Randolph of Roanoke

by John Greenleaf Whittier

O MOTHER Earth! upon thy lap
  Thy weary ones receiving,
And o'er them, silent as a dream,
  Thy grassy mantle weaving,
Fold softly in thy long embrace
  That heart so worn and broken,
And cool its pulse of fire beneath
  Thy shadows old and oaken.
Shut out from him the bitter word
  And serpent hiss of scorning;
Nor let the storms of yesterday
  Disturb his quiet morning.
Breathe over him forgetfulness
  Of all save deeds of kindness,
And, save to smiles of grateful eyes,
  Press down his lids in blindness.
There, where with living ear and eye
  He heard Potomac's flowing,
And, through his tall ancestral trees,
  Saw autumn's sunset glowing,
He sleeps,—still looking to the west,
  Beneath the dark wood shadow,
As if he still would see the sun
  Sink down on wave and meadow.
Bard, Sage, and Tribune!—in himself
  All moods of mind contrasting,—
The tenderest wail of human wo,
  The scorn-like lightning blasting;
The pathos which from rival eyes
  Unwilling tears could summon,
The stinging taunt, the fiery burst
  Of hatred scarcely human!
Mirth, sparkling like a diamond shower,
  From lips of life-long sadness;
Clear picturings of majestic thought
  Upon a ground of madness;
And over all Romance and Song
  A classic beauty throwing,
And laurelled Clio at his side
  Her storied pages showing.
All parties feared him: each in turn
  Beheld its schemes disjointed,
As right or left his fatal glance
  And spectral finger pointed.
Sworn foe of Cant, he smote it down
  With trenchant wit unsparing,
And, mocking, rent with ruthless hand
  The robe Pretence was wearing.
Too honest or too proud to feign
  A love he never cherished,
Beyond Virginia's border line
  His patriotism perished.
While others hailed in distant skies
  Our eagle's dusty pinion,
He only saw the mountain bird
  Stoop o'er his Old Dominion!
Still through each change of fortune strange,
  Racked nerve, and brain all burning,
His loving faith in Mother-land
  Knew never shade of turning;
By Britain's lakes, by Neva's wave,
  Whatever sky was o'er him,
He heard her rivers' rushing sound,
  Her blue peaks rose before him.
He held his slaves, yet made withal
  No false and vain pretences,
Nor paid a lying priest to seek
  For Scriptural defences.
His harshest words of proud rebuke,
  His bitterest taunt and scorning,
Fell fire-like on the Northern brow
  That bent to him in fawning.
He held his slaves: yet kept the while
  His reverence for the Human;
In the dark vassals of his will
  He saw but Man and Woman!
No hunter of God's outraged poor
  His Roanoke valley entered;
No trader in the souls of men
  Across his threshold ventured.
And when the old and wearied man
  Lay down for his last sleeping,
And at his side, a slave no more,
  His brother-man stood weeping,
His latest thought, his latest breath,
  To Freedom's duty giving,
With failing tongue and trembling hand
  The dying blest the living.
O, never bore his ancient State
  A truer son or braver!
None trampling with a calmer scorn
  On foreign hate or favor.
He knew her faults, yet never stooped
  His proud and manly feeling
To poor excuses of the wrong
  Or meanness of concealing.
But none beheld with clearer eye
  The plague-spot o'er her spreading.
None heard more sure the steps of Doom
  Along her future treading.
For her as for himself he spake,
  When, his gaunt frame upbracing,
He traced with dying hand "Remorse!"
  And perished in the tracing.
As from the grave where Henry sleeps,
  From Vernon's weeping willow,
And from the grassy pall which hides
  The Sage of Monticello,
So from the leaf-strewn burial-stone
  Of Randolph's lowly dwelling,
Virginia! o'er thy land of slaves
  A warning voice is swelling!
And hark! from thy deserted fields
  Are sadder warnings spoken,
From quenched hearths, where thy exiled sons
  Their household gods have broken.
The curse is on thee,—wolves for men,
  And briers for corn-sheaves giving!
O, more than all thy dead renown
  Were now one hero living!