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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Western States: Tennessee, the River

On the Shores of the Tennessee

By Ethel Lynn Beers (1827–1879)

“MOVE my arm-chair, faithful Pompey,

In the sunshine bright and strong,

For this world is fading, Pompey,—

Massa won’t be with you long;

And I fain would hear the south-wind

Bring once more the sound to me,

Of the wavelets softly breaking

On the shores of Tennessee.

“Mournful though the ripples murmur,

As they still the story tell,

How no vessels float the banner

That I ’ve loved so long and well.

I shall listen to their music,

Dreaming that again I see

Stars and Stripes on sloop and shallop

Sailing up the Tennessee.

“And, Pompey, while old Massa ’s waiting

For Death’s last despatch to come,

If that exiled, starry banner

Should come proudly sailing home,

You shall greet it, slave no longer;—

Voice and hand shall both be free

That shout and point to Union colors

On the waves of Tennessee.”

“Massa ’s berry kind to Pompey;

But ole darkey ’s happy here,

Where he ’s tended corn and cotton

For ’ese many a long-gone year.

Over yonder Missis’ sleeping,—

No one tends her grave like me;

Mebbie she would miss the flowers

She used to love in Tennessee.

“’Pears like she was watching, Massa—

If Pompey should beside him stay;

Mebbie she ’d remember better

How for him she used to pray;

Telling him that way up yonder

White as snow his soul would be,

If he served the Lord of Heaven

While he lived in Tennessee.”

Silently the tears were rolling

Down the poor old dusky face,

As he stepped behind his master,

In his long-accustomed place.

Then a silence fell around them,

As they gazed on rock and tree

Pictured in the placid waters

Of the rolling Tennessee;

Master, dreaming of the battle

Where he fought by Marion’s side,

When he bid the haughty Tarleton

Stoop his lordly crest of pride;

Man, remembering how yon sleeper

Once he held upon his knee,

Ere she loved the gallant soldier,

Ralph Vervair of Tennessee.

Still the south-wind fondly lingers

Mid the veteran’s silver hair;

Still the bondman close beside him

Stands behind the old arm-chair.

With his dark-hued hand uplifted,

Shading eyes, he bends to see

Where the woodland, boldly jutting,

Turns aside the Tennessee.

Thus he watches cloud-born shadows

Glide from tree to mountain crest,

Softly creeping, aye and ever

To the river’s yielding breast.

Ha! above the foliage yonder

Something flutters wild and free!

“Massa! Massa! Hallelujah!

The flag ’s come back to Tennessee!”

“Pompey, hold me on your shoulder,

Help me stand on foot once more,

That I may salute the colors

As they pass my cabin door;

Here ’s the paper signed that frees you,

Give a freeman’s shout with me,—

‘God and Union!’ be our watchword

Evermore in Tennessee.”

Then the trembling voice grew fainter,

And the limbs refused to stand;

One prayer to Jesus,—and the soldier

Glided to that better land.

When the flag went down the river

Man and master both were free,

While the ringdove’s note was mingled

With the rippling Tennessee.