Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOBBS HIS FERRY; A LEGEND OF THE LOWER HUDSON, by WILLIAM ALLEN BUTLER



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DOBBS HIS FERRY; A LEGEND OF THE LOWER HUDSON, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The days were at their longest
Last Line: And buy a place at dobbs!
Subject(s): Dobbs Ferry, New York; Ferry Boats; Hudson River


THE days were at their longest,
The heat was at its strongest,
When Brown, old friend and true,
Wrote thus: "Dear Jack, why swelter
In town when shade and shelter
Are waiting here for you?
Quit Bulls and Bears and gambling,
For rural sports and rambling
Forsake your Wall Street tricks;
Come without hesitation,
Check to Dobbs' Ferry Station,
We dine at half-past six."

I went—a welcome hearty,
A merry country party,
A drive, and then croquet,
A quiet, well-cooked dinner,
Three times at billiards winner—
The evening sped away;
When Brown, the dear old joker,
Cried, "Come, my worthy broker,
The hour is growing late;
Your room is cool and quiet,
As for the bed, just try it,
Breakfast at half-past eight."

I took Brown's hand, applauded
His generous care, and lauded
Dobbs' Ferry to the skies.
A shade came o'er his features—
"We should be happy creatures,
And this a paradise,
But, ah! the deep disgrace is,
This loveliest of places
A vulgar name should blight!
But, death to Dobbs! we'll change it,
If money can arrange it,
So, pleasant dreams; good-night!"

I could not sleep, but, raising
The window, stood, moon-gazing,
In fairy-land a guest;
"On such a night," et cetera—
See Shakespeare for much better a
Description of the rest—
I mused, how sweet to wander
Beside the river, yonder;
And then the sudden whim
Seized me my head to pillow
On Hudson's sparkling billow,
A midnight, moonlight swim!

Soon thought and soon attempted;
At once my room was emptied
Of its sole occupant;
The roof was low, and easily,
In fact, quite Japanese-ily,
I took the downward slant;
Then, without stay or stopping,
My first and last eaves-dropping,
By leader-pipe I sped,
And through the thicket gliding,
Down the steep hill-side sliding,
Soon reached the river's bed.

But what was my amazement—
The fair scene from the casement,
How changed! I could not guess
Where track or rails had vanished,
Town, villas, station, banished—
All was a wilderness—
Only one ancient gable,
A low-roofed inn and stable,
A creaking sign displayed,
An antiquated wherry,
Below it—"DOBBS HIS FERRY"—
In the clear moonlight swayed.

I turned, and there the craft was,
Its shape 'twixt scow and raft was,
Square ends, low sides, and flat;
And, standing close beside me,
An ancient chap who eyed me,
Beneath a steeple-hat;
Short legs—long pipe—style very
Pre-Revolutionary—
I bow, he grimly bobs;
Then, with some perturbation,
By way of salutation,
Says I, "How are you, Dobbs?"

He grum and silent beckoned,
And I, in half a second,
Scarce knowing what I did,
Took the stern seat, Dobbs throwing
Himself 'midships, and rowing,
Swift through the stream we slid;
He pulled awhile, then stopping,
And both oars slowly dropping,
His pipe aside he laid,
Drew a long breath, and taking
An attitude, and shaking
His fist towards shore, thus said:

"Of all sharp cuts the keenest,
Of all mean turns the meanest,
Vilest of all vile jobs,
Worse than the Cow-Boy pillagers
Are these Dobbs' Ferry villagers
A-going back on Dobbs!
'Twould not be more anom'lous
If Rome went back on Rom'lus
(Old rum-un like myself),
Or Hail Columbia, played out
By Southern Dixie, laid out
Columbus on the shelf!

"They say 'Dobbs' ain't melodious,
It's 'horrid,' 'vulgar,' 'odious,'
In all their crops it sticks;
And then the worse addendum
Of 'Ferry' does offend 'em
More than it's vile prefix.
Well, it does seem distressing,
But if I'm good at guessing,
Each one of these same nobs,
If there was money in it,
Would ferry in a minute,
And change his name to Dobbs!

"That's it, they're not partic'lar.
Respecting the auric'lar,
At a stiff market rate;
But Dobbs' especial vice is,
That he keeps down the prices
Of all their real estate!
A name so unattractive
Makes villa-sites inactive,
And spoils the broker's jobs;
They think that speculation
Would rage at 'Paulding's Station,'
Which stagnates now at 'Dobbs.'

