James Russell Lowell Poems >>
Mason And Slidell: A Yankee Idyll

TO THE EDITORS OF THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY
I love to start out arter night's begun,
An' all the chores about the farm are done,
The critters milked an' foddered, gates shet fast,
Tools cleaned aginst to-morrer, supper past.
An' Nancy darnin' by her ker'sene lamp,--
I love, I say, to start upon a tramp,
To shake the kinkles out o' back an' legs,
An' kind o' rack my life off from the dregs
Thet's apt to settle in the buttery-hutch
Of folks thet foller in one rut too much:  
Hard work is good an' wholesome, past all doubt;
But 't ain't so, ef the mind gits tuckered out.
Now, bein' born in Middlesex, you know,
There's certin spots where I like best to go:
The Concord road, for instance (I, for one,
Most gin'lly ollers call it _John Bull's Run_).
The field o' Lexin'ton where England tried
The fastest colours thet she ever dyed,
An' Concord Bridge, thet Davis, when he came,
Found was the bee-line track to heaven an' fame,  
Ez all roads be by natur', ef your soul
Don't sneak thru shun-pikes so's to save the toll.

They're 'most too fur away, take too much time
To visit of'en, ef it ain't in rhyme;
But the' 's a walk thet's hendier, a sight,
An' suits me fust-rate of a winter's night,--
I mean the round whale's-back o' Prospect Hill.
I love to l'iter there while night grows still,
An' in the twinklin' villages about,
Fust here, then there, the well-saved lights goes out,   
An' nary sound but watch-dogs' false alarms,
Or muffled cock-crows from the drowsy farms,
Where some wise rooster (men act jest thet way)
Stands to 't thet moon-rise is the break o' day;
(So Mister Seward sticks a three-months' pin
Where the war'd oughto eend, then tries agin:
My gran'ther's rule was safer 'n 'tis to crow:
_Don't never prophesy--onless ye know_.)
I love to muse there till it kind o' seems
Ez ef the world went eddyin' off in dreams;  
The northwest wind thet twitches at my baird
Blows out o' sturdier days not easy scared,
An' the same moon thet this December shines
Starts out the tents an' booths o' Putnam's lines;
The rail-fence posts, acrost the hill thet runs,
Turn ghosts o' sogers should'rin' ghosts o' guns;
Ez wheels the sentry, glints a flash o' light,
Along the firelock won at Concord Fight,
An', 'twixt the silences, now fur, now nigh,
Rings the sharp chellenge, hums the low reply.  

Ez I was settin' so, it warn't long sence,
Mixin' the puffict with the present tense,
I heerd two voices som'ers in the air,
Though, ef I was to die, I can't tell where:
Voices I call 'em: 'twas a kind o' sough
Like pine-trees thet the wind's ageth'rin' through;
An', fact, I thought it _was_ the wind a spell,
Then some misdoubted, couldn't fairly tell,
Fust sure, then not, jest as you hold an eel,
I knowed, an' didn't,--fin'lly seemed to feel     
'Twas Concord Bridge a talkin' off to kill
With the Stone Spike thet's druv thru Bunker's Hill;
Whether 'twas so, or ef I on'y dreamed,
I couldn't say; I tell it ez it seemed.


THE BRIDGE

Wal, neighbor, tell us wut's turned up thet's new?
You're younger 'n I be,--nigher Boston, tu:
An' down to Boston, ef you take their showin',
Wut they don't know ain't hardly wuth the knowin'.
There's _sunthin'_ goin' on, I know: las' night
The British sogers killed in our gret fight      
(Nigh fifty year they hedn't stirred nor spoke)
Made sech a coil you'd thought a dam hed broke:
Why, one he up an' beat a revellee
With his own crossbones on a holler tree,
Till all the graveyards swarmed out like a hive
With faces I hain't seen sence Seventy-five.
Wut _is_ the news? 'T ain't good, or they'd be cheerin'.
Speak slow an' clear, for I'm some hard o' hearin'.


THE MONIMENT

I don't know hardly ef it's good or bad,--


THE BRIDGE

At wust, it can't be wus than wut we've had.    


THE MONIMENT

You know them envys thet the Rebbles sent,
An' Cap'n Wilkes he borried o' the Trent?


THE BRIDGE

Wut! they ha'n't hanged 'em?
Then their wits is gone!
Thet's the sure way to make a goose a swan!


