Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE AMERICAN FOREST GIRL, by FELICIA DOROTHEA HEMANS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE AMERICAN FOREST GIRL, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: Wildly and mournfully the indian drum
Last Line: "away,"" they cried, ""young stranger, thou art free!"
Alternate Author Name(s): Browne, Felicia Dorothea
Subject(s): Forests; Women; Woods

WILDLY and mournfully the Indian drum
On the deep hush of moonlight forests broke --
"Sing us a death-song, for thine hour is come." --
So the red warriors to their captive spoke.
Still, and amidst those dusky forms alone,
A youth, a fair-haired youth of England stood,
Like a king's son; though from his cheek had flown
The mantling crimson of the island blood,
And his pressed lips looked marble. Fiercely bright
And high around him blazed the fires of night,
Rocking beneath the cedars to and fro,
As the wind passed, and with a fitful glow
Lighting the victim's face: but who could tell
Of what within his secret heart befell,
Known but to heaven that hour? Perchance a thought
Of his far home then so intensely wrought,
That its full image, pictured to his eye
On the dark ground of mortal agony,
Rose clear as day! -- and he might see the band
Of his young sisters wandering hand in hand
Where the laburnums drooped; or haply binding
The jasmine up the door's low pillars winding;
Or, as day closed upon their gentle mirth,
Gathering, with braided hair, around the hearth,
Where sat their mother; and that mother's face
Its grave sweet smile yet wearing in the place
Where so it ever smiled! Perchance the prayer
Learned at her knee came back on his despair;
The blessing from her voice, the very tone
Of her "Good-night!" might breathe from boyhood gone
-- He started and looked up: thick cypress boughs,
Full of strange sound, waved o'er him, darkly red
In the broad stormy firelight; savage brows,
With tall plumes crested and wild hues o'erspread,
Girt him like fever phantoms; and pale stars
Looked through the branches as through dungeon bars,
Shedding no hope. He knew, he felt his doom --
Oh! what a tale to shadow with its gloom
That happy hall in England! Idle fear!
Would the winds tell it? Who might dream or hear
The secret of the forests? To the stake
They bound him; and that proud young soldier strove
His father's spirit in his breast to wake,
Trusting to die in silence! He, the love
Of many hearts! -- the fondly reared -- the fair,
Gladdening all eyes to see! And fettered there
He stood beside his death-pyre, and the brand
Flamed up to light in the chieftain's hand.
He thought upon his God. Hush! hark! a cry
Breaks on the stern and dread solemnity --
A step hath pierced the ring! Who dares intrude
On the dark hunters in their vengeful mood?
A girl -- a young slight girl -- a fawn-like child
Of green savannas and the leafy wild,
Springing unmarked till then, as some lone flower
Happy because the sunshine is its dower;
Yet, one that knew how early tears are shed,
For hers had mourned a playmate-brother dead.

She had sat gazing on the victim long,
Until the pity of her soul grew strong;
And, by its passion's deepening fervor swayed,
Even to the stake she rushed, and gently laid
His bright head on her bosom, and around
His form her slender arms to shield it wound
Like close Liannes; then raised her glittering eye,
And clear-toned voice, then said, "He shall not die!"
"He shall not die!" -- the gloomy forest thrilled
To that sweet sound. A sudden wonder fell
On the fierce throng; and heart and hand were stilled,
Struck down as by the whisper of a spell.
They gazed: their dark souls bowed before the maid,
She of the dancing step in wood and glade!
And, as her cheek flushed through its olive hue,
As her black tresses to the night-wind flew,
Something o'ermastered them from that young mien --
Something of heaven in silence felt and seen;
And seeming, to their childlike faith, a token
That the Great Spirit by her voice had spoken.

They loosed the bonds that held their captive's breath;
From his pale lips they took the cup of death;
They quenched the brand beneath the cypress tree:
"Away," they cried, "young stranger, thou art free!"

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