When our free land's great captain, Washington,
Was colonel in Virginia, ere the war
He led for Independence had begun,
A passing cloud obscured his rising star:
His sometimes frightful passions woke, and they,
Then unbroke coursers, had their fiery way.
For while between opposing factions there
The bloodless battle by the ballot rolled,
Into one's pride whem he had found unfair
He plunged a speech-wrought weapon, keen and cold;
And the hurt voter, with a blow unmeet,
Stretched his insulter senseless at his feet.
Forth hied the dread news, waxing as it went,
Fed by the food it gave to every tongue;
Uprose, wild-eyed, the wrathful regiment,
And idle swords and flintlocks were unhung,
And marshaled to the drum, whose speedy call
Was like the beating of the hearts of all.
When grief has rage soft pity turns to stone.
These loved their leader as they loved their land;
Aslant, like shining rain, their muskets shone,
And harsh the voice of vengeance pealed command:
"All foully slain our colonel lies, struck down!
On, comrades! Give no quarter! Burn the town!"
Meanwhile, the stricken was made whole again,
And, hurried by the townsfolk, rode to meet
The armed, excited torrent of fierce men
Advancing toward the small, elect'ral street;
And gladly holden in their wond'ring sight,
They pressed around him with unfeigned delight.
But vengeance is so inconsiderate,
Shorn of excuse it yet pursues its prey;
And all the soldiers, filled with gathered hate,
Were willed to leave black ruin on their way.
He charged them, lest the love he bore should cease,
To bate their wrath, and turn again in peace.
So they went back; and slowly he returned,
Chastising his quick passions ruthlessly;
For who, that with a foolish rage has burned,
Knows blame as bitter as his own may be?
But when red morn rolled up its splendid wheel,
Joy followed close on Sorrow's fleeing heel.
For then betimes, a lark-blithe letter flew
Out of a heart where kindness brooded warm;
But to the voter's short and narrow view
It was the white-winged augury of storm;
It asked a meeting only, yet he heard
Of challenge and of duel in the word.
For who could know that one would be so bold
To face and brave the time?--in that it meant
That each his honor on his sword should hold?
The voter straightway to the other went,
And Washington, with courage strong and grand,
Held forth his prudent and heroic hand.
And in his love of truth, sublime and glad,
To him who struck him down he made amends:
"If with the satisfaction you have had
You are content, oh, let us then be friends!
For, looking back on our affray with shame,
I feel that I alone have been to blame."