THE MONIMENT

No: England she _would_ hev 'em, _Fee, Faw, Fum!_
(Ez though she hedn't fools enough to home,)
So they've returned 'em--


THE BRIDGE

         _Hev_ they? Wal, by heaven,
Thet's the wust news I've heerd sence Seventy-seven!
_By George_, I meant to say, though I declare
It's 'most enough to make a deacon swear.       


THE MONIMENT

Now don't go off half-cock: folks never gains
By usin' pepper-sarse instid o' brains.
Come, neighbor, you don't understan'--


THE BRIDGE

                How? Hey?
Not understan'? Why, wut's to hender, pray?
Must I go huntin' round to find a chap
To tell me when my face hez hed a slap?


THE MONIMENT

See here: the British they found out a flaw
In Cap'n Wilkes's readin' o' the law:
(They _make_ all laws, you know, an' so, o' course,
It's nateral they should understan' their force          
He'd oughto ha' took the vessel into port,
An' hed her sot on by a reg'lar court;
She was a mail-ship, an' a steamer, tu,
An' thet, they say, hez changed the pint o' view,
Coz the old practice, bein' meant for sails,
Ef tried upon a steamer, kind o' fails;
You _may_ take out despatches, but you mus'n't
Take nary man--


THE BRIDGE

You mean to say, you dus'n't!
Changed pint o'view! No, no,--it's overboard
With law an' gospel, when their ox is gored!            
I tell ye, England's law, on sea an' land,
Hez ollers ben, '_I've gut the heaviest hand_.'
Take nary man? Fine preachin' from _her_ lips!
Why, she hez taken hunderds from our ships,
An' would agin, an' swear she had a right to,
Ef we warn't strong enough to be perlite to.
Of all the sarse thet I can call to mind,
England _doos_ make the most onpleasant kind:
It's you're the sinner ollers, she's the saint;
Wut's good's all English, all thet isn't ain't;          
Wut profits her is ollers right an' just,
An' ef you don't read Scriptur so, you must;
She's praised herself ontil she fairly thinks
There ain't no light in Natur when she winks;
Hain't she the Ten Comman'ments in her pus?
Could the world stir 'thout she went, tu, ez nus?
She ain't like other mortals, thet's a fact:
_She_ never stopped the habus-corpus act,
Nor specie payments, nor she never yet
Cut down the int'rest on her public debt;  
_She_ don't put down rebellions, lets 'em breed,
An' 's ollers willin' Ireland should secede;
She's all thet's honest, honnable, an' fair,
An' when the vartoos died they made her heir.


THE MONIMENT

Wal, wal, two wrongs don't never make a right;
Ef we're mistaken, own up, an' don't fight:
For gracious' sake, ha'n't we enough to du
'thout gettin' up a fight with England, tu?
She thinks we're rabble-rid--


THE BRIDGE

                 An' so we can't
Distinguish 'twixt _You oughtn't_ an' _You shan't!_   
She jedges by herself; she's no idear
How 't stiddies folks to give 'em their fair sheer:
The odds 'twixt her an' us is plain's a steeple,--
Her People's turned to Mob, our Mob's turned People.


THE MONIMENT

She's riled jes' now--


THE BRIDGE

     Plain proof her cause ain't strong,--
The one thet fust gits mad's 'most ollers wrong.
Why, sence she helped in lickin' Nap the Fust,
An' pricked a bubble jest agoin' to bust,
With Rooshy, Prooshy, Austry, all assistin',
Th' ain't nut a face but wut she's shook her fist in,      
Ez though she done it all, an' ten times more,
An' nothin' never hed gut done afore,
Nor never could agin, 'thout she wuz spliced
On to one eend an' gin th' old airth a hoist.
She _is_ some punkins, thet I wun't deny,
(For ain't she some related to you 'n' I?)
But there's a few small intrists here below
Outside the counter o' John Bull an' Co,
An' though they can't conceit how 't should be so,
I guess the Lord druv down Creation's spiles           
'thout no _gret_ helpin' from the British Isles,
An' could contrive to keep things pooty stiff
Ef they withdrawed from business in a miff;
I ha'n't no patience with sech swellin' fellers ez
Think God can't forge 'thout them to blow the bellerses.


THE MONIMENT

You're ollers quick to set your back aridge,
Though 't suits a tom-cat more 'n a sober bridge:
Don't you get het: they thought the thing was planned;
They'll cool off when they come to understand.


