BOSTON Poetry/Poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

BOSTON Poetry/Poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

(Sicut Patribus, sit Deus Nobis)

THE rocky nook with hilltops three
Looked eastward from the farms,
And twice each day the flowing sea
Took Boston in its arms;
The men of yore were stout and poor,
And sailed for bread to every shore.

And where they went on trade intent
They did what freeman can,
Their dauntless ways did all men praise,
The merchant was a man.
The world was made for honest trade,–
To plant and eat be none afraid.

The waves that rocked them on the deep
To them their secret told;
Said the winds that sung the lads to sleep,
“Like us be free and bold!”
The honest waves refuse to slaves
The empire of the ocean caves.

Old Europe groans with palaces,
Has lords enough and more;–
We plant and build by foaming seas
A city of the poor;–
For day by day could Boston Bay
Their honest labor overpay.

We grant no dukedoms to the few,
We hold like rights and shall;–
Equal on Sunday in the pew,
On Monday in the mall.
For what avail the plough or sail,
Or land or life, if freedom fail?

The noble craftsmen we promote,
Disown the knave and fool;
Each honest man shall have his vote,
Each child shall have his school.
A union then of honest men,
Or union nevermore again.

The wild rose and the barberry thorn
Hung out their summer pride
Where now on heated pavements worn
The feet of millions stride.

Fair rose the planted hills behind
The good town on the bay,
And where the western hills declined
The prairie stretched away.

What care though rival cities soar
Along the stormy coast:
Penn’s town, New York, and Baltimore,
If Boston knew the most!

They laughed to know the world so wide;
The mountains said: “Good-day!
We greet you well, you Saxon men,
Up with your towns and stay!”
The world was made for honest trade,–
To plant and eat be none afraid.

“For you,” they said, “no barriers be,
For you no sluggard rest;
Each street leads downward to the sea,
Or landward to the West.”

O happy town beside the sea,
Whose roads lead everywhere to all;
Than thine no deeper moat can be,
No stouter fence, no steeper wall!

Bad news from George on the English throne:
“You are thriving well,” said he;
“Now by these presents be it known,
You shall pay us a tax on tea;
‘Tis very small,–no load at all,–
Honor enough that we send the call.”

“Not so,” said Boston, “good my lord,
We pay your governors here
Abundant for their bed and board,
Six thousand pounds a year.
(Your highness knows our homely word,)
Millions for self-government,
But for tribute never a cent.”

The cargo came! and who could blame
If Indians seized the tea,
And, chest by chest, let down the same
Into the laughing sea?
For what avail the plough or sail
Or land or life, if freedom fail?

The townsmen braved the English king,
Found friendship in the French,
And Honor joined the patriot ring
Low on their wooden bench.

O bounteous seas that never fail!
O day remembered yet!
O happy port that spied the sail
Which wafted Lafayette!
Pole-star of light in Europe’s night,
That never faltered from the right.

Kings shook with fear, old empires crave
The secret force to find
Which fired the little State to save
The rights of all mankind.

But right is might through all the world;
Province to province faithful clung,
Through good and ill the war-bolt hurled,
Till Freedom cheered and the joy-bells rung.

The sea returning day by day
Restores the world-wide mart;
So let each dweller on the Bay
Fold Boston in his heart,
Till these echoes be choked with snows,
Or over the town blue ocean flows.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON had planned to write a poem about his native city of Boston for many years

RALPH WALDO EMERSON had planned to write a poem about his native city of Boston for many years, and some of the lines in the finished poem were thought out long before he composed the verses as they stand. Emerson read the poem on December 16, 1873, in Faneuil Hall, on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor. The Latin words that he placed at the beginning, and which are the motto of Boston, he translated “God with the Fathers, So with Us.”

Boston, settled by good Puritan stock, was one of the first cities in the thirteen colonies to resist the unfair rule of England. Patriots in most of the other cities had let it be known that they would unite in the common cause, but the men of Boston had to begin the contest. They claimed that England was taxing the colonies without allowing them any chance to be heard in parliament, and they especially complained of the tax on all tea that was brought into the port. But the more the colonists objected the more the King of England insisted on proving his rights to them. Therefore he sent several ships loaded with tea to America in the autumn of 1773. The first ship reached Boston Harbor Sunday, November 28th, and a few days later two others arrived. The citizens were furious at this attempt to make them pay the tax on tea, and held town-meetings and voted to do without tea.

The people became more and more indignant, and finally ordered the captains of the vessels laden with tea to leave the port. The captains agreed, but failed to sail. Finally the men of Boston planned to settle the difficulty for themselves. On the evening of December 16, 1773, a band of forty or fifty men, clad in blankets like Indians, with hatchets in their hands, met at a church. From there they marched to Griffin’s Wharf, recruits joining them on the way, until they numbered nearly two hundred. They posted guards on the wharf, and then boarded the three tea-ships. In three hours the band had broken open the three hundred and forty chests of tea that were on board, and emptied them into the harbor. Nothing else on the ships was touched, and as soon as the work was done the men went quietly to their homes. But that very night men of the near-by villages received word of the “Boston Tea-Party,” and the next morning couriers were sent to the other colonies to give an account of the stand Boston had taken.

News of the Tea-Party caused great indignation in England, and the King ordered that no ships should be allowed to enter the port of Boston until that town should have paid the East India Company for the lost tea. The charter of Massachusetts was annulled, and General Gage was sent over from England with four regiments to take possession of the rebellious city and keep it in order.

But the spirit of Boston was the spirit of independence, and the men who had thrown the tea overboard were soon afterwards to withstand the British fire at Lexington and Concord.

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