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Anti-Slavery Poems
The Crisis

by John Greenleaf Whittier

Written on learning the terms of the treaty with Mexico.

Across the Stony Mountains, o'er the desert's
drouth and sand,
The circles of our empire touch the western ocean's
strand;
From slumberous Timpanogos, to Gila, wild and
free,
Flowing down from Nuevo-Leon to California's sea;
And from the mountains of the east, to Santa
Rosa's shore,
The eagles of Mexitli shall beat the air no more.

O Vale of Rio Bravo! Let thy simple children
weep;
Close watch about their holy fire let maids of
Pecos keep;
Let Taos send her cry across Sierra Madre's pines,
And Santa Barbara toll her bells amidst her corn
and vines;
For lo! the pale land-seekers come, with eager eyes
of gain,
Wide scattering, like the bison herds on broad
Salada's plain.

Let Sacramento's herdsmen heed what sound the
winds bring down
Of footsteps on the crisping snow, from cold
Nevada's crown!
Full hot and fast the Saxon rides, with rein of
travel slack,
And, bending o'er his saddle, leaves the sunrise at
his back;
By many a lonely river, and gorge of fir and
pine,
On many a wintry hill-top, his nightly camp-fires
shine.

O countrymen and brothers! that land of lake and
plain,
Of salt wastes alternating with valleys fat with
grain;
Of mountains white with winter, looking downward,
cold, serene,
On their feet with spring-vines tangled and lapped
in softest green;
Swift through whose black volcanic gates, o'er
many a sunny vale,
Wind-like the Arapahoe sweeps the bison's dusty
trail!

Great spaces yet untravelled, great lakes whose
mystic shores
The Saxon rifle never heard, nor dip of Saxon oars;
Great herds that wander all unwatched, wild steeds
that none have tamed,
Strange fish in unknown streams, and birds the
Saxon never named;
Deep mines, dark mountain crucibles, where Nature's
chemic powers
Work out the Great Designer's will; all these ye
say are ours!

Forever ours! for good or ill, on us the burden
lies;
God's balance, watched by angels, is hung across
the skies.
Shall Justice, Truth, and Freedom turn the poised
and trembling scale?
Or shall the Evil triumph, and robber Wrong prevail?
Shall the broad land o'er which our flag in starry
splendor waves,
Forego through us its freedom, and bear the tread
of slaves?

The day is breaking in the East of which the
prophets told,
And brightens up the sky of Time the Christian
Age of Gold;
Old Might to Right is yielding, battle blade to
clerkly pen,
Earth's monarchs are her peoples, and her serfs
stand up as men;

The isles rejoice together, in a day are nations
born,
And the slave walks free in Tunis, and by Stamboul's
Golden Horn!

Is this, O countrymen of mine! a day for us to sow
The soil of new-gained empire with slavery's seeds
of woe?
To feed with our fresh life-blood the Old World's
cast-off crime,
Dropped, like some monstrous early birth, from
the tired lap of Time?
To run anew the evil race the old lost nations ran,
And die like them of unbelief of God, and wrong
of man?

Great Heaven! Is this our mission? End in this
the prayers and tears,
The toil, the strife, the watchings of our younger,
better years?
Still as the Old World rolls in light, shall ours in
shadow turn,
A beamless Chaos, cursed of God, through outer
darkness borne?
Where the far nations looked for light, a black-
ness in the air?
Where for words of hope they listened, the long
wail of despair?

The Crisis presses on us; face to face with us it
stands,
With solemn lips of question, like the Sphinx in
Egypt's sands!
This day we fashion Destiny, our web of Fate we
spin;
This day for all hereafter choose we holiness or
sin;
Even now from starry Gerizim, or Ebal's cloudy
crown,
We call the dews of blessing or the bolts of cursing
down!

By all for which the martyrs bore their agony and
shame;
By all the warning words of truth with which the
prophets came;
By the Future which awaits us; by all the hopes
which cast
Their faint and trembling beams across the black-
ness of the Past;
And by the blessed thought of Him who for Earth's
freedom died,
O my people! O my brothers! let us choose the
righteous side.

So shall the Northern pioneer go joyful on his
way;
To wed Penobseot's waters to San Francisco's bay;
To make the rugged places smooth, and sow the
vales with grain;
And bear, with Liberty and Law, the Bible in his
train
The mighty West shall bless the East, and sea shall
answer sea,
And mountain unto mountain call, Praise God, for
we are free

1845.
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