THE BRIDGE

Ef _thet_'s wut you expect, you'll _hev_ to wait;   
Folks never understand the folks they hate:
She'll fin' some other grievance jest ez good,
'fore the month's out, to git misunderstood.
England cool off! She'll do it, ef she sees
She's run her head into a swarm o' bees.
I ain't so prejudiced ez wut you spose:
I hev thought England was the best thet goes;
Remember (no, you can't), when _I_ was reared,
_God save the King_ was all the tune you heerd:
But it's enough to turn Wachuset roun'              
This stumpin' fellers when you think they're down.


THE MONIMENT

But, neighbor, ef they prove their claim at law,
The best way is to settle, an' not jaw.
An' don't le' 's mutter 'bout the awfle bricks
We'll give 'em, ef we ketch 'em in a fix:
That 'ere's most frequently the kin' o' talk
Of critters can't be kicked to toe the chalk;
Your 'You'll see _nex'_ time!' an' 'Look out bumby!'
'Most ollers ends in eatin' umble-pie.
'Twun't pay to scringe to England: will it pay         
To fear thet meaner bully, old 'They'll say'?
Suppose they _du_ say; words are dreffle bores,
But they ain't quite so bad ez seventy-fours.
Wut England wants is jest a wedge to fit
Where it'll help to widen out our split:
She's found her wedge, an' 'tain't for us to come
An' lend the beetle thet's to drive it home.
For growed-up folks like us 'twould be a scandle,
When we git sarsed, to fly right off the handle.
England ain't _all_ bad, coz she thinks us blind:    
Ef she can't change her skin, she can her mind;
An' we shall see her change it double-quick.
Soon ez we've proved thet we're a-goin' to lick.
She an' Columby's gut to be fas' friends:
For the world prospers by their privit ends:
'Twould put the clock back all o' fifty years
Ef they should fall together by the ears.


THE BRIDGE

I 'gree to thet; she's nigh us to wut France is;
But then she'll hev to make the fust advances;
We've gut pride, tu, an' gut it by good rights,       
An' ketch _me_ stoopin' to pick up the mites
O' condescension she'll be lettin' fall
When she finds out we ain't dead arter all!
I tell ye wut, it takes more'n one good week
Afore _my_ nose forgits it's hed a tweak.


THE MONIMENT

She'll come out right bumby, thet I'll engage,
Soon ez she gits to seein' we're of age;
This talkin' down o' hers ain't wuth a fuss;
It's nat'ral ez nut likin' 'tis to us;           
Ef we're agoin' to prove we _be_ growed-up.
'Twun't be by barkin' like a tarrier pup,
But turnin' to an' makin' things ez good
Ez wut we're ollers braggin' that we could;
We're boun' to be good friends, an' so we'd oughto,
In spite of all the fools both sides the water.


THE BRIDGE

I b'lieve thet's so; but hearken in your ear,--
I'm older'n you,--Peace wun't keep house with Fear;
Ef you want peace, the thing you've gut tu du
Is jes' to show you're up to fightin', tu.
_I_ recollect how sailors' rights was won,   
Yard locked in yard, hot gun-lip kissin' gun;
Why, afore thet, John Bull sot up thet he
Hed gut a kind o' mortgage on the sea;
You'd thought he held by Gran'ther Adam's will,
An' ef you knuckle down, _he_'ll think so still.
Better thet all our ships an' all their crews
Should sink to rot in ocean's dreamless ooze,
Each torn flag wavin' chellenge ez it went,
An' each dumb gun a brave man's moniment,
Than seek sech peace ez only cowards crave:         
Give _me_ the peace of dead men or of brave!


THE MONIMENT

I say, ole boy, it ain't the Glorious Fourth:
You'd oughto larned 'fore this wut talk wuz worth.
It ain't _our_ nose thet gits put out o' jint;
It's England thet gives up her dearest pint.
We've gut, I tell ye now, enough to du
In our own fem'ly fight, afore we're thru.
I hoped, las' spring, jest arter Sumter's shame,
When every flag-staff flapped its tethered flame,
An' all the people, startled from their doubt,        
Come must'rin' to the flag with sech a shout,--
I hoped to see things settled 'fore this fall,
The Rebbles licked, Jeff Davis hanged, an' all;
Then come Bull Run, an' _sence_ then I've ben waitin'
Like boys in Jennooary thaw for skatin',
Nothin' to du but watch my shadder's trace
Swing, like a ship at anchor, roun' my base,
With daylight's flood an' ebb: it's gittin' slow,
An' I 'most think we'd better let 'em go.
I tell ye wut, this war's a-goin' to cost--         