"'Paulding's!'—that's sentimental!
An old Dutch Continental,
Bushwhacked up there a spell;
But why he should come blustering
Round here, and filibustering,
Is more than I can tell;
Sat playing for a wager,
And nabbed a British major.
Well, if the plans and charts
From André's boots he hauled out,
Is his name to be bawled out
Forever, round these parts?

"Guess not! His pay and bounty
And mon'ment from the county
Paid him off, every cent,
While this snug town and station,
To every generation,
Shall be Dobbs' monument;
Spite of all speculators
And ancient-landmark traitors,
Who, all along this shore,
Are ever substitutin'
The modern, highfalutin,
For the plain names of yore.

"Down there, on old Manhattan,
Where land-sharks breed and fatten,
They've wiped out Tubby Hook.
That famous promontory,
Renowned in song and story,
Which time nor tempest shook,
Whose name for aye had been good,
Stands newly christened 'Inwood,'
And branded with the shame
Of some old rogue who passes
By dint of aliases,
Afraid of his own name!

"See how they quite outrival,
Plain barn-yard Spuyten Duyvil,
By peacock Riverdale,
Which thinks all else it conquers,
And over homespun Yonkers
Spreads out its flaunting tail!
There's new-named Mount St. Vincent,
Where each dear little inn'cent
Is taught the Popish rites;
Well, ain't it queer, wherever
These saints possess the river
They get the finest sites!

"They've named a place for Irving,
A trifle more deserving
Than your French, foreign saints,
But if he has such mention,
It's past my comprehension
Why Dobbs should cause complaints;
Wrote histories and such things,
About Old Knick and Dutch things,
Dolph Heyligers and Rips;
But no old antiquary,
Like him, could keep a ferry,
With all his authorships!

"By aid of these same showmen,
Some fanciful cognomen
Old Cro'nest stock might bring
As high as Butter Hill is,
Which, patronized by Willis,
Leaves cards now as 'Storm-King!'
Can't some poetic swell-beau
Rechristen old Crum Elbow
And each prosaic bluff,
Bold Breakneck gently flatter,
And Dunderberg bespatter,
With euphony and stuff!

" 'Twould be a magnum opus
To bury old Esopus
In Time's sepulchral vaults,
Or in Oblivion's deep sea
Submerge renowned Poughkeepsie,
And also ancient Paltz;
How it would give them rapture
Brave Stony Point to capture,
And make it face about;
Bid Rhinebeck sound much smoother
Than in the tongue of Luther,
And wipe the Catskills out!

"Well, DOBBS is DOBBS, and faster
Than pitch or mustard plaster
Shall it stick hereabouts,
While Tappan Sea rolls yonder,
Or round High Torn the thunder
Along these ramparts shouts.
No corner-lot banditti,
Or brokers from the city—
Like you—" Here Dobbs began
Wildly both oars to brandish,
As fierce as old Miles Standish,
Or young Phil Sheridan.

Sternwards he rushed—I, ducking,
Seized both his legs, and chucking
Dobbs sideways, splash he went—
The wherry swayed, then righted,
While I, somewhat excited,
Over the water bent;
Three times he rose, but vainly
I clutched his form ungainly,
He sank, while sighs and sobs
Beneath the waves seemed muttered,
And all the night-winds uttered
In sad tones, "Dobbs! Dobbs! Dobbs!"

Just then some giant bowlders
Upon my head and shoulders
Made sudden, fearful raids,
And on my face and forehead,
With din and uproar horrid,
Came several Palisades;
I screamed, and woke, in screaming,
To see, by gas-light's gleaming,
Brown's face above my bed:
"Why, Jack! what is the matter?
We heard a dreadful clatter
And found you on the shed!

"It's plain enough, supposing
You sat there, moon-struck, dozing,
Upon the window's edge,
Then lost yourself, and falling,
Just where we found you, sprawling,
Struck the piazza ledge;
A lucky hit, old fellow,
Of black and blue and yellow
It gives your face a touch,
You saved your neck, but barely;
To state the matter fairly,
You took a drop too much!"

I took the train next morning,
Some lumps my nose adorning,
My forehead, sundry knobs,
My ideas slightly wandering,
But, as I went, much pondering
Upon my night with Dobbs;
Brown thinks it, dear old sinner,
A case of "after dinner,"
And won't believe a word;
Talks of "hallucination,"
"Laws of association,"
And calls my tale "absurd."

Perhaps it is, but never,
Say I, should we dissever
Old places and old names;
Guard the old landmarks truly,
On the old altars duly
Keep bright the ancient flames.
For me, the face of Nature,
No luckless nomenclature
Of grace or beauty robs;
No, when of town I weary,
I'll make a strike in Erie,
And buy a place at DOBBS!





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