Not many poems have been written about the War of Independence. But here is a stately epic, written in hexameters, showing how the outcome of the American Revolution depended on the character of one man. It begins with this revelation:
The Lord of all the Ages, above the vast expanse;
Examined all of Nature, within His timeless glance;
And addressing all the Nations, in a voice commanding dread,
He summoned all Creation, and this is what He said:
Behold the rising empires, along the gilded plain,
All proclaim their greatness, yet turn away from me,
One will sprout in morning, then die in the evening rain,
Another sails from the coastline, but drowns in the raging sea,
They sacrificed their children, their laws an abomination,
They worshipped graven idols, from evening to the dawn;
But when I gave my Son, my Son for their salvation,
They waged a violent war, against the Holy One;
Is here not one nation, is there not one man?
Will no one give their heart, their heart to My Sovereign Son?
Then hiding underneath, the ledge of God’s creation,
The devil overhears, his Maker’s lamentation;
And then disseminates his renegade opinions,
A rush of twisted words, to all his rebel minions:
That all-oppressive Maker, in groans of discontent,
Marshals all creation, yet bans our government;
We offer Man his freedom, to be like unto God,
And Man devours our Apple, with a willing nod;
Its taste has never faltered, since the world began,
None resist its sweetness. No, there is not one!
Then Michael the Archangel, the primal dragon-slayer,
On his evening vigil, spots the evil Strayer –
That ancient serpent-schemer, the father of all sin –
And thrusts his holy lancet, through its scaly skin.
“Who is like the Lord, Our God who rules on high?”
Declares the good Saint Michael, his legions drawing nigh;
Then flights of holy Angels, Satan’s body girth,
And in a bolt of lightning, they cast him down to earth…
The Winter General
The Patriots lay huddled, along the frozen shore,
A remnant of the fledgling Continental corps,
Outnumbered by the British sent by Parliament,
An all-invasive image of the Empire’s ill-intent.
Another wave of Hessians, arrived on sullen ship,
To hold the winter soldiers frozen in their grip,
A show of brute coercion, the people to disarm,
Till liberty awoke, and hammered the alarm!
Now gathered-up like chicks, beneath an icy wing,
The Delaware protects the remnant from the King,
As Washington compresses the wounds of a defeat,
And contemplates a careful path for his retreat.
Then beckoning his military’s vigor to renew,
He visits the exhausted, decimated few;
Then stopping by his quarters, finally to retire,
He pokes the dying embers of a dying fire.
Now from the dancing flame, an eerie phantom glides,
That ever-prowling schemer, tempting, God forbid;
And by the weary general, the evil one resides,
And here is what the hateful, fallen-angel said:
What a tragic man, what business do you have,
Deep in winter snow, upon a white horse riding?
The Master has become the fugitive and slave,
Escape before the dogs have come upon you hiding.
Retreat, while there is time, to more familiar ground,
To your boyhood trails, and fields of your estate;
And when the day is warm, and all is safe and sound,
Salvage your misfortune, before it’s all too late.
Thus, not by sheer despair, was the General tempted,
But by discouragement, the devil’s trusted art,
Ensuring many worthy causes are pre-empted,
And noble leaders fail, before they even start.
Now at the break of day, with all his senses spinning,
Blind to how things lay, the end or the beginning…
There came the sound of hooves, his courier returning,
With much awaited news, to satisfy his yearning.
Convening all his trusted generals from the field,
They draft a strategy, as rasher judgments yield,
To resurrect their cause, beneath oppressive skies,
And wisely redeploy their dwindling supplies.
Their Durham boats will serve as an optimistic isthmus,
And as the aide departs, he bids a Merry Christmas,
And with these simple words, a stillness fills the air,
As they prepare to cross the icy Delaware.
Under cloak of darkness, the General at the fore,
Flanked by his flotilla of two-thousand men, no more,
With horse and heavy cannon, ferried on the way,
While squalls of ice and rain force their long delay.
At last, the chosen army moves upon the land,
And Washington leads on, through the bushy stand,
Trudging through a maze of thickly tangled pine,
He leads his steady mount, while straining for a sign.
Now up in New York City, ten-thousand Brits reside,
With fifty-thousand more, across the countryside;
But down in ravaged Trenton, the Hessians hold the gorge,
A thousand mercenaries, purchased by King George.
Now through the forest darkness, a vision fast approaches,
And falling to her knees, this situation broaches:
“The enemy is fierce, but numbers just a few,
Quickly up the road, the day belongs to you.”
