1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Wilson

T. F., "The Tomb of Wilson" The Atlantic Souvenir [Philadelphia] 3 (1828) 316-20.



On the shores of the Delaware, within the southern suburbs of Philadelphia, is the "Old Swedes' Church," with its neat parsonage house and garden. It was erected in the year 1700, on the site of the first temporary shelter, from which the anthems of the Pilgrims burst on the primeval forests of Pennsylvania. In its cemetery, WILSON, the American Ornithologist, is interred. He had requested to be buried in some rural spot, sacred to peace and solitude, where the birds might sing over his grave. That spot is marked by a simple marble, which records the date of his birth and death.

The grass is green, and the plane trees bloom
Round the ancient kirk, and the humble tomb,
O'er Wilson's honour'd grave;
And the passage-bird from the orange groves,
To the summer scene of his youth and loves,
Has borne him down from the heights of air,
To warble his wonted requiem there.
But still and cold is that heart of fire,
It thrills not as erst to the songster choir.
Sainted student of nature! thy relics repose
Far away from the land which is proud of thy birth,
Where the thistle blooms high o'er the vales of the rose,
And the mountain breeze nurtures the brave of the earth.

Where cotter's hearth, and beetling tower,
Are scenes of love and chivalry,
Scenes which could wake the holiest power,
That lives in Highland minstrelsy—

Ere yet her ploughboy bard had sung
Amid his bonny braes and rills;
Or Campbell's deathless lyre was strung
On Caledonia's heather'd hills;

Upon his peasant-mother's breast,
Nature had mark'd a darling boy,
And conscious of his high behest,
Beheld him with maternal joy.

Soon she who gave the prattler birth,
Left him in infancy to roam—
Left to the wilderness of earth,
An orphan from his parent home.

But not the dull routine of toil,
The shuttle's shrill monotony,
Or ills of penury could spoil
His spirit's high wrought destiny.

The love of virtue and of truth,
Inspiring genius bore him on;
Gentlest of Scotia's gallant youth,
Nature's devoted, chosen son.

He dream'd a happier clime had risen
Beyond the darkly rolling wave—
The brightest spot that beacons heaven,
Home of the exile and the brave,

He sought Columbia's distant shore,
Where erst a pilgrim band had prest;
Where Penn his bloodless banner bore
To the vast forests of the west.

There nature in her frolic moods,
Had strew'd her sweetest forms and flowers,
And bloom'd o'er boundless solitudes,
Lovely as in her orient bowers.

And there, as now, the passage bird,
Had sung his summer song and flown,
Gay as the hunter-race who heard
Through ages noteless and unknown.

But now there came a gifted child,
A wanderer from o'er the sea,
To hear the songsters of the wild,
And breathe the air of liberty.

He saw the cheerful choir whose loves,
Enraptured song, and summer home,
Surround us mid our fields and groves,
Till fading autumn bids them roam.

And all the mightier tribes that soar
From the lone icebergs of the north,
Above the restless ocean's shore,
When winter's empire sends them forth.

Kind Nature to his docile heart
Taught the enchantment of the scene,
And gave him power to impart,
Such as to mortal had not been.

His words have pictured to the sight
The rival falcons of the sky,
And lit, in their unmetred light,
The fadeless dreams of Poesy.

He rambled where the "wandering stream,"
Mirrors his own primeval woods,
And where, beneath their rainbow gleam,
Whelm Niagara's ocean-floods.

He climbed the Appalachian's height,
Where lingers the eternal snow,
And gazed with wild and proud delight,
O'er all the forest-world below.

Where the wide waters of the West
In one concentred volume roll,
A skiff upon its rippling breast,
Bore him, a lone and ardent soul.

He mark'd the pigeon's myriad flight,
That fill'd the horizon broad and blue,
Till his eye wearied with the sight,
And twilight hid them from his view.

There by the lonely leaf-strewn grave,
Where lost lamented Lewis lies,
He wept, as friendship weeps the brave,
Ere it may join them in the skies.

But now the mourner weeps no more,
He sleeps beneath yon humble tomb,
His wild-wood wanderings are o'er,
He heeds not Spring's returning bloom.

He died as genius oft shall die,
While heartless avarice bears control,
But never shall the sun or sky
Glow on a warmer, nobler soul—

The brightest, loveliest orbs of heaven,
Shine on us for the shortest date—
To brightest spirits oft are given
The comet's swift returning fate.

While Egypt's slowly mouldering stone,
Shall look on nations yet to be,
And tell of generations gone,
To races passing ceaselessly—

While Homer's numbers shall prolong
His country's dear and deathless name—
E'en if his rapture-breathing song
Wakes not a Phoenix from her flame.

While our own emblem bird shall fly,
Serenely in his native sky,
And the broad breeze o'er earth and sea
Wafts the proud banner of the free—
So long, illustrious shade! thy name
Shall brighten on the scroll of fame—
While Nature's pauseless course shall bring
Again the bloom and birds of Spring,
Each lonely note or song of glee,
At dawn and eve shall tell of thee.