Saturday, June 10, 2023

Lord Byron's Daniel Boone

 Of all men, saving Sylla the man-slayer,
    Who passes for in life and death most lucky,
Of the great names which in our faces stare,
    The General Boon, back-woodsman of Kentucky,
Was happiest amongst mortals anywhere;
    For killing nothing but a bear or buck, he
Enjoy’d the lonely, vigorous, harmless days
Of his old age in wilds of deepest maze.

Crime came not near him—she is not the child
    Of solitude; Health shrank not from him—for
Her home is in the rarely trodden wild,
    Where if men seek her not, and death be more
Their choice than life, forgive them, as beguiled
    By habit to what their own hearts abhor—
In cities caged. The present case in point I
Cite is, that Boon lived hunting up to ninety;

And what ’s still stranger, left behind a name
    For which men vainly decimate the throng,
Not only famous, but of that good fame,
    Without which glory ’s but a tavern song—
Simple, serene, the antipodes of shame,
    Which hate nor envy e’er could tinge with wrong;
An active hermit, even in age the child
Of Nature, or the man of Ross run wild.

’Tis true he shrank from men even of his nation,
    When they built up unto his darling trees,—
He moved some hundred miles off, for a station
    Where there were fewer houses and more ease;
The inconvenience of civilisation
    Is, that you neither can be pleased nor please;
But where he met the individual man,
He show’d himself as kind as mortal can.

He was not all alone: around him grew
    A sylvan tribe of children of the chase,
Whose young, unwaken’d world was ever new,
    Nor sword nor sorrow yet had left a trace
On her unwrinkled brow, nor could you view
    A frown on Nature’s or on human face;
The free-born forest found and kept them free,
And fresh as is a torrent or a tree.

And tall, and strong, and swift of foot were they,
    Beyond the dwarfing city’s pale abortions,
Because their thoughts had never been the prey
    Of care or gain: the green woods were their portions;
No sinking spirits told them they grew grey,
    No fashion made them apes of her distortions;
Simple they were, not savage; and their rifles,
Though very true, were not yet used for trifles.

Motion was in their days, rest in their slumbers,
    And cheerfulness the handmaid of their toil;
Nor yet too many nor too few their numbers;
    Corruption could not make their hearts her soil;
The lust which stings, the splendour which encumbers,
    With the free foresters divide no spoil;
Serene, not sullen, were the solitudes
Of this unsighing people of the woods.

                                                         - from Don Juan, Canto VIII


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