Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WHITMAN'S RIDE FOR OREGON, by HEZEKIAH BUTTERWORTH



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WHITMAN'S RIDE FOR OREGON, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: An empire to be lost or won
Last Line: The hundred states of oregon.
Subject(s): West (u.s.) - Exploration; Whitman, Marcus (1802-1847)


I

"AN empire to be lost or won!"
And who four thousand miles will ride
And climb to heaven the Great Divide,
And find the way to Washington,
Through mountain canons, winter snows,
O'er streams where free the north wind blows?
Who, who will ride from Walla-Walla,
Four thousand miles for Oregon?

II

"An empire to be lost or won?
In youth to man I gave my all,
And nought is yonder mountain wall;
If but the will of Heaven be done,
It is not mine to live or die,
Or count the mountains low or high,
Or count the miles from Walla-Walla.
I, I will ride for Oregon.

III

"An empire to be lost or won?
Bring me my Cayuse pony then,
And I will thread old ways again,
Beneath the gray skies' crystal sun.
'T was on these altars of the air
I raised the flag, and saw below
The measureless Columbia flow;
The Bible oped, and bowed in prayer,
And gave myself to God anew,
And felt my spirit newly born;
And to my mission I'll be true,
And from the vale of Walla-Walla,
I'll ride again for Oregon.

IV

"I'm not my own, myself I've given,
To bear to savage hordes the word;
If on the altars of the heaven
I'm called to die, it is the Lord.
The herald may not wait or choose,
'T is his the summons to obey;
To do his best, or gain or lose,
To seek the Guide and not the way.
He must not miss the cross, and I
Have ceased to think of life or death;
My ark I've builded -- Heaven is nigh,
And earth is but a morning's breath;
Go, then, my Cayuse pony bring,
The hopes that seek myself are gone,
And from the vale of Walla-Walla,
I'll ride again for Oregon."

V

He disappeared, as not his own,
He heard the warning ice winds sigh;
The smoky sun flames o'er him shone,
On whitened altars of the sky,
As up the mountain sides he rose;
The wandering eagle round him wheeled,
The partridge fled, the gentle roes,
And oft his Cayuse pony reeled
Upon some dizzy crag, and gazed
Down cloudy chasms, falling storms,
While higher yet the peaks upraised
Against the winds their giant forms.
On, on and on, past Idaho,
On past the mighty Saline sea,
His covering at night the snow,
His only sentinel a tree.
On, past Portneuf's basaltic heights,
On where the San Juan mountains lay,
Through sunless days and starless nights,
Towards Toas and far Sante Fe.
O'er table-lands of sleet and hail,
Through pine-roofed gorges, canons cold,
Now fording streams incased in mail
Of ice, like Alpine knights of old:
Still on, and on, forgetful on,
Till far behind lay Walla-Walla,
And far the fields of Oregon.

VI

The winter deepened, sharper grew
The hail and sleet, the frost and snow,
Not e'en the eagle o'er him flew,
And scarce the partridge's wing below.
The land became a long white sea,
And then a deep with scarce a coast,
The stars refused their light, till he
Was in the wildering mazes lost.
He dropped the rein, his stiffened hand
Was like a statue's hand of clay;
"My trusty beast, 't is the command,
Go on, I leave to thee the way.
I must go on, I must go on,
Whatever lot may fall to me,
On, 't is for others' sake I ride, --
For others I may never see, --
And dare thy clouds, O Great Divide;
Not for myself, O Walla-Walla,
Not for myself, O Washington,
But for thy future, Oregon."

VII

And on and on the dumb beast pressed,
Uncertain, and without a guide,
And found the mountain's curves of rest
And sheltered ways of the Divide.
His feet grew firm, he found the way
With storm-beat limbs and frozen breath,
As keen his instincts to obey
As was his master's eye of faith.
Still on and on, still on and on,
And far and far grew Walla-Walla,
And far the fields of Oregon.

VIII

That spring, a man with frozen feet
Came to the marble halls of State,
And told his mission but to meet
The chill of scorn, the scoff of hate.
"Is Oregon worth saving?" asked
The treaty-makers from the coast;
And him the church with questions tasked,
And said, "Why did you leave your post?"
Was it for this that he had braved
The warring storms of mount and sky?
Yes! -- yet that empire he had saved,
And to his post went back to die, --
Went back to die for others' sake,
Went back to die from Washington,
Went back to die for Walla-Walla,
For Idaho and Oregon.

IX

At fair Walla-Walla one may see
The city of the Western North,
And near it graves unmarked there be
That cover souls of royal worth.
The flag waves o'er them in the sky
Beneath whose stars are cities born,
And round them mountain-castled lie
The hundred states of Oregon.






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