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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

The American Hero

By Nathaniel Niles (1741–1828)

[Born in South Kingston, R. I., 1741. Died at West Fairlee, Vt., 1828. A Sapphic Ode, written in the time of the American Revolution. 1775.]

WHY should vain mortals tremble at the sight of

Death and destruction in the field of battle,

Where blood and carnage clothe the ground in crimson,

Sounding with death-groans?

Death will invade us by the means appointed,

And we must all bow to the king of terrors;

Nor am I anxious, if I am prepared,

What shape he comes in.

Infinite Goodness teaches us submission,

Bids us be quiet, under all his dealings;

Never repining, but forever praising

God, our Creator.

Well may we praise him: all his ways are perfect:

Though a resplendence, infinitely glowing,

Dazzles in glory on the sight of mortals,

Struck blind by lustre.

Good is Jehovah in bestowing sunshine,

Nor less his goodness in the storm and thunder,

Mercies and judgment both proceed from kindness,

Infinite kindness.

O, then, exult that God forever reigneth;

Clouds which, around him, hinder our perception,

Bind us the stronger to exalt his name, and

Shout louder praises.

Then to the wisdom of my Lord and Master

I will commit all that I have or wish for,

Sweetly as babes’ sleep will I give my life up,

When called to yield it.

Now, Mars, I dare thee, clad in smoky pillars,

Bursting from bomb-shells, roaring from the cannon,

Rattling in grape-shot like a storm of hailstones,

Torturing ether.

Up the bleak heavens let the spreading flames rise,

Breaking, like Ætna, through the smoky columns,

Lowering, like Egypt, o’er the falling city,

Wantonly burned down.

While all their hearts quick palpitate for havoc,

Let slip your blood-hounds, named the British lions;

Dauntless as death stares, nimble as the whirlwind,

Dreadful as demons!

Let oceans waft on all your floating castles,

Fraught with destruction, horrible to nature;

Then, with your sails filled by a storm of vengeance,

Bear down to battle.

From the dire caverns, made by ghostly miners,

Let the explosion, dreadful as volcanoes,

Heave the broad town, with all its wealth and people,

Quick to destruction.

Still shall the banner of the King of Heaven

Never advance where I am afraid to follow:

While that precedes me, with an open bosom,

War, I defy thee.

Fame and dear freedom lure me on to battle,

While a fell despot, grimmer than a death’s-head,

Stings me with serpents, fiercer than Medusa’s,

To the encounter.

Life, for my country and the cause of freedom,

Is but a trifle for a worm to part with;

And, if preserved in so great a contest,

Life is redoubled.