Historical Context


From Nebraska Legends and Poems by Orsamus Charles Dake. 1871.

Down by the dull Cahokia,
Just back from a sandy shore,
You and I went a-graping,
In the pleasant days of yore.
We sat in the glancing shadows,
Or roamed in the open sun ;
But of grapes—alas! my darling—
We fetched not a single one.

Our baskets came back empty,
But our hearts were full of dreams,
Inwrought with the warm October
And the sunset’s mellow beams.
O sweet through the fading grasses
Wandered the wind’s low moan,
And, piping their cheerful signals,
Went birds to a summer zone.

Your hand in my own was resting,
But few were the words we spoke;
And our pitiless companions
Shot at us many a joke.
But little we cared, my darling;
We had plighted our secret truth,
And the world seemed a purple vine-land,
Hung full for the wants of youth.

Then, ere the leaves had fallen,
Or cold blew the northern gale—
Ere the sun swam low in the tropics,
Or the skies were chilly and pale,
The villagers all came trooping—
The greatest as well as the least—
To hear our vow’s confession
Before the surpliced priest.

And out through Autumn’s glories,
Or ever the day was done,
We had crossed broad river and prairie,
In the track of the hazy sun.
And the still night closed around us,
And Dian smiled bright above
Our shrine of the perfumed Hymen,
And the sacrifice of love.

Oh, swift the years as the passage
Of pigeons with silvery wings;
And deep in their silence is hidden
All tender and holy things—
The smiles, the kisses, the rapture,
The sighs, the unsealing of tears,
The darkness that fills with amazement,
The light in the west that cheers.

They are full of children’s voices,
And songs by the cradle sung;
Of the shadowy gleam of faces—
Forever fair and young—
That paled in their opening promise,
And under the willows hide.
Ah, Heaven seems far less distant
Since the little ones have died!

And once again we are graping,
But not near the dear old home;
New lands are ever unstable—
Their people like Arabs roam.
We follow our children westward;
They will follow theirs to the sea.
Few men in the land are settled,
Or know where their graves shall be.

I like, in the mild October,
These rides in the country air,
The plats ‘neath the swaying woodlands,
And the sunlight flickering there.
I love the merry laughter
Of the groups at the clustered vine,
And the glimpse of faces rosy
As Moenads flushed with wine.

For, like a wind that freshens
One drooping and moving slow,
These things throw over my spirit
The spell of the long-ago;
And I’m proud that these young people,
Like those of our youthful days,
Have pleasure in simple pleasures,
And love the old-fashioned ways.

But, for us, the scramble is ended,
‘Tis time to be sober and still;
We are nearing the mist-covered,river—
Are down at the foot of the hill.
Our baskets have ever been empty—
A trifle our slender store;
Yet only for you and the children
Have I ever wished for more.

I hope, when the final summons
Is sped from the ghostly king,
Afar to a peaceful country
Together our souls may wing;—
Together may live in glory,
And round us the children play,
As once in the long-gone summers,
Ere some were taken away.

But now, my arm for the wagon!
The horses are placed abreast,
For the home-bound sun is nearing
His gate in the golden west:
And the wind, with murmur tender,
Dies out in a long, long sigh;
And the bird to his mate is calling
That the chill, dark night is nigh.