A RURAL WALK.

(A poem by Alexander Wilson, Gray’s Ferry, August 10, 1804.)

The scenery drawn from nature.


THE summer sun was riding high,

The woods in deepest verdure drest,

From care and clouds of dust to fly,

Across yon bubbling brook I past ;


And up the hill, with cedars spread,

Where vines through spice-wood thickets roam,

I took the woodland path, that led

To Bartram’s hospitable dome.


Thick tow’ring oaks around me rose,

Tough hiccories tall, and walnuts wide,

Hard dog-wood, chinkopin, and sloes

Were cluster’d round on every side.


Ten thousand busy hums were heard,

From leafy bough, and herb, and flower ;

The squirrel chipp’d, the tree-frog whirr’d,

The dove bemoan’d in shadiest bow’r.


The thrush pour’d out his varying song,

The robin’s artless notes unite,

And loud o’er all the tuneful throng

Was heard, in mellow tone, “Bob White[1].”


My swelling heart with joy o’erflow’d,

To hear those happy millions raise

To Nature’s universal God

Such voluntary songs of praise.


Whate’er mistaken Zeal may teach,

Or gloomy Melancholy spy,

Or vision-seeing prophets preach,

Or Superstition’s fear supply,


Where’er I view this vast design,

On east, air, ocean, field, or flood,

All, all proclaim the truth divine,

That God is bountiful and good.


Thus musing on, I past the rill,

That steals down moss-grown rocks so slow,

And wander’d up the woodland hill,

Thick-spreading chesnut boughs below.


In yellow coat of mail encas’d,

With head erect, and watchful eye,

The tortoise, at his mushroom feast,

Shrunk tim’rous as I loiter’d by.

Eastern Box Turtle.

Along the dark sequester’d path,

Where cedars form an arching shade,

I mark’d the cat-bird’s squalling wrath,

The jay in shining blue array’d.


And now, emerging on the day,

New prospects caught my ravish’d eye,

Below – a thousand colours gay,

Above – a blue o’er-arching sky.


Rich waving fields of yellow grain,

Green pastures, shelter’d cots and farms,

Gay, glittering domes bestrew’d the plain,

A noble group of rural charms.


A wide-extended waste of wood

Beyond in distant prospect lay,

Where Delaware’s majestic flood

Shone like the radiant orb of day.


Down to the left was seen afar

The whiten’d spire of sacred name[2],

And ars’nal, where the god of war

Has hung his spears of bloody fame.


The city’s painted skirts were seen,

Through clouds of smoke ascending high,

While on the Schuylkill’s glassy scene

Canoes and sloops were heard to ply.


There upward where it gently bends,

And Say’s red fortress[3] tow’rs in view,

The floating bridge its length extends,

A living scene for ever new.

“Country Seat of Dr. Benjmain Say, Grays Ferry, in 1812,” HSP, David J. Kennedy watercolors collection.

There market maids, in lively rows,

With wallets white were riding home,

And thundering gigs, with powder’d beaux,

Through Gray’s green festive shades to roam.


There Bacchus fills his flowering cup,

There Venus’ lovely train are seen,

There lovers sigh, and gluttons sup,

By shrubb’ry walk, in arbours green.


But dearer pleasures warm my heart,

And fairer scenes salute my eye,

As thro’ these cherry rows I dart

Where Bartram’s fairy landscapes lie.


Sweet flows the Schuylkill’s winding tide,

By Bartram’s green emblossm’d bow’rs,

Where Nature sports, in all her pride

Of choicest plants, and fruits, and flow’rs


These sheltering pines that shade the path,

That tow’ring cypress moving slow,

Survey a thousand sweets beneath,

And smile upon the groves below.


O happy he who slowly strays,

On summer’s eve, these shades among,

While Phoebus sheds his yellow rays,

And thrushes pipe their evening song.


