John Bradford

1706 - 1785

The Legend Of The Aspen


DEAR to the bright cerulean sky
Unstirr'd the silvery cloudlets lie ;
O'er yonder wide, unruffl'd bay
The white-sail'd ships can make no way;
No rustling from the sedges near
Falls on the loitering listener's ear ;
From the old cottage in the croft
Straightly ascends the smoke aloft ;
The spreading oak, the silver birch.
The yew beside the village church,
And the tall pine upon the hill.
Are all at rest—serenely still ;
No zephyrs o'er the meadows pass
With balmy breath to fan the grass,
Or raise a ripple on the river ;
Why, aspen, then, dost thou still quiver?


O'er eighteen hundred years ago,
Where Jordan's amber waters flow,
Green, graceful, calm, and fair to view,
My ruthless old forefathers grew ;
But, on a morn of spring-tide bright.
When, from the blue unclouded sky,
The sun shone down with dazzling light.
Inviting flowers of varied dye
Their fragile petals to unfold.
And glad the bees that rov'd the plains,
Filling the birds with joy untold,
The air with their melodious strains ;
Wiling the adder from its lair,
And making all Creation's face,
From high hill's top to rough rock's base,
Bright, peaceful, smiling, calm, and fair ;
Up Jordan's vale an angel flew,
Array'd in robes of lily hue,
Exclaiming, as she wing'd her way.
In accents fraught with dire dismay :—
' Weep, flocks and herds ;
Weep, beasts and birds ;
Weep, flowers and trees ;
Weep, adders and bees ;
Weep, insects small ;
Weep, creatures all ;
And let the joys you hold most dear
Give place to wonder, woe, and fear ;
For now, with insult, blow, and curse,
The God of all the Universe
By ruthless men, with impious zest,
Is being led
His blood to shed
On Calvary's gore-encrimson'd crest.'
Soon as these words of woe were said,
The flocks and herds no longer fed ;
The coney sought the loneliest dell ;
The bee forsook the floret's bell ;
The adder sought its lair again ;
No wild bird's song swept o'er the plain ;
No insect hummed its tiny strain ;
The flowers, rich in scent and hue,
Their beauties from the gaze withdrew ;
And every shrub and tree that grew,
Excepting my forefathers proud,
In fear and awe their branches bow'd ;
But they, on selfish joys intent,
With every breeze that through them went.
Still sported on without a pause ;
And in the waves that by them passed
With guilty pride their beauty glass'd.
As if of grief they had no cause.
But soon the sun its beams withdrew,
And such a gloom o'er earth was thrown,
As until then had ne'er been known—
Veiling all things around from view.
And while the lightning lit the air
With lurid and appalling glare ;
While the loud thunder, peal on peal,
Made the old hills' foundations reel ;
While the strong earthquake's mighty shocks
Asunder rent the hoary rocks ;
And those who in their graves had lain
Were seen to tread the earth again ;
In sap and fibre, bough and spray.
They felt a thrill of fear and pain ;
And when the darkness cleared away,
And Nature's face grew fair again.
The victims of remorse and grief
They trembling stood in every leaf ;
And since that day of anguish deep,
Not for the space of one brief hour
Have their descendants had the power
A single leaf at rest to keep ;
And thus, until the end of time,
They'll mourn for their forefathers' crime.
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