Monday, July 04, 2016

A Free Land or the Traitor's Block

One of the Signers
by John Greenleaf Whittier

O storied vale of Merrimac
Rejoice through all thy shade and shine,
And from his century's sleep call back
A brave and honored son of thine.

Unveil his effigy between
The living and the dead to-day;
The fathers of the Old Thirteen
Shall witness bear as spirits may.

Unseen, unheard, his gray compeers
The shades of Lee and Jefferson,
Wise Franklin reverend with his years
And Carroll, lord of Carrollton!

Be thine henceforth a pride of place
Beyond thy namesake's over-sea,
Where scarce a stone is left to trace
The Holy House of Amesbury.

A prouder memory lingers round
The birthplace of thy true man here
Than that which haunts the refuge found
By Arthur's mythic Guinevere.

The plain deal table where he sat
And signed a nation's title-deed
Is dearer now to fame than that
Which bore the scroll of Runnymede.

Long as, on Freedom's natal morn,
Shall ring the Independence bells,
Give to thy dwellers yet unborn
The lesson which his image tells.

For in that hour of Destiny,
Which tried the men of bravest stock,
He knew the end alone must be
A free land or a traitor's block.

Among those picked and chosen men
Than his, who here first drew his breath,
No firmer fingers held the pen
Which wrote for liberty or death.

Not for their hearths and homes alone,
But for the world their work was done;
On all the winds their thought has flown
Through all the circuit of the sun.

We trace its flight by broken chains,
By songs of grateful Labor still;
To-day, in all her holy fanes,
It rings the bells of freed Brazil.

O hills that watched his boyhood's home,
O earth and air that nursed him, give,
In this memorial semblance, room
To him who shall its bronze outlive!

And thou, O Land he loved, rejoice
That in the countless years to come,
Whenever Freedom needs a voice,
These sculptured lips shall not be dumb!

The signer in question is Josiah Bartlett, of New Hampshire; Bartlett was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts. In publication, Whittier provided a note of explanation:

Written for the unveiling of the statue of Josiah Bartlett at Amesbury, Mass., July 4, 1888. Governor Bartlett, who was a native of the town, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Amesbury or Ambresbury, so called from the “anointed stones” of the great Druidical temple near it, was the seat of one of the earliest religious houses in Britain. The tradition that the guilty wife of King Arthur fled thither for protection forms one of the finest passages in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

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