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"A Pedigree Partly Indian, Partly Batavian"

Bicentennial Ode

by: Edgar Mayhew Bacon

The following is taken from "Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Old Dutch Church at Sleepy Hollow, 1697-1897," printed by The De Vinne Press for the Consistory of the First Reformed Church of Tarrytown, A. D., 1898.

We hail the time of harvest; linger near

This ancient milestone, lichen-clad and gray.

From rifled fields and meadows shorn we hear

The drone of mingling voices far away --

Song of the wheat-in-sheaf, of golden stack:

The heavy wagons, that at early morn

Went empty forth, with freight of yellow corn

Creep slowly back.

The weary reapers pass, whose chorused song

Dies in the cadence of an old refrain.

This wise they sing: "Lo, we have labored long

In heat and cold, through dreary drought and rain,

Till all our work beneath the coursing sun,

In meadow or on mountain side, is done."

They heed us not, bent toilers, trooping by

With faces set towards the evening sky,

Quaint, unfamiliar phantoms, homeward led,

Vague shadows of the long forgotten dead,

Imponderable as the dust they tread.

Impelled to wander by a world's unrest,

From dike-walled meadows to the unknown west

Through strange meridians; from marts of trade

To silent solitudes of endless shade,

The pilgrim Hollanders attained at last

Their Ararat behond the waters vast.

So, hewing homes in heart of paynim land,

Whereto went faith and oak and faith again,

And dropping prayers afield among the wheat,

They build a common altar to withstand

The ravages of time, the assaults of men;

Where, in their day of stress,

Deep in the wilderness,

They might for aye approach the Paraclete.

When wreathed smoke from hearth-fires kindled new

Amid the pine tops rose, and tasseled corn

From green to gold along the river grew,

Within the forest shadow babes were born

Whose cradle song with croonings strange and deep

Of woodland voices mingled; strove they here

With heat and cold and hunger and the fear

Of savage foes, through many a famished year.

So were they born, so passed they, as a dream

Of tattered fragments from the tents of sleep.

Their names, unread, in crumbling rolls we keep,

Or in the churchyard trace.  Beside the stream

Where lie their buried hosts

Still stands their house of worship, still we hear

Their bell's muezzin summons sounding clear,

And listen at their portal, half in fear

Of poor, forgotten ghosts.

As some great tree, that in the forest mold

Sends deep its roots, and rears a column high,

The bravery of its tented green to hold

Against the curtain of the changing sky,

So grew the Church of Philipsburgh, so spread

Its grappling roots, so brooded overhead

Benignant boughs, beneath whose constant shade

The generations of your fathers prayed.

O little gospel, parable in gray

By clustering vine-leaves hidden half away,

No vaulted temple, nor cathedral dim,

In all the wise old world was half so fair;

No choir e'er sang so sweet as when the hymn

Sought, from thy close, the unpolluted air;

The measure of thine arching span outgrew

To match the arc of heaven's unmeasured blue;

Beneath thy belfry's banderole appears

A talisman that mocks the changing years.1

The ringer falters; in the churchyard hill

He and his fellow lie; but sounding still --

"If God be for us" -- rings the ancient bell;

If God be for us -- let the anthem swell;

If God be for us -- neither earth nor hell

Can e'er prevail against us.  All is well.

The Indian Manitou, in distant glade,

Through pillared forest arches old and dim,

The joyous music heard of Christian hymn,

And trembled, sore afraid.

Pan and his creatures fled, with hearts a-quiver:

It was their passing bell

That clanged it vibrant knell,

Throbbed through the valley of the rashing river,

Challenged the rocky hills with strenuous tone,

And dominated -- Great is God alone!

'T is long since first the woodlands heard that sound:

Across these century-beleaguered walls

The moving shadow of the locust falls,

And on the hallowed ground

The circling maples cast their coronals;

As flocks at twilight, mutely patient, wait

In huddled groups around the home-lot gate,

So crowd the scriptured stones about thy portal

Deep runed with briefs of covenant immortal.

Fleet as a cloud, that on the edge of night

Courses, a Bedouin in burnous white,

Unstaying as the wind, are life and power.

How vagrant seem our passions and our pride,

Our braggart fashions, thy calm walls beside!

Rebuke us in this hour!

For we are prone to vaunt us of our skill;

The world's our ball, to toss it where we will;

The lightning is our plaything, and the sea

Champs at our curb -- O, most exalted we!

With broader knowledge cometh clearer sight,

Our lamp of life, replenished, burneth bright;

New energy infuses ancient forms

With fuller meaning.  Ever breasting storms

On stronger wings, our souls attain, through strife,

To wider liberty of thought and life.

Yet win we further in our wiser age

Than they who slowly spelled their primer page

With quaint misrreadings?  Can we, boasting , say,

"Behold! we have achieved a better way"?

Here claim we kinship with the simpler past;

We strive as strove the fathers, at the last

To rest, as they, when toil and pain are past,

In sanctuary of our faith at last.

A loftier fane, with mystic symbols spread,

Exalts its star-gemmed distance overhead.

Up through the dusky aisles of autumn nights,

Invisible, the stately acolytes

Their golden censers swing.

Soft rolls the stream as in a dream,

And with it slip the sombre years away.

Once more forgotten voices seem to pray,

And in the hush long-silent choirs sing.

Now hark -- and heed! for lo, in that far time

Still they go back, back to another clime.

Back to another, dateless, deathless age;

And hymn, with voices blending, -- child and sage, --

"Our father's God."  We hear that echoed strain,

The accents tremulous with joy and pain,

And know that we and they and all men stand,

A mighty brotherhood; and hand to hand

Keep touch from borderland to borderland.

1Si Deus pro nobis quis  contra nos? -- "If God be for us, who can be against us?" is the motto cast in the metal of the bell, with the date of 1685.


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