The Matron - Abigail Stanton

A Tale of the Days That are Gone
By Dr. Benjamin Stanton

There was a time when all men lived in huts
And cabins made of logs amongst the woods,
And chopped down trees and split them up with gluts,
And did almost without cash, or goods;
Then women cared little for caps or hoods;
But they were ever full of mirth and glee,
And children sported round in mirthful broods
As happy as such urchins well can be,
Or sporting o'er the lawn, or couched on parent's knee.

And there was one I knew among the train,
A widowed matron with a little flock,
Who sought with ardent efforts to maintain
A steady course beneath misfortune's shock,
Watching with steady eye, each dangerous rock
On which the incautious bark is often driven,
Stemming like mariner the waves that broke
Along the channel, craggy and uneven,
Till some safe port be gained on earth—perhaps in heaven.

For she was cradled on yon rugged isle
Where men catch vigor from the foaming wave,
And freedom from the wind, and strength from toil,
And patience from misfortune, and grow brave
In combating the wrong—still wont to lave
The limbs of freemen in the briny flood;
For in that rugged spot I ween no slave,
E'er crouched beneath a haughty tyrant's rod,
Nor man superior owned, save when he bowed to God.

But there with frantic tumult to the shore
The waves came sweeping o'er the driven sand
When swelled with wind to full majestic roar,
And booming onward, wild, sublime, and grand,
As urged by some unseen all potent hand,
Spurning resistance and defying bound,
Till checked their fury by the opposing strand,
They shrink, retiring with a sullen sound
Back to their coral caves and ocean depths profound.

Such was her birthplace, and her pedigree
Was of that hardy stock by Whittier sung,
Who ever scorned to bow the supple knee,
Or bend the neck to priest who urged the wrong,
But sought a residence the wilds among
That crowned this little isle in former day,
Where free in thought, in deeds of virtue strong,
Scorning each bigot power's tyrannic sway,
He whiled a long, long life in virtuous deeds away.

And from his hardy line there sprung a race
Of sturdy seamen, daring, bold and brave,
Whose chief delight has ever been to chase
The huge sea monster in the icy wave,
Mounting the foaming surges still that lave
From frozen Greenland to the southern pole,
Braving the fury of the storms that rave,
And toss old ocean with tumultuous roll,
With heart unawed by fear, with an undaunted soul.

Nantucket! such thy sons have ever been,
And such heaven grant that they may still remain;
And such thy daughters, too—and such I ween
Was she, the heroine of this simple strain,
Dauntless in peril, ardent to maintain
A life of virtue in this world of wrong,
With prayerful efforts seeking to retain
Patience in suffering and temptation strong,
Fostering all virtuous traits to women that belong.

There was she nurtured on that little spot,
Nor was she anxious for a wider sphere.
But who so wise to scan man's future lot,
Or say on earth where ends life's strange career?
For some short space perhaps we linger here,
Veering and changing, tossing to and fro;
Child of mutation—bard, nor sage, nor seer,
Can tell what change his lot may undergo,
Careering through this world of mingled joy and woe.

Her lot was cast upon a sunny strand,
Where southern zephyrs breathe through myrtle groves,
And flowery bowers, by fragrant breezes fanned,
Seemed formed for fit retreats of joy and love,
Where clustering vines on gay magnolias move
Their graceful tendrils to each passing wind,
And fawns and lambs in sportive circles rove
'Mid verdant groves with flowery woodbine twined,
All like some fairy scene for perfect bliss designed.

And there the gentle wave with graceful swell
Came rippling shoreward o'er its pearl-clad bed,
And many a coral wreath and sparkling shell,
Their beauteous tints and burnished luster shed.
And sportive schools of finny tenants sped
In playful gambols through the briny flood,
And flocks of swans along the margin fed,
Or on the swelling wave majestic rode,
Where playful sea fowls sport in many a noisy brood.

And there she lived in that enchanting land,
By nature's bounty decked for blessed abode,
But, ah! it was not blessed, for despot hand
Its rosy walks with poison thorns hail strewed,
And Tyranny there sat enthroned in blood,
The cruel master and the crouching slave,
And crushed humanity poured out a flood
Of bitter tears, such as are wont to lave
The oppressor's cruel path, while none bedew his grave.

There vice and ignorance triumphant reign,
And pomp and poverty stalk side by side,
And lust and vanity and all the train
Dragged by the car where powers despotic ride,
And whips and implements of torture dyed
In human blood, and altars, too, and throne
Were built of skeletons of those who died,
As millions trodden down and crushed have done,
Victims on slavery's shrine, unpitied and unknown.

