Henry Van Dyke Poems >>
Texas

A DEMOCRATIC ODE

I
THE WILD-BEES
All along the Brazos river,
All along the Colorado,
In the valleys and the lowlands
Where the trees were tall and stately,
In the rich and rolling meadows
Where the grass was full of wild-flowers,
Came a humming and a buzzing,
Came the murmur of a going
To and fro among the tree-tops,
Far and wide across the meadows.
And the red-men in their tepees
Smoked their pipes of clay and listened.
"What is this?" they asked in wonder;
"Who can give the sound a meaning?
Who can understand the language
Of this going in the tree-tops?"
Then the wisest of the Tejas
Laid his pipe aside and answered:
"O my brothers, these are people,
Very little, winged people,
Countless, busy, banded people,
Coming humming through the timber.
These are tribes of bees, united
By a single aim and purpose,
To possess the Tejas' country,
Gather harvest from the prairies,
Store their wealth among the timber.
These are hive and honey makers,
Sent by Manito to warn us
That the white men now are coming,
With their women and their children.
Not the fiery filibusters
Passing wildly in a moment,
Like a flame across the prairies,
Like a whirlwind through the forest,
Leaving empty lands behind them!
Not the Mexicans and Spaniards,
Indolent and proud hidalgos,
Dwelling in their haciendas,
Dreaming, talking of tomorrow,
While their cattle graze around them,
And their fickle revolutions
Change the rulers, not the people!
Other folk are these who follow
When the wild-bees come to warn us;
These are hive and honey makers,
These are busy, banded people,
Roaming far to swarm and settle,
Working every day for harvest,
Fighting hard for peace and order,
Worshipping as queens their women,
Making homes and building cities
Full of riches and of trouble.
All our hunting-grounds must vanish,
All our lodges fall before them,
All our customs and traditions,
All our happy life of freedom,
Fade away like smoke before them.
Come, my brothers, strike your tepees,
Call your women, load your ponies!
Let us take the trail to westward,
Where the plains are wide and open,
Where the bison-herds are gathered
Waiting for our feathered arrows.
We will live as lived our fathers,
Gleaners of the gifts of nature,
Hunters of the unkept cattle,
Men whose women run to serve them.
If the toiling bees pursue us,
If the white men seek to tame us,
We will fight them off and flee them,
Break their hives and take their honey,
Moving westward, ever westward,
There to live as lived our fathers."
So the red-men drove their ponies,
With the tent-poles trailing after,
Out along the path to sunset,
While along the river valleys
Swarmed the wild-bees, the forerunners;
And the white men, close behind them,
Men of mark from old Missouri,
Men of daring from Kentucky,
Tennessee, Louisiana,
Men of many States and races,
Bringing wives and children with them,
Followed up the wooded valleys,
Spread across the rolling prairies,
Raising homes and reaping harvests.
Rude the toil that tried their patience,
Fierce the fights that proved their courage,
Rough the stone and tough the timber
Out of which they built their order!
Yet they never failed nor faltered,
And the instinct of their swarming
Made them one and kept them working,
Till their toil was crowned with triumph,
And the country of the Tejas
Was the fertile land of Texas.

II
THE LONE STAR
Behold a star appearing in the South,
A star that shines apart from other stars,
  Ruddy and fierce like Mars!
Out of the reeking smoke of cannon's mouth
That veils the slaughter of the Alamo,
  Where heroes face the foe,
One man against a score, with blood-choked breath
Shouting the watchword, "Victory or Death-"
Out of the dreadful cloud that settles low
  On Goliad's plain,
Where thrice a hundred prisoners lie slain
Beneath the broken word of Mexico-
Out of the fog of factions and of feuds
  That ever drifts and broods
Above the bloody path of border war,
  Leaps the Lone Star!
What light is this that does not dread the dark?
What star is this that fights a stormy way
  To San Jacinto's field of victory?
  It is the fiery spark
  That burns within the breast
Of Anglo-Saxon men, who can not rest
  Under a tyrant's sway;
  The upward-leading ray
That guides the brave who give their lives away
  Rather than not be free!
O question not, but honour every name,
Travis and Crockett, Bowie, Bonham, Ward,
Fannin and King, and all who drew the sword
And dared to die for Texan liberty!
Yea, write them all upon the roll of fame,
But no less love and equal honour give
To those who paid the longer sacrifice-
Austin and Houston, Burnet, Rusk, Lamar
And all the stalwart men who dared to live
Long years of service to the lonely star.
Great is the worth of such heroic souls:
Amid the strenuous turmoil of their deeds,
They clearly speak of something that controls
The higher breeds of men by higher needs
Than bees, content with honey in their hives!
  Ah, not enough the narrow lives
 On profitable toil intent!
And not enough the guerdons of success
Garnered in homes of affluent selfishness!
  A noble discontent
  Cries for a wider scope
To use the wider wings of human hope;
  A vision of the common good
Opens the prison-door of solitude;
  And, once beyond the wall,
  Breathing the ampler air,
  The heart becomes aware
That life without a country is not life at all.
  A country worthy of a freeman's love;
  A country worthy of a good man's prayer;
  A country strong, and just, and brave, and fair,-
  A woman's form of beauty throned above
  The shrine where noble aspirations meet-
  To live for her is great, to die is sweet!
  Heirs of the rugged pioneers
  Who dreamed this dream and made it true,
  Remember that they dreamed for you.
  They did not fear their fate
  In those tempestuous years,
But put their trust in God, and with keen eyes,
Trained in the open air for looking far,
  They saw the many-million-acred land
  Won from the desert by their hand,
  Swiftly among the nations rise,-
   Texas a sovereign State,
   And on her brow a star!