From pathless woods, from Indian plains,

From shores where exil’d Britons rove[4],

Arabia’s rich luxuriant scene,

And Otaheite’s ambrosial grove,


Unnumber’d plants and shrubb’ry sweet,

Adorning still the circling year,

Whose names the muse can ne’er repeat

Display their mingling blossoms here.


Here broad catalpas rear their head,

And pour their purple blooms profuse,

Here rich magnolias whitening spread,

And drop with balm-distilling dews.


The crown imperial here behold,

Its orange circlet topp’d with green,

Not grain’d by slaughter or by gold,

Nor drop of blood, nor thorn within.

Crown Imperial or Fritillaria imperialis.

The downy peach, and clustering vine,

And yellow pears, a bending load,

In mingling groups around entwine

And strew with fruit the pebbly road.


Here tulips rose in dazzling glow,

Whose tints arrest the ravish’d eye,

Here laurels bloom, and roses blow,

And pinks in rich profusion lie.


The genius of this charming scene,

From early dawn till close of day,

Still busy here and there is seen,

To plant, remove, or prune away.


To science, peace, and virtue dear,

And dear to all their noble friends,

Tho’ hid in low retirement here,

His generous heart for all expands.


No little herb, or bush, or flower,

That spreads its foliage to the day,

From snow-drops born in wintry hour,

Through Flora’s whole creation gay,


But well to him they are known,

Their names, their character, and race,

Their virtues when each bloom is gone,

Their fav’rite home, their native place.


For them thro’ Georgia’s sultry clime,

And Florida’s sequester’d shore,

Their streams, dark woods and cliffs sublime,

His dangerous way he did explore.[5]


And here their blooming tribes he tends,

And tho’ revolving winters reign,

Still spring returns him back his friends,

His shades and blossom’d bowers again.


One flower, one sweet and faithful flower,

Worth all the blossm’d wilds can give,

Forsakes him not tho’ seasons lour,

Tho’s winter’s roaring tempests rave ;


But still with gentlest look and air,

Befriends his now declining years,

By every kind officious care,

That virtue’s lovely self endears.


When science calls, or books invite,

Her eyes the waste of age supply,

Detail their pages with delight,

Her dearest uncle list’ning by.


When sorrows press, for who are free?

Her generous heart the load sustains,

In sickness none so kind as she,

To soothe and to assuage his pains.


Thus twines the honeysuckle sweet,

Around some trunk decay’d and bare,

Thus angles on the pious wait,

To banish each distressing care.


O, happy he who slowly strays.

On summer’s eve, these shades among,

While Phoebus sheds his yellow rays,

And thrushes pipe their evening song.

View of Philada. from the Hill above Gray’s Ferry. Drawn on the spot by J. P. Malcom, ca. 1792. Snyder, City of Independence (NY: 1975).

But happier he, supremely blest!

Beyond what proudest peers have known,

Who finds a friend in Anna’s breast,

And calls that lovely plant his own.


The angry storms of awful fate

Around my little bark may roar,

May drive me from this dear retreat,

A wanderer on a distant shore ;


But while remembrance’ power remains,

There rosy bowers shall bliss my view,

Sweet shades of peace! on foreign plains,

I’ll sigh and shed a tear for you.


Read the original poem here: A RURAL WALK.


Notes

(Cover Image: Wilson Schoolhouse, c.1842, HSP, David J. Kennedy watercolors collection.)

[1] The quail, or partridge, of Pennsylvania.

[2] Christ Church steeple.

[3] The romantic country seat of Dr. Benjamin Say, overhanging Gray’s Ferry.

[4] New Holland.

[5] See Bartram’s Travels, where the imagination is entertained with the most luxuriant description of these scenes, while the heart is charmed with the benevolent sentiments of the writer.

3 Responses to “A RURAL WALK.”

  1. Cynthia Warren

    Great article. So valuable for us

    Reply
  2. Rosemary Parker

    Reading this brings back childhood memories!

    Reply

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