THE BALLAD OF WILLIAM SYCAMORE
by: Stephen Vincent Benét
- Y FATHER,
he was a mountaineer,
- His fist was a knotty hammer;
- He was quick on his feet as a running deer,
- And he spoke with a Yankee stammer.
- My mother, she was merry and brave,
- And so she came to her labor,
- With a tall green fir for her doctor grave
- And a stream for her comforting neighbor.
- And some are wrapped in the linen fine,
- And some like a godling's scion;
- But I was cradled on twigs of pine
- In the skin of a mountain lion.
- And some remember a white, starched lap
- And a ewer with silver handles;
- But I remember a coonskin cap
- And the smell of bayberry candles.
- The cabin logs, with the bark still rough,
- And my mother who laughed at trifles,
- And the tall, lank visitors, brown as snuff,
- With their long, straight squirrel-rifles.
- I can hear them dance, like a foggy song,
- Through the deepest one of my slumbers,
- The fiddle squeaking the boots along
- And my father calling the numbers.
- The quick feet shaking the puncheon-floor,
- And the fiddle squealing and squealing,
- Till the dried herbs rattled above the door
- And the dust went up to the ceiling.
- There are children lucky from dawn till dusk,
- But never a child so lucky!
- For I cut my teeth on "Money Musk"
- In the Bloody Ground of Kentucky!
- When I grew as tall as the Indian corn,
- My father had little to lend me,
- But he gave me his great, old powder-horn
- And his woodsman's skill to befriend me.
- With a leather shirt to cover my back,
- And a redskin nose to unravel
- Each forest sign, I carried my pack
- As far as a scout could travel.
- Till I lost my boyhood and found my wife,
- A girl like a Salem clipper!
- A woman straight as a hunting-knife
- With eyes as bright as the Dipper!
- We cleared our camp where the buffalo feed,
- Unheard-of streams were our flagons;
- And I sowed my sons like the apple-seed
- On the trail of the Western wagons.
- They were right, tight boys, never sulky or slow,
- A fruitful, a goodly muster.
- The eldest died at the Alamo.
- The youngest fell with Custer.
- The letter that told it burned my hand.
- Yet we smiled and said, "So be it!"
- But I could not live when they fenced the land,
- For it broke my heart to see it.
- I saddled a red, unbroken colt
- And rode him into the day there;
- And he threw me down like a thunderbolt
- And rolled on my as I lay there.
- The hunter's whistle hummed in my ear
- As the city-men tried to move me,
- And I died in my boots like a pioneer
- With the whole wide sky above me.
- Now I lie in the heart of the fat, black soil,
- Like the seed of the prairie-thistle;
- It has washed my bones with honey and oil
- And picked them clean as a whistle.
- And my youth returns, like the rains of Spring,
- And my sons, like the wild-geese flying;
- And I lie and hear the meadow-lark sing
- And have much content in my dying.
- Go play with the towns you have built of blocks,
- The towns where you would have bound me!
- I sleep in my earth like a tired fox,
- And my buffalo have found me.
MORE POEMS BY BENÉT
'The Ballad of William Sycamore'
was originally published by Stephen Vincent Benét in 1922.