THE BRIDGE

An' I tell _you_ it wun't be money lost;
Taxes milks dry, but, neighbor, you'll allow
Thet havin' things onsettled kills the cow:
We've gut to fix this thing for good an' all;
It's no use buildin' wut's a-goin' to fall.
I'm older'n you, an' I've seen things an' men,
An' _my_ experunce,--tell ye wut it's ben:
Folks thet worked thorough was the ones thet thriv,
But bad work follers ye ez long's ye live;
You can't git red on 't; jest ez sure ez sin,         
It's ollers askin' to be done agin:
Ef we should part, it wouldn't be a week
'Fore your soft-soddered peace would spring aleak.
We've turned our cuffs up, but, to put her thru,
We must git mad an' off with jackets, tu;
'Twun't du to think thet killin' ain't perlite,--
You've gut to be to airnest, ef you fight;
Why, two thirds o' the Rebbles 'ould cut dirt,
Ef they once thought thet Guv'ment meant to hurt;
An' I _du_ wish our Gin'rals hed in mind        
The folks in front more than the folks behind;
You wun't do much ontil you think it's God,
An' not constitoounts, thet holds the rod;
We want some more o' Gideon's sword, I jedge,
For proclamations ha'n't no gret of edge;
There's nothin' for a cancer but the knife,
Onless you set by 't more than by your life.
_I_'ve seen hard times; I see a war begun
Thet folks thet love their bellies never'd won;
Pharo's lean kine hung on for seven long year;         
But when 'twas done, we didn't count it dear;
Why, law an' order, honor, civil right,
Ef they _ain't_ wuth it, wut _is_ wuth a fight?
I'm older'n you: the plough, the axe, the mill,
All kin's o' labor an' all kin's o' skill,
Would be a rabbit in a wile-cat's claw,
Ef 'twarn't for thet slow critter, 'stablished law;
Onsettle _thet_, an' all the world goes whiz,
A screw's gut loose in eyerythin' there is:
Good buttresses once settled, don't you fret          
An' stir 'em; take a bridge's word for thet!
Young folks are smart, but all ain't good thet's new;
I guess the gran'thers they knowed sunthin', tu.


THE MONIMENT

Amen to thet! build sure in the beginnin':
An' then don't never tech the underpinnin':
Th' older a guv'ment is, the better 't suits;
New ones hunt folks's corns out like new boots:
Change jes' for change, is like them big hotels
Where they shift plates, an' let ye live on smells.


THE BRIDGE

Wal, don't give up afore the ship goes down:          
It's a stiff gale, but Providence wun't drown;
An' God wun't leave us yit to sink or swim,
Ef we don't fail to du wut's right by Him,
This land o' ourn, I tell ye, 's gut to be
A better country than man ever see.
I feel my sperit swellin' with a cry
Thet seems to say, 'Break forth an' prophesy!'
O strange New World, thet yit wast never young,
Whose youth from thee by gripin' need was wrung,
Brown foundlin' o' the woods, whose baby-bed          
Was prowled roun' by the Injun's cracklin' tread,
An' who grew'st strong thru shifts an' wants an' pains,
Nussed by stern men with empires in their brains,
Who saw in vision their young Ishmel strain
With each hard hand a vassal ocean's mane,
Thou, skilled by Freedom an' by gret events
To pitch new States ez Old-World men pitch tents,
Thou, taught by Fate to know Jehovah's plan
Thet man's devices can't unmake a man,
An' whose free latch-string never was drawed in        
Against the poorest child of Adam's kin,--
The grave's not dug where traitor hands shall lay
In fearful haste thy murdered corse away!
I see--

 Jest here some dogs begun to bark,
So thet I lost old Concord's last remark:
I listened long, but all I seemed to hear
Was dead leaves gossipin' on some birch-trees near;
But ez they hedn't no gret things to say,
An' sed 'em often, I come right away,
An', walkin' home'ards, jest to pass the time,        
I put some thoughts thet bothered me in rhyme;
I hain't hed time to fairly try 'em on,
But here they be--it's