The Proem, in fifteen Spenserians, laments the passing of J. M. Eastburn, Robert Charles Sands's collaborator on Yamoyden, who died on a passage to the West Indies in 1819 at the age of twenty-two. The Proem describes how the two youthful poets, their imaginations stimulated by reading European history, had been struck by the mystery of their own uncharted continent, and the traditional stories of the American Indians: "And many a gloomy tale Tradition yet | Saves from oblivion, of their struggles vain, | Their prowess and their wrongs, for rhymer meet, | To people scenes, where still their names remain" p. xi. The movement from European history to traditionary tales reverses that of the two cantos of James Beattie's The Minstrel, which may in part have been the inspiration for the Proem.
Samuel Woodworth: "The time must come, (and we see no reason why it should not commence now,) when American genius will be patronized; when we shall give to the world indisputable proofs of our capability in literature, as we have done in arms, and the arts — in a word, when our artisans, and our scholars, can remain at home, and receive the recompense of their labours. We will repeat it — we believe this happy era has commenced, and with not little exultation, have perused Yamoyden as one of the offspring of its genial influence" Ladies Literary Cabinet [New York] NS 3 (16 December 1820) 44.
New York Literary Journal: "To compare this poem with other productions of the American muse, would not be rating it at the estimation which it deserves. It discovers genius, and evidences of pure inspiration, sufficient, if properly cultivated, to place its surviving author aside of any British poet of the day. We are offended by none of those breaches of the canons of criticism, which frequently cast a shade over the ablest productions of American genius. The poem is written throughout in the most chaste and delicate taste, with great command and ease of diction, and in every variety of style suited to the nature of the subject. The costume, the imagery, the manners and cast of thought of the characters, are all purely Indian, and their propriety is preserved with the utmost care" 4 (December 1820) 108.
Literary and Scientific Repository [New York]: "We cannot swell this article with any further extracts from this interesting poem. We have reason to be proud of it; and although we are not unfrequently reminded of Campbell and Byron, of Southey and Scott, in the indefinable shadowing of the imagery, or in the fall of the verse, yet this is no detraction from its merit; — it would be well for such as are disposed to make this an objection to the work, to remember that some of the highest praise which any author of our country has received, is, that he has successfully copied the style of Addison, Goldsmith, and Mackenzie. But its style is the least of its merits. It is a complete and consistent poem. It aims at dressing some of the facts of our early history, in the bright robes of poetical fiction. 'A mixture of a lie (says Lord Bacon — meaning a lie of the poetical invention) doth ever add pleasure.' And those who have attempted, with any degree of success, to give a romantic interest to the matter of fact occurrences of our national history, deserve well of all who love to pause upon the striking features of the annals of their country; or who have at heart of the advancement of its character in the intellectual world" 2 (January 1821) 67-68.
J. G. Palfrey: "This is one of the most considerable attempts in the way of poetry, which have been made in this country. It is no less than a metrical tale in six cantos, after the manner of Scott; in saying which, we do not imply that it is in any obnoxious sense an imitation, for it is no more upon the model of Marmion and Rokeby, than are the Fire Worshippers of Moore, and the Bride of Abydos, Parisina, &c. of Lord Byron. The success of its inventor has given a classical character to this form of a poem between the ballad and the epic, and the author who adopts it is no more to be reckoned an imitator, than others, who for no better reason divide epics into twelve parts, and tragedies into five" North American Review 12 (April 1821) 466.
Nathan Drake: "In this [Spenserian] stanza, which he constructs with peculiar grace and beauty, has the Editor not only written the proem and conclusion, but he has also, in the same metrical form, presented us with an introduction to each canto of the poem. From these, as unconnected with the fable of Yamoyden, as being fabricated in a measure of which it does not give us an instance, and as exhibiting at the same time the talents of the writer, as a descriptive bard, in a very superior point of view, while they indisputably prove him worthy of the poetical association under which he appears, I shall, in this place, as best suited to their insertion, select a few specimens" "Critical Remarks on Yamoyden" in Evenings in Autumn (1822) 1:254.
Yamoyden appears in the 1844 sale catalogue of Robert Southey's library; see A. N. L. Munby, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons (1971-75) 9:128.
Go forth, sad fragments of a broken strain,
The last that either bard shall e'er essay!
The hand can ne'er attempt the chords again,
That first awoke them, in a happier day:
Where sweeps the ocean breeze its desert way,
His requiem murmurs o'er the moaning wave;
And he who feebly now prolongs the lay,
Shall ne'er the minstrel's hallowed honours crave;
His harp lies buried deep, in that untimely grave!
Friend of my youth! with thee began the love
Of sacred song; the wont, in golden dreams,
Mid classic realms of splendours past to rove,
O'er haunted steep, and by immortal streams;
Where the blue wave, with sparkling bosom gleams
Round shores, the mind's eternal heritage,
For ever lit by memory's twilight beams;
Where the proud dead, that live in storied page,
Beckon, with awful port, to glory's earlier age.
