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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 Cotton Boll

By Henry Timrod (1828–1867)

[Born in Charleston, S. C. Died at Columbia, S. C., 1867. The Poems of Henry Timrod. Edited by Paul H. Hayne. 1873.]

WHILE I recline

At ease beneath

This immemorial pine,

Small sphere!

(By dusky fingers brought this morning here

And shown with boastful smiles),

I turn thy cloven sheath,

Through which the soft white fibres peer,

That, with their gossamer bands,

Unite, like love, the sea-divided lands,

And slowly, thread by thread,

Draw forth the folded strands,

Than which the trembling line,

By whose frail help yon startled spider fled

Down the tall spear-grass from his swinging bed,

Is scarce more fine;

And as the tangled skein

Unravels in my hands,

Betwixt me and the noonday light

A veil seems lifted, and for miles and miles

The landscape broadens on my sight,

As, in the little boll, there lurked a spell

Like that which, in the ocean shell,

With mystic sound

Breaks down the narrow walls that hem us round,

And turns some city lane

Into the restless main,

With all his capes and isles!

Yonder bird,

Which floats, as if at rest,

In those blue tracts above the thunder, where

No vapors cloud the stainless air,

And never sound is heard,

Unless at such rare time

When, from the City of the Blest,

Rings down some golden chime,

Sees not from his high place

So vast a cirque of summer space

As widens round me in one mighty field,

Which, rimmed by seas and sands,

Doth hail its earliest daylight in the beams

Of gray Atlantic dawns;

And, broad as realms made up of many lands,

Is lost afar

Behind the crimson hills and purple lawns

Of sunset, among plains which roll their streams

Against the Evening Star!

And lo!

To the remotest point of sight,

Although I gaze upon no waste of snow,

The endless field is white;

And the whole landscape glows,

For many a shining league away,

With such accumulated light

As Polar lands would flash beneath a tropic day!

Nor lack there (for the vision grows,

And the small charm within my hands—

More potent even than the fabled one,

Which oped whatever golden mystery

Lay hid in fairy wood or magic vale,

The curious ointment of the Arabian tale—

Beyond all mortal sense

Doth stretch my sight’s horizon, and I see,

Beneath its simple influence,

As if, with Uriel’s crown,

I stood in some great temple of the Sun,

And looked, as Uriel, down!)

Nor lack there pastures rich and fields all green

With all the common gifts of God.

For temperate airs and torrid sheen

Weave Edens of the sod;

Through lands which look one sea of billowy gold

Broad rivers wind their devious ways;

A hundred isles in their embraces fold

A hundred luminous bays;

And through yon purple haze

Vast mountains lift their plumèd peaks cloud-crowned;

And, save where up their sides the ploughman creeps,

An unhewn forest girds them grandly round,

In whose dark shades a future navy sleeps!

Ye Stars, which, though unseen, yet with me gaze

Upon this loveliest fragment of the earth!

Thou Sun, that kindlest all thy gentlest rays

Above it, as to light a favorite hearth!

Ye Clouds, that in your temples in the West

See nothing brighter than its humblest flowers!

And you, ye Winds, that on the ocean’s breast

Are kissed to coolness ere ye reach its bowers!

Bear witness with me in my song of praise,

And tell the world that, since the world began,

No fairer land hath fired a poet’s lays,

Or given a home to man:

But these are charms already widely blown!

His be the meed whose pencil’s trace

Hath touched our very swamps with grace,

And round whose tuneful way

All Southern laurels bloom;

The Poet of “The Woodlands,” unto whom

Alike are known

The flute’s low breathing and the trumpet’s tone,

And the soft west wind’s sighs;

But who shall utter all the debt,

O Land wherein all powers are met

That bind a people’s heart,

The world doth owe thee at this day,

And which it never can repay,

Yet scarcely deigns to own!

Where sleeps the poet who shall fitly sing

The source wherefrom doth spring

That mighty commerce which, confined

To the mean channels of no selfish mart,

Goes out to every shore

Of this broad earth, and throngs the sea with ships

That bear no thunders; hushes hungry lips

In alien lands;

Joins with a delicate web remotest strands;

And gladdening rich and poor,

Doth gild Parisian domes,

Or feed the cottage-smoke of English homes,

And only bounds its blessings by mankind!

In offices like these, thy mission lies,

My Country! and it shall not end

As long as rain shall fall and Heaven bend

In blue above thee; though thy foes be hard

And cruel as their weapons, it shall guard

Thy hearth-stones as a bulwark; make thee great

In white and bloodless state;

And haply, as the years increase—

Still working through its humbler reach

With that large wisdom which the ages teach—

Revive the half-dead dream of universal peace!

As men who labor in that mine

Of Cornwall, hollowed out beneath the bed

Of ocean, when a storm rolls overhead,

Hear the dull booming of the world of brine

Above them, and a mighty muffled roar

Of winds and waters, yet toil calmly on,

And split the rock, and pile the massive ore,

Or carve a niche, or shape the archèd roof;

So I, as calmly, weave my woof

Of song, chanting the days to come,

Unsilenced, though the quiet summer air

Stirs with the bruit of battles, and each dawn

Wakes from its starry silence to the hum

Of many gathering armies. Still,

In that we sometimes hear,

Upon the Northern winds, the voice of woe

Not wholly drowned in triumph, though I know

The end must crown us, and a few brief years

Dry all our tears,

I may not sing too gladly. To Thy will

Resigned, O Lord! we cannot all forget

That there is much even Victory must regret.

And, therefore, not too long

From the great burthen of our country’s wrong

Delay our just release!

And, if it may be, save

These sacred fields of peace

From stain of patriot or of hostile blood!

Oh, help us, Lord! to roll the crimson flood

Back on its course, and, while our banners wing

Northward, strike with us! till the Goth shall cling

To his own blasted altar-stones, and crave

Mercy; and we shall grant it, and dictate

The lenient future of his fate

There, where some rotting ships and crumbling quays

Shall one day mark the Port which ruled the Western seas.