And as she leads the way, she signals them to follow,
Through an icy vale, across the snowy hollow;
They follow with their guns, and heavy ammunition,
And then she fades away, a mystic apparition.
The stars between the branches and drifting clouds emerge,
The dark and deep depression, of tangled trees, to purge;
And there they find impressions, iced by wooden wheels,
A thoroughfare to victory, the widening way reveals.
Sing, hey now! for the yeoman, bounding up the trail,
He greets the mounted General with a hardy hail!
Professing most astutely, for days he has observed,
“The Hessians, how they cower, in barricades, unnerved!
“But yesterday, a fortnight, one Jäger from the main,
Came upon us drunken, to stalk my daughter Jane…
And though she’s but a maiden, her weapon is severe,
She sent a musket ball, whistling past his ear.”
The General on his horse, leaning with a smile,
Asks the Irish settler: “Can you lead us for a while?”
And then a sprightly maiden emerges from a rock,
A pretty girl named Jane, of solid Irish stock.
This very Jane of yore will marry Raphael;
But in another tale; now let us fathom well,
The Winter General riding, he leads the long parade,
Marching down to Trenton, to smash the cruel blockade.
Marching on to Trenton, to crush the Hessian hold,
To stoke the revolution, and victory behold!
To smash the Hessian shackles, the enemy to rout,
And reconstruct the army, with courage strong and stout!
And now the giving girl, to a Winter Soldier,
Offers leather boots, slung across her shoulder;
Her father carries more, in canvas gunny-bags,
For those with shoeless feet, or feet in swaddled rags.
But many men remain, with withered rags or none,
And bare and bloodied feet, all frozen to the bone;
So to another man, he offers his own boots,
Then barefoot on the ice, the column he salutes.
Now the evening star of Mary breaks the hold of night,
To lift the heaviest hearts up to heaven’s height,
And there the Queen of Wisdom, from her Elysian wealth,
Gives to the Winter General her sacred gift of Stealth.
Along the road to Trenton, a dozen miles to go,
Marching along in silence, through the sleet and snow;
Like a drum without a sound, a bird without a song,
A fife without a note, the soldiers move along.
The probing evening creatures to their holes return,
As cottoned-quiet wheels on horse-drawn canons turn,
As wispy zephyrs circle above their frozen breath,
The men, exhausted, moving, on death to conquer death.
Now spiteful Juno mounting, warns of the advance,
But heaven’s Furies counter to quell the cold expanse;
And in the conquering wind, in nature’s frozen term,
The Winter Soldier closes on the old, infernal worm.
Stung by their humble boldness, Hera stirs the air,
And pierced by icy exposure, the men are torn to despair;
But no one will turn to retreat, the forms of heaven spur,
All freely give devotion, the freedoms of all to secure.
While stationed here on earth, in heaven’s mortal lease,
They fight to conquer death, or meet God face to face;
Along the road to Trenton, their victory is almost in hand,
The remnant now, in faith, await the General’s command.
Now the single line of troops, in separate lines divides,
And circumscribes the town, from upper and lower sides;
While Sullivan, beneath, and Greene upon the north,
Converge on King Street slowly, to draw the Jäger forth.
Now Victory or Death! becomes their battle cry,
And at the guarded outpost, all must do or die;
“Das fiend!” a Hessian hollers, his comrades to inspire;
And the Winter Soldier sights him, returning musket fire.
His bullet hits the mark, and the Hessian falls for dead,
Bleeding on the hoarfrost, in front of a wooden shed;
And now the Winter Soldier, with bayonet severe,
Disarms the remaining Jägers, and signals all is clear.
But now the Winter Soldier, laboring for breath,
Falls on bended knee, upon a frozen heath,
Weakened by exhaustion, with damp and frozen gear,
He musters all his strength, but falls towards the rear.
On Trenton comes the army, the remnant brave and good,
With eighteen cannons training on the mercenary brood;
The Hessian general, mounting, beneath a golden crown,
Is covered by his Jägers, but they gun the Jägers down.
Now through the streets of Trenton, they hound the bolting ranks,
As Sullivan approaches, sweeping around their flanks;
And a thousand Hessian soldiers surrender in a blink;
And the winds of war have shifted, along the Assunpink.
Now the Continental Army, sets the township free,
And at night they rest by firelight, drinking British tea;
But early the next morning, in the frosty air,
They ferry all the wounded, across the Delaware.
