(A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier)

Read by Bob Dyer

In 1855 the fanatical abolitionist, John Brown, came to Kansas from Ohio to join his five sons, and was soon deeply embroiled in anti-slavery activities that reached a peak of viciousness when he and his sons hacked several pro-slavery settlers to death with swords near Osawatomie, Kansas, in 1856. Brown's fanaticism was answered by equally brutal murders of free state settlers in the bloody Kansas/Missouri border wars that preceded the outbreak of the Civil War.

This poem by the New England abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier was originally published in Atlantic Monthly magazine, September 1858, in response to the massacre of ten free state farmers by pro-slavery Missourians on March 19, 1858, on the Marais des Cygne river not far from Trading Post, Kansas, on the Kansas/Missouri border. “Marais des Cygne” is French for “Marsh of the Swans.” Part of this poem is inscribed on a monument in the cemetery at Trading Post, Kansas, over the graves of those who were killed, and a few miles away there is a park with a small museum marking the actual spot of the massacre.

A blush as of roses
Where rose never grew.
Great drops on the bunch grass,
But not of the dew.
A taint in the sweet air
For wild bees to shun.
A stain that shall never
Bleach out in the sun.

Back steed of the prairies,
Sweet song-bird, fly back.
Wheel hither, bald vulture.
Gray wolf, call thy pack.
The foul human vultures
Have feasted and fled.
The wolves of the Border
Have crept from the dead.

From the hearths of their cabins,
The fields of their corn,
unwarned and unweaponed,
The victims were torn—
By the whirlwind of murder
Swooped up and swept on
To the low reedy fen-lands,
The Marsh of the Swan.

With a vain plea for mercy
No stout knee was crooked;
In the mouths of the rifles
Right manly they looked.
Now paled the May sunshine,
O Marais des Cygne.
On death for the strong life,
On red grass for green....

Strong men of the prairies
Mourn bitter and wild.
Wail, desolate woman.
Weep, fatherless child.
But the grain of God springs up
From ashes beneath,
And the crown of his harvest
Is life out of death.

Not in vain on the dial
The shade moves along,
To point the great contrasts
Of right and of wrong.
Free homes and free altars,
Free prairies and flood,
The reeds of the Swan's Marsh
Whose bloom is of blood.

On the lintels of Kansas
That blood shall not dry.
Henceforth the Bad Angel
Shall harmless go by.
Henceforth to the sunset,
unchecked on her way,
Shall Liberty follow
The march of the day.

© Big Canoe Records, 1993