Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BENNINGTON, by WILLIAM HENRY BABCOCK



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BENNINGTON, by            
First Line: A cycle was closed and rounded
Last Line: The earthworks at bennington.
Alternate Author Name(s): Babcock, W. H.
Subject(s): American Revolution; Bennington, Battle Of (1777)


A CYCLE was closed and rounded,
A continent lost and won,
When Stark and his men went over
The earthworks at Bennington.

Slowly down from the northward,
Billowing fold on fold,
Whelming the land and crushing,
The glimmering glacier rolled.

Down from the broad St. Lawrence,
Bright with its thousand isles,
Through the Canadian woodlands,
Sweet with the summer smiles,

On over field and fastness,
Village and vantage coigne,
Rolled the resistless legions
Led by the bold Burgoyne.

Roared the craggy ledges
Looming o'er Lake Champlain;
Red with the blaze of navies
Quivered the land-locked main;

Soared the Vancour eagle,
Screaming, across the sun;
Deep dived the loon in terror
Under Lake Horicon.

Panther and hart together
Fled to the wilds afar,
From the flash and the crash of the cannon
And the rush of the southward war.

But at last by the lordly river
The trampling giant swayed,
And his massive arm swung eastward
Like a blindly-plunging blade.

New England felt her bosom
Menaced with deadly blow,
And her minute-men sprang up again
And flew to bar the foe.

But Stark in his Hampshire valley
Watched like a glowering bear,
That hears the cry go sweeping by
Yet stirs not from his lair;

For on his daring spirit
A wrath lay like a spell, --
The wrath of one rewarded ill
For a great work wrought right well.

Neighbor and friend and brother
Flocked to his side in vain, --
"What, can it be that they long for me
To ruin their cause again?

"Surely the northern lights are bright.
Surely the South lies still.
Would they have more? -- Lo, I left my sword
On the crest of Bunker Hill."

But at last from his own New Hampshire
An urgent summons came,
That stirred his heart like the voice of God
From Sinai's walls of flame.

He bowed his head, and he rose aloft;
Again he grasped the brand, --
"For the cause of man and my native State,
Not for an ingrate land!"

Through the mist-veil faintly struggling,
The rays of the setting sun
Reddened the leafy village
Of white-walled Bennington.

Then out of the dismal weather
Came many a sound of war, --
The straggling shots and the volleys
And the cries, now near now far.

For forms half seen were chasing
The phantom forms that fled;
And ghostly figures grappled
And spectres fought and bled;

Till the mist on a sudden settled
And they saw before them fair,
Over a hill to the westward,
An island in the air.

There were tree-trunks and waving branches,
And greensward and flowers below;
It rose in a dome of verdure
From the mist-waves' watery flow.

A flag from its summit floated
And a circling earthwork grew,
As the arms of the swarming soldiers
At their toil unwonted flew.

"Aha!" cried the Yankee leader,
"So the panther has turned at bay
With his claws of steel and his breath of fire
Behind that wall of clay!

"Our steel is in muscle and sinew.
But I know," -- and his voice rang free, --
"Right well I know we shall strike a blow
That the world will leap to see."

I stood by a blazing city
Till the fires had died away,
Save a flickering gleam in the ruins
And a fitful gleam on the bay.

But a swarthy cove by the water
Blue-bristled from point to base,
With the breath of demons, bursting
Through the crust of their prison-place;

And another beside it flaunted
A thousand rags of red,
Like the Plague King's dancing banners
On a mound of the swollen dead.

Twin brothers of flame and evil,
In their quivering living light,
They ruled with a frightful beauty
The desolate waste of night.

Thus did the battle mountain
Blazon with flashes dire;
The leaguered crest responded
In a coronal of fire.

The tough old fowling-pieces
In huddling tumult rang.
Louder the muskets' roaring!
Shriller the rifles' clang!

Hour after hour the turmoil
Gathered and swelled apace,
Till the hill seemed a volcano
Bursting in every place.

Then the lights grew faint and meagre,
Though the hideous noise rolled on;
And out of a bath of glory
Uprose the noble sun.

It brightened the tossing banner;
It yellowed the leafy crest;
It smote on the serried weapons,
On helmet and scarlet breast.

It drove on the mist below them
Where Stark and his foremost stood,
Flashing volley for volley
Into the stubborn wood.

A thousand stalwart figures
Sprang from the gulf profound,
A thousand guns uplifted
Went whirling round and round.

Like some barbarian onslaught
On a lofty Roman hold;
Like the upward rush of Titans
On Olympian gods of old;

With a swirl of the wrangling torrents
As they dash on a castle wall;
With the flame-seas skyward surging
At the mountain demon's call,

Heedless of friend and brother
Stricken to earth below,
The sons of New England bounded
On the breastwork of the foe.

Each stalwart form on the ramparts
Swaying his battered gun
Seemed a vengeful giant, looming
Against the rising sun.

The pond'rous clubs swept crashing
Through the bayonets round their feet
As a woodman's axe-edge crashes
Through branches mailed in sleet,

Shattering head and shoulder,
Splintering arm and thigh,
Hurling the redcoats earthward
Like bolts from an angry sky.

Faster each minute and faster
The yeomen swarm over the wall,
And narrower grows the circle
And thicker the Britons fall;

Till Baum with his Hessian swordsmen
Swift to the rescue flies,
The frown of the Northland on their brows
And the war-light in their eyes.

Back reeled the men of Berkshire,
The mountaineers gave back,
But Stark and his Hampshire yeomen
Flung full across their track.

The stern Teutonic mother
Well might she grandly eye
The prowess dread of her war-swarms red
As they racked the earth and sky.

Like rival wrestling athletes
Grappled the East and West.
With straining thews and staring eyes
They swayed and strove for the royal prize,
A continent's virgin breast.

Till at last as a strong man's wrenching
Shatters a brittle vase,
The lustier arms of the Westland
Shattered the elder race.

Baum and his bravest cohorts
Lay on the trampled sod,
And Stark's strong cry rose clear and high,
"Yield in the name of God!"

Then the sullen Hessians yielded,
Girt by an iron ring,
And down from the summit fluttered
The flag of the British king.

Vainly the tardy Breyman
May strive that height to gain;
More work for the Hampshire war-clubs!
More room for the Hessian slain!

The giant's arm is severed,
The giant's blood flows free,
And he staggers in the pathway
That leads to the distant sea.

The Berkshire and Hampshire yeomen
With the men of the Hudson join,
And the gathering flood rolls over
The host of the bold Burgoyne.

For a cycle was closed and rounded,
A continent lost and won,
When Stark and his men went over
The earthworks at Bennington.





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