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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Holland: Vols. XIV–XV. 1876–79.

Introductory to Holland

Holland in the Olden Time

By Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679)

Chorus of Batavian Women
(From the Batavian Brothers)
Translated by John Bowring

OURS was a happy lot,

Ere foreign tyrants brought

The servile iron yoke, which bound

Our necks with humbling slavery to the ground.

Once all was confidence and peace;—the just

Might to his neighbor trust;

The common plough turned up the common land,

And Nature scattered joy with liberal hand.

The humble cot of clay

Kept the thick shower, the wind, and hail away.

Upon the frugal board

No luxuries were stored;

But ’neath a forest-tree the table stood,—

A simple plank, unpolished and rude:

Our feasts the wild game of the wood,

And curds and cheese our daily food.

Man, in his early virtues blest,

Slept satisfied on woman’s breast,

Who, modest and confiding, saw

In him her lord and love and law.

Then was the stranger and the neighbor each

Welcomed with cordial thoughts and honest speech;

And days flowed cheerful on, as days should flow,

Unmoved by distant or domestic woe.

Then was no value set on silver things,

Nor golden stores, nor coin, nor dazzling rings;

They bartered what they had for what they wanted,

And sought no foreign shores, but planted

Their own low dwellings in their mother land;

Raised all by their own hand,

And furnisht with whatever man requires

For his moderate desires.

They had no proud adornings,—were not gilt

Nor sculptured,—nor in crowded cities built;

But in wide scattered villages they spread

Where stand no friendly lamps above the head:

Rough and undeckt the simple cot,

With the rich show of pomp encumbered not.

As when in decorated piles are seen

The bright fruits peeping through the foliage green;

Bark of the trees and hides of cattle cover

The lowly hut when storms rage fiercely over;

Man had not learnt the use of stone,

Tiles and cement were all unknown;

Some place of shelter dug, dark, dreary, far,

For the dread hour of danger or of war,

When the stray pirate broke on the serene

And cheerful quiet of that early scene.

No usurer, then, with avarice’ burning thirst,

His fellow-men had curst;

The coarse-wove flax, the unwrought fleece alone,

On the half-naked sturdy limbs were thrown:

The daughters married late

To a laborious fate;

And to their husbands bore a healthy race,

To take their fathers’ place.

If e’er dispute or discord dared intrude,

’T was soon, by wisdom’s voice, subdued;

The wisest then was called to reign,

The bravest did the victory gain:

The proud were made to feel

They must submit them to the general weal;

For to the proud and high a given way

Was marked, that thence they might not stray;—

And thus was freedom kept alive.

Rulers were taught to strive

For subjects’ happiness, and subjects brought

The cheerful tribute of obedient thought;

And ’t was indeed a glorious sight

To see them wave their weapons bright:

No venal bands, the murderous hordes of fame;

But freedom’s sons,—all armed in freedom’s name.

No judge outdealing justice in his hate,

Nor in his favor.—Wisdom’s train sedate

Of books and proud philosophy

And stately speech, could never needed be,

While they for virtue’s counsellings might look

On Nature’s open book,

Where bright and free the Godhead’s glory falls;—

Not on the imprisoning walls

Of temples; for their temple was the wood,—

The heavens its arch, its aisles were solitude.

And then they sang the praise

Of heroes and the seers of older days:

They never dared to pry

Into the mysteries of the Deity;

They never weighed his schemes, nor judged his will,

But saw his works, and loved and praised him still;

Obeyed in awe, kept pure their hearts within,

For this they knew,—God hates and scourges sin:

Some dreams of future bliss were theirs,

To gild their joys and chase their cares;

And thus they dwelt, and thus they died,

With guardian-freedom at their side,

The happy tenants of a happy soil,

Till came the cruel stranger to despoil.

But, O, that blessed time is past;

The strangers now possess our land;

Batavia is subdued at last,—

Batavia fettered, ruined, banned!

Yes! honor, truth, have taken flight

To seats sublimer, thrones more pure.

Look, Julius! from thy throne of light,

See what thy Holland’s sons endure;

Thy children still are proud to claim

Their Roman blood, their source from thee;

Friends, brothers, comrades, bear the name,—

Desert them not in misery!

Terror and power and cruel wrong

Have a free people’s bliss undone;

Too harsh their sway, their rule too long.

Arouse thee from thy cloudy throne;

And if thou hate disgrace and crime,

Recall, recall departed time.