart?
Forth goes the battle-cry, and lo!
Hosts rise in harness, shouting, No!

And they who founded, in our land,
   The power that rules from sea to sea,
Bled they in vain, or vainly planned
   To leave their country great and free?
Their sleeping ashes, from below,
Send up the thrilling murmur, No!

Knit they the gentle ties which long
   These sister States were proud to wear,
And forged the kindly links so strong
   For idle hands in sport to tear?
For scornful hands aside to throw?
No, by our fathers' memory, No!

Our humming marts, our iron ways,
   Our wind-tossed woods on mountain-crest,
The hoarse Atlantic, with its bays,
   The calm, broad Ocean of the West,
And Mississippi's torrent-flow,
And loud Niagara, answer, No!

Not yet the hour is nigh when they
   Who deep in Eld's dim twilight sit,
Earth's ancient kings, shall rise and say,
   "Proud country, welcome to the pit!
So soon art thou, like us, brought low!"
No, sullen group of shadows, No!

For now, behold, the arm that gave
   The victory in our fathers' day,
Strong, as of old, to guard and save—
   That mighty arm which none can stay—
On clouds above and fields below,
Writes, in men's sight, the answer, No!

*William Cullen Bryant: Author of America (2008) by Gilbert H. Muller provided much of the information in this post.

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