Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry: The Mounds of Cahokia - Micah P Flint

Last Friday I posted the classic poem by Longfellow, The Jewish Cemetery at Newport. I commented that Longfellow's concern for a 'dead race' amused me. Here's a poem by someone not nearly as well-known as Longfellow. He, too, visiting a burial site, remarks on what he considers a dead race.

The Mounds of Cahokia

by Micah P. Flint (1807-1830)

The sun's last rays were falling from the West,
The deepening shades stole slowly o'er the plain,
The evening breeze had lulled itself to rest:
And all was silent, save the mournful strain
With which the widowed turtle wooed in vain
Her absent lover to her lonely nest.

Now, one by one, emerging to the sight,
The brighter stars assumed their seats on high,
The moon's pale crescent glowed serenely bright,
As the last twilight fled along the sky,
And all her train in cloudless majesty
Were glittering on the dark, blue vault of night.

I lingered, by some soft enchantment bound,
And gazed, enraptured, on the lovely scene.
From the dark summit of an Indian mound
I saw the plain, outspread in softened green,
Its fringe of hoary cliffs, by moonlight sheen,
And the dark line of forest, sweeping round.

I saw the lesser mounds which round me rose,
Each was a giant mass of slumbering clay.
There slept the warriors, women, friends and foes.
There, side by side, the rival chieftains lay;
And mighty tribes, swept from the face of day,
Forgot their wars, and found a long repose.

Ye mouldering relics of departed years!
Your names have perished; not a trace remains,
Save, where the grass-grown mound its summit rears
From the green bosom of your native plains.
Say! Do your spirits wear oblivion's chains?
Did death forever quench your hopes and fears?

Or live they, shrined in some congenial form?
What if the swan, who leaves her summer nest
Among the northern lakes, and mounts the storm,
To wing her rapid flight to climes more blest,
Should hover o'er the very spot where rest
The crumbling bones once with her spirit warm.

What if the song, so soft, so sweet, so clear,
Whose music fell so gently from on high,
In tones aerial, thrilling my rapt ear;
Though not a speck was on the cloudless sky,
Were their own soft funereal melody,
While lingering o'er the scenes that once were dear?

Or did those fairy hopes of future bliss,
Which simple Nature to your bosoms gave
Find other worlds with fairer skies than this,
Beyond the gloomy portals of the grave,
In whose bright bowers the virtuous and the brave
Rest from their toils, and all their cares dismiss?

Where the great hunter still pursues the chase,
And o'er the sunny mountains tracks the deer,
Or finds again each long-extinguished race,
And sees once more the mighty mammoth rear
The giant form which lies embedded here,
Of other years the sole remaining trace.

Or it may be that still ye linger near
The sleeping ashes, once your dearest pride;
And, could your forms to mortal eye appear,
Could the dark veil of death be thrown aside,
Then might I see your restless shadows glide,
With watchful care, around these relics dear.

If so, forgive the rude, unhallowed feet,
Which trode so thoughtless o'er your mighty dead.
I would not thus profane their low retreat,
Nor trample where the sleeping warrior's head
Lay pillowed on its everlasting bed,
Age after age, still sunk in slumbers sweet.

Farewell; and may you still in peace repost.
Still o'er you may the flowers, untrodden, bloom,
And gently wave to every wind that blows,
Breathing their fragrance o'er each lonely tomb,
Where, earthward mouldering, in the same dark womb,
Ye mingle with the dust, from whence ye rose.
MICAH P. FLINT, son of Timothy Flint, who rendered eminent service in the cultivation and encouragement of literature in the Mississippi valley, was born in Lurenberg, Massachusetts, about the year 1807. While Micah was yet a boy, his father selected the west as a field for missionary labor, and the young poet received his education, with his father for tutor, at St. Louis, New Madrid, New Orleans, and Alexandria, Mississippi, to which places Rev. Mr. Flint's engagements as a missionary successively called him. When failing health finally required his father to suspend his labors as a minister, Micah studied law and was admitted to the bar at Alexandria, but was not permitted to become known as a lawyer. His first published poem was on a mound that stood near a farm-house in Cahokia prairie, Illinois, to which for a few months, when his health required a respite from severe labors, his father took the family. -- William Turner Coggeshall, The Poets and Poetry of the West: With Biographical and Critical Notices 55-56 (Columbus, Ohio: Follett, Foster and Company, 1860)
'Not permitted to become known as a lawyer' is a 19th century euphemism. Micah died at age 23. He had one collection of poetry: The Hunter and Other Poems.

The Cahokia Mounds are immediately across the Mississippi river from St. Louis, Missouri. Mounds were built on both sides of the river, and a recent article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch talked of efforts to preserve Sugar Loaf Mound. The Osage tribe believes the mounds were built by their ancestors.

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