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

New England: Cambridge, Mass.

The Washington Elm

By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

(From Under the Old Elm)

BENEATH our consecrated elm

A century ago he stood,

Famed vaguely for that old fight in the wood

Whose red surge sought, but could not overwhelm

The life foredoomed to wield our rough-hewn helm:—

From colleges, where now the gown

To arms had yielded, from the town,

Our rude self-summoned levies flocked to see

The new-come chiefs and wonder which was he.

No need to question long; close-lipped and tall,

Long trained in murder-brooding forests lone

To bridle others’ clamors and his own,

Firmly erect, he towered above them all,

The incarnate discipline that was to free

With iron curb that armed democracy.

A motley rout was that which came to stare,

In raiment tanned by years of sun and storm,

Of every shape that was not uniform,

Dotted with regimentals here and there;

An army all of captains, used to pray

And stiff in fight, but serious drill’s despair,

Skilled to debate their orders, not obey;

Deacons were there, selectmen, men of note

In half-tamed hamlets ambushed round with woods,

Ready to settle Freewill by a vote,

But largely liberal to its private moods;

Prompt to assert by manners, voice, or pen,

Or ruder arms, their rights as Englishmen,

Nor much fastidious as to how and when:

Yet seasoned stuff and fittest to create

A thought-staid army or a lasting state:

Haughty they said he was, at first; severe;

But owned, as all men own, the steady hand

Upon the bridle, patient to command,

Prized, as all prize, the justice pure from fear,

And learned to honor first, then love him, then revere.

Such power there is in clear-eyed self-restraint

And purpose clean as light from every selfish taint.

Musing beneath the legendary tree,

The years between furl off: I seem to see

The sun-flecks, shaken the stirred foliage through,

Dapple with gold his sober buff and blue,

And weave prophetic aureoles round the head

That shines our beacon now nor darkens with the dead.

O man of silent mood,

A stranger among strangers then,

How art thou since renowned the Great, the Good,

Familiar as the day in all the homes of men!

The wingéd years, that winnow praise and blame,

Blow many names out: they but fan to flame

The self-renewing splendors of thy fame.