Alas, my native land! Is this thy state?
And thus forever, ever, must it be?
Ah! would to Providence that cruel fate
Hail ne'er discovered, or had kept thee free!
Oh, that in the long future I could see
Some hope that thou wouldst break the galling chain
That binds alike thy shackled slave and thee
In degradation, where you must remain
While men their fellow-men in bondage base retain.

Land of the sunny south, — land of my birth,
Land of my childhood and my father's tomb—
Of all the spots on this delightful earth,
There's none on which I would so blithely roam
As on thy flowery plains, could I but come
And find thee free from that o'ershadowing cloud,
That hovers o'er thee, like impending doom,
Where murmuring thunders mutter long and loud—
Oppression covering all with one impervious shroud.

Oh, strike that bloody banner, crimson red!
Undo the fetter and unbind the chain!
Nor let the voice of mercy ever plead,
Plead for the bondman still, and plead in vain,
From thy broad scutcheon wipe that gory stain.
So shall thy groves once more with peace abound,
And in thy courts the full harmonious strain
Of hope, and joy, and gladness shall resound,
And plenty pour her horn and comfort flow around.

How widely have I wandered from my theme!
I fain would sing of one as yet unsung—
But all before me, like some fleeting dream,
The visions of the past career along —
Could I but catch and pour them forth in song,
With what strange transport would my sonnet glow
From pictures of the past, drawn bright and strong,
The sympathizing soul should quickly know
To smile for others' joy—to weep for others' woe.

The matron, with the partner of her lot,
There lived and loved and was beloved in turn,
For in the stately hall or in the cot,
'Mid those who banquet, or 'mid those who mourn,
She held her court—and ever prompt to earn
The bliss, the consciousness of doing good,
She caused the sinking lamp of hope to burn,
Misfortune's thorny track with comfort strewed,
And votaries, of vice to paths of virtue, wooed.

Beneath the shelter of their friendly dome
No unpaid bondman spread the costly board,
But there the needy ever found a home—
A shelter for the vassal and the lord.
The hardy sailor with misfortune scarred,
And ministers of peace together joined,
Nor Jew, nor Turk, nor husbandman, nor bard,
E'er asked protection which he did not find,
For all were brethren there, who represent mankind.

And there the matron watched the little flock
That clustered round her, with maternal care,
And strove to teach their youthful feet to walk
In paths of virtue, and to shun the snare
That vice still spreads for footsteps unaware
Of her insidious charms; and of their store
To want and misery to yield a share—
For "He," she taught, "who giveth to the poor
But lendeth to the Lord, and shall receive the more"—

In the strict paths of justice still to tread,
To shun vile falsehood as the gate to death,
The woe-worn wanderer on his way to lead.
To strive to copy "Him of Nazareth,"
In prayer and praise to spend their earliest breath,
Nor censure erring man with word severe,
To trust in Providence with constant faith,
To mercy's voice to lend an open ear,
And strive from every eye to wipe off every tear.

As some strong archer, conscious of his power,
With deadly arrow seeks the brightest shield,
As strongest bulwark and the loftiest tower,
Are, by the invader, first compelled to yield,
Even so the heights of human bliss have reeled
Beneath thy shafts, oh, Death! Thus, by one stroke,
Low smitten to the dust, and scathed and peeled,
Were the rich comforts of that little flock—
Their safeguard— snatched away, their arm of safety broke.

In yon lone churchyard now with pines o'ergrown,
Fast by that house whose courts he loved to tread,
To bend the knee to sue the Eternal Throne,
Or lift in humble thanks his reverend head,
'Mid those who erst his friendly counsel led,
He lies in calm repose — his labor done.
No restless spirit haunts his peaceful bed,
And by no monument the spot is known,
Save a green, grassy mound, and an unlettered stone.

Now, all forsaken is that lonely spot,
And silent as the mansions of the tomb,
Save where the owlet pours its solemn note,
From midst the lofty fir tree's shady gloom;
Save that some pensive wanderer here may roam,
'Mid the cool grove, or by the gentle rill,
To listen to the drowsy beetle's hum,
Or catch with startled ear the piercing thrill,
That issues from the throat of the lone whippoorwill.

As some tall ship before a lively gale,
Dashed by misfortune on a desert coast,
'Mid cheering speed beneath her swelling sail,
Scarce sees the danger till by breakers tossed,
Her hull all shattered and her pilot lost,
So seemed the matron now, tossed to and fro.
Sorrow and care at once her mind engrossed.
Ah! who hath ever known a widow's woe,
Or felt an orphan's loss, save they who shared the blow?

She stood astonished on the barren shore,
Amid the remnant of her helpless crew,
And heard the sea with angry tempests roar,
Whose snares and dangers, oh! too well she knew.
O'er it the winds of disappointment blew,
And vice and ruin haunted every coast,
The wrecks of ruined hopes its shores bestrew,
And honor forfeited and virtue lost,
And many a righteous aim amid temptation tossed.

And on the other side there lay the land,
And such a land! Oh, Heaven! where hast thou seen?
For there oppression ruled with iron hand,
And spread out darkness where the light had been;
For chattled slavery blighted all the scene.
Where once the garden grew there sprang a thorn,
And o'er the cultured fields erst clothed in green,
There fell a mildew; and the rosy morn
By superstitious reign was turned to night forlorn.

"Oh, Thou, the father of the fatherless,"
'Twas thus e'en now methinks I hear her pray,
"Support in want, and succor in distress.
The orphan's shelter, and the widow's stay,
Be Thou in mercy pleased to send a ray
Of light to guide through this terrene abode;
Permit not Thou the unskilled feet to stray,
But guide them safely in the peaceful road,
That leads through Nature's temple, up to Nature's God."

The matron spake and sunk to soft repose,
When, in the airy vision of the night,
On wild imagination's wing she rose,
And stood upon the mountain's lofty height
That skirts the Atlantic plain, bounding the sight
Of civilized abode. Beyond there lay
A vast extended region, where the light
Of science scarce had sent a wandering ray
To announce the rising morn, the approach of social day.

Beside her feet there sprang a little rill
That running westward o'er its rocky bed.
Grew wide and deep, until it seemed to fill
A long extended valley where it sped
Onward with gentle current, till it led
A thousand streamlets from their mountain source,
Which, with their cool and crystal waters, fed
And added to its majesty and force,
As far, and farther still, it swept its boundless course.

Far to the north as visioned eye could reach,
A silvery lake extends its bright expanse,
Cool sylvan groves along its borders stretch
And playful wavelets on its margin dance;
The quivering lightbeams from its surface glance,
Reflecting sky, and bank, and bush, and tree,
Which, all invert, in sportive eddies pranced,
So broad, so bright, so clear, it seemed to be,
As 'twere the mirror of some sylvan deity.

And from its eastern margin poured a flood
Of waters, terrible, sublime and dread—
It seemed as if the forming hand of God
Had reared the mountains, and scooped out the bed
To hold the mighty deep, and then had sped
To fill old ocean to his farthest shore,
And opening wide the floodgates, all that led
From Heaven's great reservoir, had thence let pour
A foaming cataract, in all its wild uproar.

On the steep slopes and vales beyond the stream
An unpierced forest reared its tangled head;
So thick and dark its wild recesses seem,
As though a sunbeam scarce could pierce its shade.
The wolf and wild deer in its shelter strayed,
And through its haunts the untaught Indian trod,
The wild flower here the craggy cliff arrayed,
And there the panther held his dread abode,
All wild as fire created by the hand of God.

So still, so wild, so wide, the scene appeared,
That solitude might here erect her throne.
To cottage in this widespread forest reared,
The world of vice and crime might ne'er be known.
In that new soil the seeds of virtue sown
Might grow unstifled by the thorns of wrong,
The seeds of slavery's mildew were not sown,
Nor chains, nor fetters in these wilds belong,
But Freedom there might pour her sweetest, wildest song.

The dream departed, and the matron woke —
Fresh rays of hope, like morn, illumed her soul,
As though a joyful day again had broke,
And from her heart did clouds of sorrow roll.
Reason and fortitude assumed control
Once more in her uncrushed, heroic mind,
And, constant as the needle to the pole,
Her powers and energy were all combined,
In that wild wilderness a resting place to find.

Like bird of passage that collects her brood
When burning sun or wintry storms arise,
And seeks amid some distant solitude,
For milder clime and more congenial skies,
So seeks the matron now, with purpose wise,
To fly the impending storms that gather round,
She combats danger, want and toil, and flies
To seek a home amidst the wilds profound,
And here, amid the wilds, a home at length she found.
            —Dr. Benjamin Stanton
Written about 1845
at Salem, Ohio