A Celebration of Women Writers

"The American Forest Girl" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 131-135.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 131] 

THE AMERICAN FOREST GIRL.


A fearful gift upon thy heart is laid,
Woman!–a power to suffer and to love,
Therefore thou so canst pity.

WILDLY and mournfully the Indian drum
  On the deep hush of moonlight forests broke;–
"Sing us a death-song, for thine hour is come,"–
  So the red warriors to their captive spoke.
Still, and amidst those dusky forms alone,
  A youth, a fair-hair'd youth of England stood,
Like a king's son; tho' from his cheek had flown
  The mantling crimson of the island-blood,
And his press'd lips look'd marble.–Fiercely bright,
And high around him, blaz'd the fires of night,

[Page 132] 

Rocking beneath the cedars to and fro,
As the wind pass'd, and with a fitful glow
Lighting the victim's face:–But who could tell
Of what within his secret heart befel,
Known but to heaven that hour?–Perchance a thought
Of his far home then so intensely wrought,
That its full image, pictur'd to his eye
On the dark ground of mortal agony,
Rose clear as day!–and he might see the band,
Of his young sisters wand'ring hand in hand,
Where the laburnums droop'd; or haply binding
The jasmine, up the door's low pillars winding;
Or, as day clos'd upon their gentle mirth,
Gathering with braided hair, around the hearth
Where sat their mother;–and that mother's face
Its grave sweet smile yet wearing in the place
Where so it ever smiled!–Perchance the prayer
Learn'd at her knee came back on his despair;

[Page 133] 

The blessing from her voice, the very tone
Of her "Good-night" might breathe from boyhood gone!–
He started and look'd up:–thick cypress boughs
  Full of strange sound, wav'd o'er him, darkly red
In the broad stormy firelight;–savage brows,
  With tall plumes crested and wild hues o'erspread,
Girt him like feverish phantoms; and pale stars
Look'd thro' the branches as thro' dungeon bars,
Shedding no hope.–He knew, he felt his doom–
Oh! what a tale to shadow with its gloom
That happy hall in England!–Idle fear!
Would the winds tell it?–Who might dream or hear
The secret of the forests?–to the stake
  They bound him; and that proud young soldier strove
His father's spirit in his breast to wake,
  Trusting to die in silence! He, the love
Of many hearts!–the fondly rear'd,–the fair,
Gladdening all eyes to see!–And fetter'd there

[Page 134] 

He stood beside his death-pyre, and the brand
Flamed up to light it, in the chieftain's hand.
He thought upon his God.–Hush! hark!–a cry
Breaks on the stern and dread solemnity,–
A step hath pierc'd the ring!–Who dares intrude
On the dark hunters in their vengeful mood?–
A girl–a young slight girl–a fawn-like child
Of green Savannas and the leafy wild,
Springing unmark'd till then, as some lone flower,
Happy because the sunshine is its dower;
Yet one that knew how early tears are shed,–
For hers had mourn'd a playmate brother dead.

She had sat gazing on the victim long,
Until the pity of her soul grew strong;
And, by its passion's deep'ning fervour sway'd,
Ev'n to the stake she rush'd, and gently laid
His bright head on her bosom, and around
His form her slender arms to shield it wound

[Page 135] 

Like close liannes; then rais'd her glittering eye
And clear-toned voice that said, "He shall not die!"

"He shall not die!"–the gloomy forest thrill'd
  To that sweet sound. A sudden wonder fell
On the fierce throng; and heart and hand were still'd,
  Struck down, as by the whisper of a spell.
They gaz'd–their dark souls bow'd before the maid,
She of the dancing step in wood and glade!
And, as her cheek flush'd thro' its olive hue,
As her black tresses to the night-wind flew,
Something o'ermaster'd them from that young mien–
Something of heaven, in silence felt and seen;
And seeming, to their child-like faith, a token
That the Great Spirit by her voice had spoken.

They loos'd the bonds that held their captive's breath;
From his pale lips they took the cup of death;
They quench'd the brand beneath the cypress tree;
"Away," they cried, "young stranger, thou art free!"

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom