THE BATTLE OF LEXINGTON Poetry/Poem by Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)
NOW haste thee while the way is clear,
Haste, Dawes! but haste thee not, O Sun!
Then Devens looked and saw the light:
He got him forth into the night,
And watched alone on the river-shore,
And marked the British ferrying o’er.
John Parker! rub thine eyes and yawn:
But one o’clock and yet ’tis Dawn!
Quick, rub thine eyes and draw thy hose:
The Morning comes ere darkness goes,
Have forth and call the yeomen out,
For somewhere, somewhere close about
Full soon a Thing must come to be
Thine honest eyes shall stare to see
Full soon before thy patriot eyes
Freedom from out of a Wound shall rise.
Then haste ye, Prescott and Revere!
Bring all the men of Lincoln here;
Let Chelmsford, Littleton, Carlisle,
Let Acton, Bedford, hither file —
Oh hither file, and plainly see
Out of a wound leap Liberty.
Say, Woodman April! all in green,
Say, Robin April! hast thou seen
In all thy travel round the earth
Ever a morn of calmer birth?
But Morning’s eye alone serene
Can gaze across yon village-green
To where the trooping British run
Good men in fustian, stand ye still;
The men in red come o’er the hill.
Lay down your arms, damned Rebels! cry
The men in red full haughtily.
But never a grounding gun is heard;
The men in fustian stand unstirred;
Dead calm, save maybe a wise bluebird
Puts in his little heavenly word.
O men in red! if ye but knew
The half as much as bluebirds do,
Now in this little tender calm
Each hand would out, and every palm
With patriot palm strike brotherhood’s stroke
Or ere these lines of battle broke.
O men in red! if ye but knew
The least of the all that bluebirds do,
Now in this little godly calm
Yon voice might sing the Future’s Psalm–
The Psalm of Love with the brotherly eyes
Who pardons and is very wise–
Yon voice that shouts, high-hoarse with ire,
The redcoats fire, the homespuns fall:
The homespuns’ anxious voices call,
Brother, art hurt? and Where hit, John?
And, Wipe this blood, and Men, come on,
And Neighbor, do but lift my head,
And Who is wounded? Who is dead?
Seven are killed. My God! my God!
Seven lie dead on the village sod.
Two Harringtons, Parker, Hadley, Brown,
Munroe and Porter,–these are down.
Nay, look! stout Harrington not yet dead!
He crooks his elbow, lifts his head.
He lies at the step of his own house-door;
He crawls and makes a path of gore.
The wife from the window hath seen, and rushed;
He hath reached the step, but the glood hath gushed;
He hath crawled to the step of his own house-door,
But his head hath dropped: he will crawl no more.
Clasp, Wife, and kiss, and lift the head:
Harrington lies at his door-step dead.
But, O ye Six that round him lay
And bloodied up that April day!
As Harrington fell, ye likewise fell–
At the door of the House wherein ye dwell;
As Harrington came, ye likewise came
And died at the door of your House of Fame.
This analysis of “The Battle of Lexington” is reprinted from Historic Poems and Ballads. Ed. Rupert S. Holland. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1912.
PAUL REVERE had wakened the little town of Lexington at midnight of April 18, 1775, with word that General Gage and the British regulars were on the march to seize the stores at Concord. William Dawes had brought the same message, riding through Roxbury. Then Dawes and Revere and Samuel Prescott rode on until they reached Lincoln, where the first two were captured by the British, but Prescott escaped to Concord.
In 1775 there may have been some seven hundred people in Lexington. By two in the morning of April 19th, Lexington Common was filled with minutemen. The roll was called, and one hundred and thirty answered to their names. Then the captain, John Parker, ordered every man to load his musket with powder and ball, but not to be the first to fire. Messengers, who had been sent out to look for the British troops, reported they were not in sight, so the company was dismissed with orders to come together instantly at the sound of a drum.
Dawn was just breaking when the first British soldiers were seen advancing along the road. The drums called the minutemen together, and the raw soldiers were drawn up in two ranks, near the north side of the meeting-house.
The British, hearing the drums and signal-guns, halted and loaded their muskets. Then the advance guard, led by Major Pitcairn, and followed by the grenadiers, went forward at the double-quick. When Pitcairn was near the minutemen he cried out: “Disperse, ye villains! ye rebels, disperse! lay down your arms! why don’t you lay down your arms and disperse?”
Although the minutemen were far fewer than the British soldiers they stood their ground. Pitcairn fired his pistol, and called to his men, “Fire!” A few guns answered, and then followed a deadly discharge of muskets at short range.
Captain Parker, seeing that his men were too few to withstand so many, ordered them to retreat. Then a few of them, of their own accord, fired at the regulars, but did them no harm. Seven men of Lexington, however, were killed by the British fire, and nine wounded. Jonas Parker had sworn never to run from British troops; he stood his ground and was stabbed by a bayonet as he reloaded his gun. Robert Munroe, a veteran of earlier wars, was killed. Samuel Hadley and John Brown were followed and shot down after they had left the common, and Asahel Porter, who had been captured and was trying to escape, was also shot. Caleb Harrington, who had gone to the meeting-house for powder, was killed by a bullet as he came out, and Jonathan Harrington, Jr., was struck in front of his own house on the common. His wife was at the window. He fell, then got to his knees, and crawled to his doorstep. There he died as his wife reached him.
Daylight found Lexington Common stained with blood, and seven of the town’s brave sons dead. Yet Samuel Adams, looking into the future, could exclaim, “Oh, what a glorious morning is this!” for he knew that the heroic stand of that little company was the first step towards the winning of their country’s independence.
This poems by Sidney Lanier is a part of a larger poem called, “Psalm of the West.”