August 21, 2013

Birth of Gallagher: Land of the West

The death of William Davis Gallagher's Irish father in 1841 prompted the family's move from Philadelphia to Mount Healthy, Ohio. Born in that Pennsylvania city on August 21, 1808, Davis would become forever enmeshed with his adopted state of Ohio. The trip was made across Pennsylvania in horse-drawn carriage before embarking on the Ohio River to the Cincinnati area. Educated in part in a log schoolhouse and working as a farm hand in his youth, he began to recognize the rural west as a place of distinct importance. While serving as a newspaper editor in and around Cincinnati,  he had his first experience with poetry — though it wasn't initially positive. "I wondered," he noted decades later, "why the stupid contributors didn't put what they had to say plainly, instead of cutting it up ridiculously, in short lines, with capitals at one end and rhymes at the other."

But Gallagher had interacted with several Ohio poets, including Otway Curry and the Cary sisters, and began writing his own poetry which celebrated the west "plainly" (some were even set to music). He also traveled through Mississippi and Kentucky, reflecting similarly on their raw, rural nature. Among his longest works is Miami Woods, a seven part work with a "Proem" and "L'Envoi" celebrating southern Ohio. He also collected a significant anthology of Western writers. Here are the first and final parts of his poem "The West":

      Land of the West—green Forest-Land!
        Clime of the fair, and the immense!
      Favorite of Nature's liberal hand,
        And child of her munificence!
      Fill'd with a rapture warm, intense,
        High on a cloud-girt hill I stand,
      And with clear vision gazing thence,
        Thy glories round me far expand:
      Rivers, whose likeness earth has not,
        And lakes, that elsewhere seas would be,—
      Whose shores the countless wild herds dot,
        Fleet as the winds, and all as free;
      Mountains that pierce the bending sky,
        And with the storm-clouds warfare wage,—
      Shooting their glittering peaks on high,
        To mock the fierce red lightning's rage;
      Arcadian vales with vine-hung bow'rs,
        And grassy nooks, 'neath beechen shade,
      Where dance the never resting Hours,
        To music of the bright cascade;
      Skies softly beautiful, and blue
        As Italy's, with stars as bright;
        Flow'rs rich as morning's sun-rise hue,
      And gorgeous as the gemm'd midnight.
        Land of the West—green Forest-Land!
      Thus hath Creation's bounteous hand,
        Upon thine ample bosom flung
Charms such as were her gift when the gray world was young...

        Land of the West!—beneath the Heaven
        There's not a fairer, lovelier clime;
      Nor one to which was ever given
        A destiny more high, sublime.
      From Alleghany's base to where
        Our Western Andes prop the sky—
      The home of Freedom's hearts is there,
        And o'er it Freedom's eagles fly.
      And here,—should e'er Columbia's land
        Be rent with fierce intestine feud,—
      Shall Freedom's latest cohorts stand,
        Till Freedom's eagles sink in blood,
And quench'd are all the stars that now her banners stud.

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