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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In State

By Forceythe Willson (1837–1867)

[Born in Little Genesee, N. Y., 1837. Died at Alfred, N. Y., 1867. The Old Sergeant, and Other Poems. 1867.]

O KEEPER of the Sacred Key,

And the Great Seal of Destiny,

Whose eye is the blue canopy,

Look down upon the warring world, and tell us what the end will be.

“Lo, through the wintry atmosphere,

On the white bosom of the sphere,

A cluster of five lakes appear;

And all the land looks like a couch, or warrior’s shield, or sheeted bier.

“And on that vast and hollow field,

With both lips closed and both eyes sealed,

A mighty Figure is revealed,—

Stretched at full length, and stiff and stark, as in the hollow of a shield.

“The winds have tied the drifted snow

Around the face and chin; and lo,

The sceptred Giants come and go,

And shake their shadowy crowns and say: ‘We always feared it would be so!’

“She came of an heroic race:

A giant’s strength, a maiden’s grace,

Like two in one seem to embrace,

And match, and blend, and thorough-blend, in her colossal form and face.

“Where can her dazzling falchion be?

One hand is fallen in the sea;

The Gulf-Stream drifts it far and free;

And in that hand her shining brand gleams from the depths resplendently.

“And by the other, in its rest,

The starry banner of the West

Is clasped forever to her breast;

And of her silver helmet, lo, a soaring eagle is the crest.

“And on her brow, a softened light,

As of a star concealed from sight

By some thin veil of fleecy white,—

Or of the rising moon behind the rainy vapors of the night.

“The Sisterhood that was so sweet,

The Starry System sphered complete,

Which the mazed Orient used to greet,

The Four and Thirty fallen Stars glimmer and glitter at her feet.

“And over her,—and over all,

For panoply and coronal,—

The mighty Immemorial,

And everlasting Canopy and starry Arch and Shield of All.”

“Three cold, bright moons have marched and wheeled;

And the white cerement that revealed

A Figure stretched upon a Shield,

Is turned to verdure; and the Land is now one mighty Battle-Field.

‘And lo, the children which she bred,

And more than all else cherishèd,

To make them true in heart and head,

Stand face to face, as mortal foes, with their swords crossed above the dead.

“Each hath a mighty stroke and stride:

One true—the more that he is tried;

The other dark and evil-eyed;—

And by the hand of one of them, his own dear mother surely died!

“A stealthy step—a gleam of hell,—

It is the simple truth to tell,—

The Son stabbed and the Mother fell:

And so she lies, all mute and pale, and pure and irreproachable!

“And then the battle-trumpet blew;

And the true brother sprang and drew

His blade to smite the traitor through;

And so they clashed above the bier, and the Night sweated bloody dew.

“And all their children, far and wide,

That are so greatly multiplied,

Rise up in frenzy and divide;

And choosing, each whom he will serve, unsheathe the sword and take their side.

“And in the low sun’s bloodshot rays,

Portentous of the coming days,

The Two great Oceans blush and blaze,

With the emergent continent between them, wrapped in crimson haze.

“Now whichsoever stand or fall,

As God is great and man is small,

The Truth shall triumph over all,—

Forever and forevermore, the Truth shall triumph over all!”

“I see the champion sword-strokes flash;

I see them fall and hear them clash;

I hear the murderous engines crash;

I see a brother stoop to loose a foeman-brother’s bloody sash.

“I see the torn and mangled corse,

The dead and dying heaped in scores,

The headless rider by his horse,

The wounded captive bayoneted through and through without remorse.

“I hear the dying sufferer cry,

With his crushed face turned to the sky,

I see him crawl in agony

To the foul pool, and bow his head into its bloody slime and die.

“I see the assassin crouch and fire,

I see his victim fall—expire;

I see the murderer creeping nigher

To strip the dead: He turns the head: The face! The son beholds his sire!

“I hear the curses and the thanks;

I see the mad charge on the flanks,

The rents—the gaps—the broken ranks,—

The vanquished squadrons driven headlong down the river’s bridgeless banks.

“I see the death-gripe on the plain,

The grappling monsters on the main,

The tens of thousands that are slain,

And all the speechless suffering and agony of heart and brain.

“I see the dark and bloody spots,

The crowded rooms and crowded cots,

The bleaching bones, the battle-blots,—

And writ on many a nameless grave, a legend of forget-me-nots.

“I see the gorgèd prison-den,

The dead-line and the pent-up pen,

The thousands quartered in the fen,

The living deaths of skin and bone that were the goodly shapes of men.

“And still the bloody Dew must fall!

And His great Darkness with the Pall

Of His dread Judgment cover all,

Till the Dead Nation rise Transformed by Truth to triumph over all!”


Thus saith the Keeper of the Key,

And the Great Seal of Destiny,

Whose Eye is the blue canopy,

And leaves the Pall of His great Darkness over all the Land and Sea.