Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, GENEALOGICAL, by ROBERT FROST



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GENEALOGICAL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: It was my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's
Last Line: And I think he explains my lifelong liking for indians.
Subject(s): Ancestors & Ancestry; Heritage; Heredity


It was my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's
Great-great-grandfather or thereabouts I think --
One cannot be too precise in a matter like this.
He was hanged the story goes. Yet not for grief
Have I vowed a pilgrimage to the place where he lies
Under a notable bowlder in Eliot, Maine,
But for pride if for aught at this distance of time.
Yearly a chosen few of his many descendants
At solemn dinner assembled tell over the story
Of how in his greatness of heart he aspired
To wipe out the whole of an Indian tribe to order,
As in those extravagant days they wasted the woods
With fire to clear the land for tillage.
It seems he was rather pointedly not instructed
To proceed in the matter with any particular
Regard to the laws of civilized warfare.
He wasted no precious time in casting about
For means he could call his own. He simply seized
Upon any unprotected idea that came to hand.
I will not set up the claim for my progenitor
That he was an artist in murder or anything else,
Or that any of his descendants would have been
Without the infusion of warmer blood from somewhere.
Were it imperative to distinguish between statesman and artist
I should say that the first believes that the end justifies the means
The second that the means justify the end.
The Major (for such was his title) virumque cano
Was one of your thoroughgoing jobbers
Who held that the end and means justify each other.
He knew that the Indians were usually in a state of not having
Eaten for several days and hungry accordingly.
So he invited them to a barbecue (if that isn't an anachronism)
And then as they feasted he fell upon them with slaughter
And all that he didn't slay he bound and sold
Into slavery where Philip the Chief's son went.
And then well satisfied with the day's work
He doubtless called the place something and claimed the victory.
All that detracted from the glory of his achievement
Was the escape of a few of the devoted tribesmen
Either by running away or staying away
An awkward remnant that would have lain, methinks,
Even upon my somewhat sophisticated conscience
Given to the sympathetic fallacy of attributing to savages
The feelings of human beings,
More heavily than those who were slain.
He good sleeper and eater serenely forgot them.
But here again he just missed greatness as a captain.
For these waylaid him one Sunday on his way home
From the proper church completely edified
And slew him in turn with great barbarity
And left him outspread for filial burial.
His sons with dignity dug him a decent grave
And duly laid him to rest.
But the Redskins, not quite sure they had done enough
To satisfy the eternal vengeances,
Returned and had him out of the ground and hanged him up.
And so he was hanged!
The indefatigable sons cut him down and buried him again,
And this time to secure him against further disturbance,
With the help of their neighbors at a sort of burying bee
They rolled a stone upon him that once it was sunk in place
Not strong men enough could come at together to lift it.
And there he lies in glory the ancestor of a good many of us.
And I think he explains my lifelong liking for Indians.





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