There would we linger oft, entranc'd, to hear,
O'er battle fields, the epic thunders roll;
Or list, where tragic wail upon the ear,
Through Argive palaces shrill echoing, stole;
There would we mark, uncurbed by all control,
In central heaven, the Theban eagle's flight;
Or hold communion with the musing soul
Of sage or bard, who sought, mid Pagan night,
In lov'd Athenian groves, for truth's eternal light.
Homeward we turned, to that fair land, but late
Redeemed from the strong spell that bound it fast,
Where Mystery, brooding o'er the waters, sate
And kept the key, till three millenniums past;
When, as creation's noblest work was last,
Latest, to man it was vouchsafed, to see
Nature's great wonder, long by clouds o'ercast,
And veiled in sacred awe, that it might be
An empire and a home, most worthy for the Free.
And here, forerunners strange and meet were found,
Of that blest freedom, only dreamed before;—
Dark were the morning mists, that lingered round
Their birth and story, as the hue they bore.
"Earth was their Mother;" — or they knew no more,
Or would not that their secret should be told;
For they were grave and silent; and such lore,
To stranger ears, they loved not to unfold,
The long-transmitted tales, their sires were taught of old.
Kind nature's commoners, from her they drew
Their needful wants, and learnt not how to hoard;
And him whom strength and wisdom crowned, they knew,
But with no servile reverence, as their lord.
And on their mountain summits they adored
One great, good Spirit, in his high abode,
And thence their incense and orisons poured
To his pervading presence, that abroad
They felt through all his works, — their Father, King, and God.
And in the mountain mist, the torrent's spray,
The quivering forest, or the glassy flood,
Soft falling showers, or hues of orient day,
They imaged Spirits beautiful and good;
But when the tempest roared, with voices rude,
Or fierce, red lightning fired the forest pine,
Or withering heats untimely seared the wood,
The angry forms they saw of powers malign;
These they besought to spare, those blest for aid divine.
As the fresh sense of life, through every vein,
With the pure air they drank, inspiring came,
Comely they grew, patient of toil and pain,
And, as the fleet deer's, agile was their frame;
Of meaner vices scarce they knew the name;
These simple truths went down from sire to son,—
To reverence age, — the sluggish hunter's shame,
And craven warrior's infamy, to shun,—
And still avenge each wrong, to friends or kindred done.
From forest shades they peered, with awful dread,
When, uttering flame and thunder from its side,
The ocean-monster, with broad wings outspread,
Came, ploughing gallantly the virgin tide.
Few years have past, and all their forests' pride
From shores and hills has vanished, with the race,
Their tenants erst, from memory who have died,
Like airy shapes, which eld was wont to trace,
In each green thicket's depths, and lone, sequestered place.
And many a gloomy tale Tradition yet
Saves from oblivion, of their struggles vain,
Their prowess and their wrongs, for rhymer meet,
To people scenes, where still their names remain;
—And so began our young, delighted strain,
That would evoke the plumed chieftains brave,
And bid their martial hosts arise again,
Where Narragansett's tides roll by their grave,
And Haup's romantic steeps are piled above the wave.
Friend of my youth! with thee began my song,
And o'er thy bier its latest accents die;
Misled in phantom-peopled realms too long,—
Though not to me the muse averse deny,
Sometimes, perhaps, her visions to descry,—
Such thriftless pastime should with youth be o'er;
And he who loved with thee his notes to try,
But for thy sake, such idlesse would deplore,—
And swears to meditate the thankless muse no more.
But, no! the freshness of that past shall still
Sacred to memory's holiest musings be;
When through the ideal fields of song, at will,
He roved, and gathered chaplets wild with thee;
When, reckless of the world, alone and free,
Like two proud barks, we kept our careless way,
That sail by moonlight o'er the tranquil sea;
Their white apparel and their streamers gay,
Bright gleaming o'er the main, beneath the ghostly ray;—
And downward, far, reflected in the clear,
Blue depths, the eye their fairy tackling sees;
So, buoyant, they do seem to float in air,
And silently obey the noiseless breeze;—
Till, all too soon, as the rude winds may please,
They part, for distant ports: Thee gales benign
Swift wafting, bore, by Heaven's all-wise decrees,
To its own harbour sure, where each divine
And joyous vision, seen before in dreams, is thine.
Muses of Helicon! melodious race
Of Jove and golden-haired Mnemosyne!
Whose art from memory blots each sadder trace,
And drives each scowling form of grief away!
Who, round the violet fount, your measures gay
Once trod, and round the altar of great Jove;
Whence, wrapt in silvery clouds, your nightly way
Ye held, and ravishing strains of music wove,
That soothed the Thunderer's soul, and filled his courts above!
Bright choir! with lips untempted, and with zone
Sparkling, and unapproached by touch profane;
Ye, to whose gladsome bosoms ne'er was known
The blight of sorrow, or the throb of pain;—
Rightly invoked, — if right the elected swain,
On your own mountain's side ye taught of yore,
Whose honoured hand took not your gift in vain,
Worthy the budding laurel-bough it bore,—
Farewell! a long Farewell! I worship you no more!