Poems and Essays

by Joseph Howe




        And what is Fame? Go seek some battle field,
Where the war trumpets deepest tones have pealed;
Where to the winds proud banners were unfurled;
Where met the mighty masters of the world,
While noble chargers shook the trembling ground, [Page 67]
And glittering swords a goodly harvest found;
Where gallant spirits poured their latest breath
Secure of Fame, and smiling upon Death;
Where Earth’s sweet bosom, ’neath her childrens wrath,
Seemed like the fell destroying Angel’s path.
Here ask what Fame is, but shew no surprise
If Echo’s voice alone to yours replies;
Nor wonder if the winds steal calmly by,
And lovely flow’rets greet the raptured eye;
While the glad warblers of the peaceful grove
Chaunt undisturbed their mutual songs of love.
Nay, murmur not that Nature hides the stains
Which Man has cast upon her smiling plains,
Leaving no trace to mark where armies stood,
And spreading flowers to cover fields of blood;
Nor be surprised,—if not a single name
Of warring thousands lives,—for this is Fame.
Or breathe the question o’er the mighty deep,
Within whose gloomy caverns millions sleep;
Where they who startled Nations by their deeds,
Repose on beds of sand or tangled weeds;—
Where the proud chief, and war’s poor menial slave,
Sleep in one vast, unfathomable grave;—
Where fleet met fleet, and man to battle sprung,
Till death-shouts o’er the placid waters rung;
While ’mid the stifling clouds of sulphurous smoke,
The Cannon’s voice in notes of thunder broke;
Where the bright sabre, flashing to the sun,
Performed whate’er the bullet left undone,
And warriors, while it reddened with their blood, [Page 68]
Sank to repose beneath the peaceful flood,
And ere their bones had scarcely time to rot,
Their names, their deeds, were by the world forgot.

        Then, what is Fame? Go ask yon orphan girl,
Whose brow, just breaking through the silky curl,
Is turned to Heaven in meek, imploring prayer,
In hopes to find another Father there;
Whose little hands which once a parent grasped,
In bitter agony are firmly clasped;
Whose guileless breast where joy erst built its bower,
Now owns griefs cold and desolating power;
Whose eyes, on which a Father fondly gazed,
Now dimmed with tears, before her God are raised;
Whose cheeks, which used the rose’s hue to wear,
Now pale and whitened, speak but of despair.
Oh! she will tell you, it was Fame that wiled
The doting Father from his infant child,
That lured him to the wars beyond the wave,
And plunged him, nameless,—in a bloody grave,
And left her desolate, without a home,
O’er life’s unsafe and dangerous path to roam.

        Or, ask the Mother, who has stolen her Boy,
The cherished source of all her future joy?
Whose step was lightest in the merry dance,
Whose eye beamed joy, whene’er it met her glance,
Who on her breast in childish pastime laid,
While through his flowing hair her fingers strayed;
O’er whom she watched, prayed, wept, with aching heart,
        [Page 69]
When sickness made her dread lest they might part;
O’er whom she smiled with mingled joy and pain,
When health, returning, flushed his cheek again.
Yes, she, with all a mother’s grief, will tell
How Fame enticed, and how he fought and fell;
How that bright form a Mother’s heart revered,
By blood and dust was blackened and besmeared;
And how his tombless bones ungathered lie,
And bleach and moulder, ’neath a foreign sky.

        Mark yonder maid, whose vacant, wandering gaze,
O’er Earth and all its charms unconscious strays,
As if, for her, it owned no bower of rest,
No spell to calm the tumult of her breast;
To whose dark eyes unearthly beams are given,
Whose tresses wave before the winds of Heaven.
Oh! she was lovely once,—yes, far more fair
Than any flower that scents the evening air;
So pure, so stainless, while bright gleams of soul
Shed light, and life, and beauty, o’er the whole;
But ’twas her lot to love—the passion twined
Its holiest feelings round her spotless mind;
And she was loved, as she deserved to be,
With all Youth’s fervent, fond, idolatry;
Hope sweetly smiled upon their future years,
When War’s shrill trumpet sounded in their ears;
He heard, and yielding to the lures of Fame,
Sighed for a laurel wreath, and deathless name;
While with high hopes his ardent breast would swell
But, brief the tale—he left her, fought, and fell [Page 70]
(As thousands do) unnoticed and unknown,
Remembered, loved, and wept by her alone;
Though no proud volley echoed o’er his head,
Affection’s silent tear for him was shed;
And if no marble told his place of rest,
He still was shrined in lovely Woman’s breast;
And what can all Fame’s empty joys impart
Like the pure homage of the guileless heart?

        Oh! Fame, will man ne’er cease to bow the knee
Before thy bloody shrine, and strive to free
His spirit from thy heavy, galling, chain
Which bows it down to toil, and guilt, and pain?
Can he not see that at thy Altars rise
No incense but of tears, and groans, and sighs?
That Disappointment, Madness, and Despair,
Are the High Priests that love to linger there?

June 5, 1826. [Page 71]