Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, YOUNG SAMMY'S FIRST WILD OATS, by GEORGE SANTAYANA



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YOUNG SAMMY'S FIRST WILD OATS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Mid uncle sam's expanded acres
Last Line: "on ""young sammy's first wild oats."
Subject(s): Elections; Spanish-american War (1898); United States; Voting; Voters; Suffrage; America


(LINES WRITTEN BEFORE THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 1900)

Mid Uncle Sam's expanded acres
There's an old, secluded glade
Where grey Puritans and Quakers
Still grow fervid in the shade;
And the same great elms and beeches
That once graced the ancestral farm,
Bending to the old men's speeches,
Lend their words an echo's charm.
Laurel, clematis, and vine
Weave green trellises about,
And three maples and a pine
Shut the mucker-village out.
Yet the smoke of trade and battle
Cannot quite be banished hence,
And the air-line to Seattle
Whizzes just behind the fence.

As one day old Deacon Plaster
Hobbled to the wonted nook,
There was Doctor Wise, the pastor,
Meekly sitting with his book.
"What has happened, Brother Deacon,
That you look so hot and vexed?
Is it something I might speak on
When I preach on Sabbath next?"
"Doctor Wise," replied the other,
As he wiped the sweat away,
"'T is a wicked sin, my brother,
You should preach on every day.
Cousin Sammy's gone a-tooting
To the Creole County fair,
Where the very sun's polluting
And there's fever in the air.
He has picked up three young lasses,
Three mulattoes on the mart,
Who have offered him free passes
To their fortune and their heart.
One young woman he respected,
Vowed he only came to woo.
But his word may be neglected
Since he ravished the other two.
In the Porto Rican billing
And carousing, I allow
That the little minx was willing,
Though she may be sorry now.
But what came of those embraces
And that taint of nigger blood?
Now he looks on outraged faces
And can laugh, defying God:
He can stretch his hand, relieving,
And strike down a cheated slave.
Oh, if Uncle Sam were living,
This would bring him to his grave!"

Deacon Plaster ceased and, sighing,
Mopped the reeking of his brain.
Doctor Wise, before replying,
Put his goggles on again.
"Brother Plaster, to be candid,
Were I managing the farm,
I should do as the old man did --
Lying low and safe from harm,
Shoot at poachers from the hedges,
If they ventured within range,
Just round out my acre's edges,
Grow and grow, but never change.
I am old, and you are old, sir:
Old the thoughts we live among.
If the truth were to be told, sir,
None of us was ever young.
In the towns of sombre Britain --
Merry England turned about --
We were marked at birth and smitten
Whom the Lord had chosen out;
Picked to found a pilgrim nation,
Far from men, estranged, remote,
With the desert for a station
And the ocean for a moat;
To rebuke by sober living,
In the dread of wrath to come,
Of the joys of this world's giving
The abominable sum.
Yet all passion's seeds came smuggled
In our narrow pilgrim ark,
And, unwatered, grew and struggled,
Pushed for ages through the dark,
And, when summer granted pardon,
Burst into the upper air,
Till that desert was a garden
And that sea a thoroughfare.
Thus the virtue we rely on
Melted 'neath the heathen sun,
And what should have been a Zion
Came to be this Babylon.
Ignorant of ancient sorrow,
With hot young blood in their veins,
Now the prophets of the morrow
Ply the spur and hold the reins.
Can we blame them? Rather blame us, --
Us, who uttered idle things.
Our false prophecies shall shame us,
And our weak imaginings.
Liberty! delicious sound!
The world loved it, and is free.
But what's freedom? To be bound
By a chance majority.
Few are rich and many poor,
Though all minds show one dull hue.
Equality we don't secure,
Mediocrity we do.
Ah! what dreams beguiled our youth!
Brothers we had hoped to be;
But competition is the truth
Of what we called fraternity.
Can we blame them we mistaught
If now they seek another guide
And, since our wisdom comes to naught,
Take counsel of their proper pride?
Nature beckons them, inviting
To a deeper draught of fate,
And, the heart's desire inciting,
Can we stop and bid them wait?
"If old Uncle Sam were living,
This, you say, should never be:
Ah! if Uncle Sam were living,
He might weep, but he must see.
Yet he died in time, believing
In the gods that ruled his days.
We, alas! survive him, grieving
Under gods we will not praise.
The keen pleasures of December
Mean the joys of April lost;
And shall rising suns remember
All the dream worlds they have crossed?
All things mortal have their season:
Nothing lives, for ever young,
But renews its life by treason
To the thing from which it sprung,
And when man has reached immortal
Mansions, after toiling long,
Life deserts him at the portal,
And he only lives in song.

"As for Sam, the son, I wonder
If you know the fellow's heart:
There may yet be something under
Nobler than the outer part.
When he told that senorita
That he kissed and hugged her close
Like a brother, did he cheat her?
Did he cheat himself? Who knows?
That he liked her, that is certain;
That he wronged her isn't true.
On his thoughts I draw the curtain:
I don't know them, nor do you.
In her maid, the facile Rica,
We have quite another case.
Hardly did he go to seek her,
When she rushed to his embrace.
I confess it was improper,
But all flesh, alas! is flesh.
Things had gone too far to drop her;
Each was in the other's mesh.
But with that poor Filipina,
When she shrank from his caress,
His contemptible demeanour
Isn't easy to express.
First he bought her, then he kicked her;
But the truth is, he was drunk,
For that day had crowned him victor,
And a Spanish fleet was sunk.

"You perceive I do not spare him,
Nor am blinded to his motes
By the Christian love I bear him;
Yes; he's sowing his wild oats.
But you can't deny him talent;
Once his instinct is awake,
He can play the part of gallant
And of soldier and of rake.
And it's something to have spirit
Though in rashness first expressed.
Give me good blood to inherit:
Time and trial do the rest.
He's not Uncle Sam, the father,
That prim, pompous, pious man,
Yankee, or Virginian, rather:
Sammy's an American --
Lavish, clever, loud, and pushing,
Loving bargains, loving strife,
Kindly, fearless-eyed, unblushing,
Not yet settled down in life.
Send him forth; the world will mellow
His bluff youth, or nothing can.
Nature made the hearty fellow,
Life will make the gentleman.
And if Cousin Sam is callow,
It was we who did the harm,
Letting his young soul lie fallow --
The one waste spot in the farm --
Trained by sordid inventories
To scorn all he couldn't buy,
Puffed with miserable glories
Shouted at an empty sky,
Fooled with cant of a past era,
Droned 'twixt dreamy lid and lid,
Till his God was a chimera
And the living God was hid.
Let him look up from his standard
To the older stars of heaven,
Seaward by whose might, and landward,
All the tribes of men are driven;
By whom ancient hopes were blasted,
Ancient labours turned to dust;
Whence the little that has lasted
Borrows patience to be just:
And beholding tribulation,
Seeing whither states are hurled,
Let him sign his declaration
Of dependence on the world."

Thus the Doctor's sermon ended;
The old Deacon shook his head,
For his conscience was offended
And his wits had lost the thread.
So have mine, but there's my fable:
Now, and when you cast your votes,
Be as lenient as you're able
On "Young Sammy's First Wild Oats."





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