And here the Winter Soldier, draws his final breath,
His legacy of honor and courage to bequeath;
His soul departs for heaven, across the stream of gold,
And from the distant shoreline, God’s glory does behold.
Now the Muse of Heaven wakens, to guide the Minstrel’s pen,
To summarize the Crisis, and lift the hearts of men:
“The soldier of the summer, the sunshine patriot,
Will disappear by winter, but harbors much regret.”
“For these are solemn times, that try the bravest souls,
The harder now the fight, the loftier our goals;
A tyrant, like a tree stump, is never quickly razed,
But he who joins this battle, will be forever praised…”
A crop of yeomen answer, they join the noble cause,
They offer humble service, without pay or applause;
And the foe withdraws to Princeton, retreating in disgrace,
But tempt the Winter General, to show his army’s face.
Consulting all his generals, and privately in prayer,
A second crossing beckons across the Delaware;
And by the Assunpink, along the icy brook,
They wait beside the river, in their hidden nook.
The Mercenary Army, their service bought and sold,
Are drawn toward the General, like robbers drawn to gold;
But Washington’s loud cannons block the vile brigade,
And on the bridge he stops them, with his cannonade.
Now evening falls on Trenton, along the Assunpink,
Cornwallis takes his cover, and buys some time to think:
The weathered Winter General, he deems his wounded prey,
And like a fox to capture, upon the break of day.
The bonfires of the Patriots burn like candlelight,
A subterfuge ablazing, to mask the pre-dawn flight,
Down the road to Princeton, some eighteen miles away,
To hunt the ancient serpent, God’s enemy to slay.
Behind the pike of Mercer, the apex of his spear,
Washington stands vigil, upon the trailing rear;
Now through the mist of morning, in imminent surprise,
A hail of British muskets, a flash of daemons’ eyes.
The yeoman-rich militia attack the Coronets,
But the British counter quickly, behind their bayonets;
And a menace slices Mercer, through his loyal heart,
And instantly to heaven, his life and soul depart.
The men retreat in chaos; but the Winter General sound,
Plants his sacred herald, into the frozen ground;
And all the British charge him, too many men to count,
And in a cloud of muskets, they fire upon his mount.
As the powder rises slowly, all view in disbelief,
The Winter General mounted in ominous relief!
And he spurs his trailing soldiers: “Parade along with me!”
And with resounding volleys, the British break and flee.
Now all the nation rallies to the Winter General’s side,
From Delaware’s devotion to Boston’s boundless pride;
In years to come this triumph will live in epic lays,
And lift our Nation’s Spirit, until the end of days.
And with their numbers swelling, they march to Morristown,
As Lady Winter enters, dressed in her snowy gown;
They join with the militia, embedded in the war,
And push the flailing British back towards the shore.
Cornwallis, bruised and beaten, his troops in disarray,
Hobbles to New Brunswick, a hundred miles away,
Where Loyalists are welcomed to pay their tax for tea,
And bow before a sovereign, and hail his sovereignty.
Cornwallis offers incense to his idols of revenge,
And marches from New Brunswick, New England to impinge;
But reaching Saratoga, he’s saddened by the Fates,
And suffers degradation, beneath the arms of Gates.
The menace hides in Philly; while the General hunkers down,
At Valley Forge, for winter, a military town,
Built with sodden shelters, and framed with fallen trees,
And with inoculations, they govern new disease.
But then the nation’s birthplace, Cornwallis ravages,
So Washington digs out, to hunt the savages;
He corners them at Monmouth, and with his biggest guns,
Blasts the British hellions back to cold Saint Johns.
Now on the cold Atlantic, the French are sailing ships,
To war upon the British, to conquer and eclipse,
To aide the birth of freedom, and get a better taste,
Of Liberty’s rich harvest, Her many blessings graced.
And so the British Sovereign and Parliament relent,
And to the winds of history consign their ill-intent,
But fifty thousand soldiers have perished in the war,
To beckon greater service, the union to restore.
The Continental Congress convenes and without pause,
Signs the Constitution, to house our civil laws,
And by the General’s fireside, the General’s time is spent,
Until he is encouraged to serve as President.
Two solid terms he labors, achieving many goals,
For which our grateful nation, the best of lands, extols,
And earning the respect of gentlemen and knaves,
He settles down to leisure, and liberates his slaves.
Now of this fateful battle, and Father of our nation,
Who trampled many foes, and overcame temptation,
And of the dignity, of our Immortal Dead,
Who served the Winter General, let so much be said.