Historical Context

The Praise of New Lands

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


God bless our sturdy native land—
Its prairies broad, its mountains bare,
Its rough, cold lakes, its rivers grand,
Its pure, invigorating air.
And bless its blue, enfolding seas,
Its forests, springs, and bloomy leas,
And all the powers and influences
That make this land the land it is.
For here are nurtured, here alone,
The tensest muscle, firmest bone;
The keenest eye, the sternest will,
And largest power for good or ill.


Where huddled Europe breeds her swarms,
The Few possess the Many’s rights.
The Few have homes, and cheer, and forms
Of health, and eyes that see delights.
The Many toil from day to day,
And earn such pittance as they may;
But scantily fed and clad, and chilled
By hopes forever unfulfilled,
From infancy to manhood’s prime,
And down the mellowing, ripening time
Of hallowed age, they dwell with pain,
Nor manhood’s guerdon ever gain.
For, let them struggle as they may
To upward win an equal way,
They learn, at last, ‘tis vain to try;
That peasants born must peasants die.


I hold ‘twere well to teach our heirs,
If they would shun the peasant’s doom,
Would shun his ignorance and cares,
To live in States where men have room.
Where entail may not bind the land,
Nor privilege defiant stand;
But where a man of heart and mind
At once expansive place may find.
Teach them that cities are the graves
That bury anxious, toil-worn slaves;
That while the Few there ride at will,
And of all pleasure have their fill,
The Thousands, hither, thither thrown,
Live not in houses of their own—

Scarce know the wind-tone of a tree,
The song-bird’s wondrous minstrelsy,
The murmur of a pebbly rill,
And all the sights and sounds that fill
The country with such peace and rest.
Then to the north, or south, or west!
Then to new lands, unless, born great,
One heirs a competent estate!
And be new lands or warm or cold,
Or forest dense, or open wold,
Or inland far, or by the sea,
Thither let poor-folk straightway flee,
And know that who to new lands come,
May own themselves and own their home.


But ah, to leave forefathers’ graves,
And sights well-loved from infancy:
Were it not better still be slaves
Than all we love no more to see?
Better to linger by the looms,
Better to pace dark, rented rooms;
Better to breathe the putrid air
Of dusty, narrow streets and bare;
Better to meet each coming year
With lessening hope and deepening fear,
That still in sunshine and in shower
Fond eyes may see the old church-tower,
Fond ears still hear the sweet church-bell,
Whose summons blest we love so well—
Still round us move the patient grace
Of many a loved familiar face,
And that, by graves most dear, at last
We may lie down when life is past?


O weak one, filled with discontent
Of present things, yet fearing change,
Let life have purpose ere ‘tis spent—
Give thought and action broader range!
The wilderness is sweet as wide,
And fair the forms on every side
Of hill and valley, mead and wood—
I would that old lands were as good!
In happy murmurs glide the rills,
And golden splendor falls and fills
The heaven above the fragrant glens;
Nor wild beast there, nor snaky fens.
Go, deem what prospect most invites:
There rear thy home, and bring the rites
Of prayer and worship: fill a space
With lettered and with mannered grace,
Till church-bells sound from vale to vale,
And gardens on the air exhale
The orient perfume of the rose.
Life shall have purpose as it goes,
And good be done, and strength increase,
And old age win an honored peace.


For many a year, across these plains,
I’ve marked the stalwart immigrant
Guiding his scantly-laden wains
To some fair nook, anew to plant
The fortunes of his family tree
And when, erelong, he there might be,
The spacious homestead rose serene,
Embowered in cool, inviting green;
The lark sang sweetly at his door;
His barns were filled with ample store;
His fields all spotted o’er with kine
Indolent in the broad sunshine;
While on the road his carriage shone,
And far and wide his name was known
As one to whom all men might flee
For certain hospitality:
The stranger’s counsel, orphan’s friend,
Ready to harbor, help, or lend,
Ready in church and neighborhood,
To do the righteous thing he could.
And, year by year, more perfect grace
Was written in his manly face,
Till every look and action went
To speak his measureless content.


Men grow by independent thought—
Self-centred action unconstrained.
Far greater he whose lines are wrought
By purpose in himself contained,
Than he who by another’s will
Some petty place must daily fill—
Some tiresome, endless, dull routine,
That makes him but a mere machine.
Give me a hut with scanty cheer,
Far on the blooming wild frontier—
A yoke of cattle, and a cow,
And acres of my own to plow—
A dog, a gun, the sweet blue skies,
And Nature’s charms and mysteries;—
So I may feel that I am free,
And master of my fortunes be;—
So I may ride, or sit, or play,
Or read my book each stormy day;—
So I may see my comforts grow,
With immigration’s onward flow;—
See values rise, and friendship grace
Each neighbor’s honest, manly face,—
And I shall feel myself a king,
Compared with them who daily wring
Precarious substance from small wage,
Nor hoard a little for old age.


Thank God, new lands are vast as fair:
Earth for her millions still has room—
Has wealth of plains, and mountain-air,
And breezy coasts, and forests’ gloom,
Where all conditions may find place.
On some fair future day of grace,
Along the regions now but waste,
Civilizations shall be traced
As fair as any that may be.
Then, from his grave, might one but see
His sons and daughters firmly set,
Where wealth and honor purely met—
Might see his race adorn their name,
And bless the ancestor that came
Into the wilds, with sturdy heart
To give his house that prosperous start,
Some joy might stir his palsied breast,
Some sweet contentment fill his rest.


But, ah! we cannot raise a theme,
Or sing a song, or chant a stave,
Or yield awhile to some bright dream,
But it must end low in the grave.
We plant; our children take and reap,
But quickly they are laid asleep.
The winds and waters murmur on,
The sun forgets the nations gone,
And to and fro pass heedless feet.
Oh! much is wanting to complete
The barest possibilities
Would make this life a thing of bliss
No region may be found on earth
To wholly fit the immortal worth
Of God-given souls whose end is God.
There is no place from Him abroad—
No country where He veils His eyes,
And talks with thunder from the skies,
And talks with thunder from the skies,
And sends the slow approach of death—
Where men may draw all-happy breath.
For something still all true souls pant—
Some unrelievable want,
That Heaven alone can satisfy.
Heaven is the country to draw nigh—
The home of the aspiring soul:
There men are sound, and true, and whole,
And lands are fair, and skies are pure,
And homes and friendships that endure.
Towards heaven we tend. God give us grace
To see, without great fear, His face;
And give us room where all is new
To us poor earth-worms, blind of view,
And foolish in our weak designs.
And, like the sun that months-long shines
Upon the erewhile darkened pole,
Backward death’s darkness may He roll,
And set us where no want is known—
Under the splendor of His throne.