III
THE CONSTELLATION

How strange that the nature of light is a thing beyond our ken,
 And the flame of the tiniest candle flows from a fountain sealed!
How strange that the meaning of life, in the little lives of men,
 So often baffles our search with a mystery unrevealed!
But the larger life of man, as it moves in its secular sweep,
 Is the working out of a Sovereign Will whose ways appear;
And the course of the journeying stars on the dark blue boundless deep,
 Is the place where our science rests in the reign of law most clear.
I would read the story of Texas as if it were written on high;
 I would look from afar to follow her path through the calms and storms;
With a faith in the worldwide sway of the Reason that rules in the sky,
 And gathers and guides the starry host in clusters and swarms.
When she rose in the pride of her youth, she seemed to be moving apart,
 As a single star in the South, self-limited, self-possessed;
But the law of the constellation was written deep in her heart,
 And she heard when her sisters called, from the North and the East and the West.
They were drawn together and moved by a common hope and aim-
 The dream of a sign that should rule a third of the heavenly arch;
The soul of a people spoke in their call, and Texas came
 To enter the splendid circle of States in their onward march.
So the glory gathered and grew and spread from sea to sea,
 And the stars of the great republic lent each other light;
For all were bound together in strength, and each was free-
 Suddenly broke the tempest out of the ancient night!
It came as a clash of the force that drives and the force that draws;
 And the stars were riven asunder, the heavens were desolate,
While brother fought with brother, each for his country's cause:
 But the country of one was the Nation, the country of other the State.
Oh, who shall measure the praise or blame in a strife so vast?
 And who shall speak of traitors or tyrants when all were true?
We lift our eyes to the sky, and rejoice that the storm is past,
 And we thank the God of all that the Union shines in the blue.
Yea, it glows with the glory of peace and the hope of a mighty race,
 High over the grave of broken chains and buried hates;
And the great, big star of Texas is shining clear in its place
 In the constellate symbol and sign of the free United States.

IV
AFTER THE PIONEERS
After the pioneers-
Big-hearted, big-handed lords of the axe and the plow and the rifle,
Tan-faced tamers of horses and lands, themselves remaining tameless,
Full of fighting, labour and romance, lovers of rude adventure-
After the pioneers have cleared the way to their homes and graves on the prairies:
After the State-builders-
Zealous and jealous men, dreamers, debaters, often at odds with each other,
All of them sure it is well to toil and to die, if need be,
Just for the sake of founding a country to leave to their children-
After the builders have done their work and written their names upon it:
After the civil war-
Wildest of all storms, cruel and dark and seemingly wasteful,
Tearing up by the root the vines that were splitting the old foundations,
Washing away with a rain of blood and tears the dust of slavery,
After the cyclone has passed and the sky is fair to the far horizon;
After the era of plenty and peace has come with full hands to Texas,
Then-what then?
Is it to be the life of an indolent heir, fat-witted and self-contented,
Dwelling at ease in the house that others have builded,
Boasting about the country for which he has done nothing?
Is it to be an age of corpulent, deadly-dull prosperity,
Richer and richer crops to nourish a race of Philistines,
Bigger and bigger cities full of the same confusion and sorrow,
The people increasing mightily but no increase of the joy?
Is this what the forerunners wished and toiled to win for you,
This the reward of war and the fruitage of high endeavor,
This the goal of your hopes and the vision that satisfies you?
Nay, stand up and answer-I can read what is in your hearts-
You, the children of those who followed the wild-bees,
You, the children of those who served the Lone Star,
Now that the hives are full and the star is fixed in the constellation,
I know that the best of you still are lovers of sweetness and light!
You hunger for honey that comes from invisible gardens;
Pure, translucent, golden thoughts and feelings and inspirations,
Sweetness of all the best that has bloomed in the mind of man.
You rejoice in the light that is breaking along the borders of science;
The hidden rays that enable a man to look through a wall of stone;
The unseen, fire-filled wings that carry his words across the ocean;
The splendid gift of flight that shines, half-captured, above him;
The gleam of a thousand half-guessed secrets, just ready to be discovered!
You dream and devise great things for the coming race-
Children of yours who shall people and rule the domain of Texas;
They shall know, they shall comprehend more than their fathers,
They shall grow in the vigour of well-rounded manhood and womanhood,
Riper minds, richer hearts, finer souls, the only true wealth of a nation-
The league-long fields of the State are pledged to ensure this harvest!
Your old men have dreamed this dream and your young men have seen this vision.
The age of romance has not gone, it is only beginning;
Greater words than the ear of man has heard are waiting to be spoken,
Finer arts than the eyes of man have seen are sleeping to be awakened:
Science exploring the scope of the world,
Poetry breathing the hope of the world,
Music to measure and lead the onward march of man!
Come, ye honoured and welcome guests from the elder nations,
Princes of science and arts and letters,
Look on the walls that embody the generous dream of one of the old men of Texas,
Enter these halls of learning that rise in the land of the pioneer's log-cabin,
Read the confessions of faith that are carved on the stones around you:
Faith in the worth of the smallest fact and the laws that govern the starbeams,
Faith in the beauty of truth and the truth of perfect beauty,
Faith in the God who creates the souls of men by knowledge and love and worship.
This is the faith of the New Democracy-
Proud and humble, patiently pressing forward,
Praising her heroes of old and training her future leaders,
Seeking her crown in a nobler race of men and women-
After the pioneers, sweetness and light!