The West has always beckoned us to come,
And so we moved, intent to make our way,
At first across a gray Atlantic swell
That we might scrabble hard to stay alive.
The land was rich but hard, so we grew hard,
And like the land grew rich and prosperous,
So that we might grow soft again in leisure.
A different West awaited each new wave
As mountains, rivers, plains, and greater heights
Went down before us as we came in swarms.
The frontier molded us, as we shaped it,
And we grew into big sky minds and hearts.
But serpent’s tongue and disappointing flesh
Caused us to gain, then spend, then lose our treasure.
Those first came to a continent of trees,
Hard winters filled with freezing, blowing snow.
The first confronted hardship as a friend,
Long sought embrace that proved a fertile spouse.
The native peoples gave reluctant way,
Retreating west where game yet filled the hills.
But still more came, and brought gigantic changes,
With land laid out and staked and platted, fixed.
All fenced and plowed, well-sown, and made to feed
A growing population headed west.
So more bred more, these more brought many more,
Such that the continent filled up with men.
The world was new, and so they built it new
From wooded hills to rocky mountain ranges.
And so their numbers grew, but multiplied
In stranger ways through amplified machines.
The cotton gin, the locomotive train,
The steamboat came, the reaping combine too,
And soon the wires stretched from pole to pole,
The power of steam became a turbine strength,
The first great conquest all through engineering.
These sons of Tubalcain devised a way,
Supplementing strength for horse and man.
The growth that spread from east to distant west
Was not the ancient way that empires grew
But rather was a downward growth, with roots
That touched the hidden bedrock of the land,
And made the conquest more than buccaneering.
Nations and tribes have always gone to war,
And rivers, mountains, plains have never stopped
Encroachments when one tribe was feeling strong.
But here the change was far beneath their feet,
A bedrock change, and plates began to shift.
The cotton gin, the telegraph, steel rails,
The ironclads, and oil, the power of water
When turned to steam, when heated to the boil.
Metallic wonders soon began to hum
And then to carry men and women west.
A time would come when all could pay and cross
The continent in what it used to take
To cross the state, drawn by the driven horse.
And soon the son was sin and pride the daughter.
Beneath the stars embedded in the black,
Beneath a sky that did not seem to care,
This race of hustlers came and saw and then,
Reliant on their wits and work and God,
They scrambled, fought, and frequently they bled
For land and wealth and fame and empire wide.
This pioneering race was tough and harder
Than those who occupied that space before,
Which does not make their cause the righteous one,
Or evil yet, it all depends on who
Decided they would break their solemn word.
In all the wars, in all the conflicts sharp,
The faults lie scattered as the people do,
And still the harvests grew and filled the larder.
But trouble came as trouble always will—
An altar in the evening dews and damps
Constructed well by rascals and by scamps—
Because the nations founded in this land
Were nations long before they settled here.
These tribes spread out and jostled as they went,
And men grew proud, and still some others prouder.
The land was great, the azure sky was large,
But rivalry and hate grew larger still.
The revolution came, with battles fought,
And armies pitched against great walls of men.
With long protracted will the two sides fought
Until the North prevailed and brought the South
Down to her lowest point with shot and powder.
The war behind, they turned to industry
And they began to work in vaulted steel
To scrape the sky, to make their cities tall.
Again the pride of man began to grow
Beyond appointed bounds, up past the sky.
Industrial war approached and bade them come,
Surrender youth and life to mindless grinding.
They pulped and mashed the strength of countless bones
So they might build their world with empty sky.
No Hell below and liberation near.
Their swamps produced the great fog secular.
New man was now the measure of all things,
And walked the polished neutral halls of self.
And what they sought they praised, but without finding.
So like the prodigal they thought their wealth
Was guaranteed, a never-ending stream,
Their birthright store, and not to be possessed
In bits and parts, in dribs, in partial ways.
With wealth abundantly bestowed on them,
They thought that this was just the way it was.
What they obtained as grace they thought they worked for,
Instead of giving thanks to God alone.
With engineers sublime they scraped the sky,
And spanned their bays and held their river banks
Together with great straps of cabled steel.
They drove their cars across, their trucks were full,
And enterprise spread out, from coast to coast.
And them, like sin for Cain, Mammon lurked for.
Secured because two oceans flanked her shores,
And rich with many rivers long and wide,
With fertile plains astride her waters there,
And ports to host a great sea power’s fleet,
Great wealth was hers, beyond all reckoning,
With Esau’s bowl, they did not see or know,
They turned, and tasted, and forsook the blessing.
All nations rise, all nations thrive, then die,
But somehow men refuse to face such truth,
Believing all their Ozymandian dreams,
They stand, and vaunt, and sneer, and boast.
They hold the forms of faith, they keep some words,
While clutching at their will and their own law.
“In God we trust” was now just window dressing.