The Centennial Year

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A Hundred years — and she had sat, a queen
Sheltering her children, opening wide her gates
To all the inflowing tribes of earth. At first
Storms raged around her; but her stumbling feet
Were planted firm upon the eternal rock.
Her young majestic head with sunny curls
And features tense with hope and prophecy
Now rose above the clouds of war. She gazed
Wistful yet calm into the coming years,
And grew in strength and wisdom: and afar
Across the sea the nations of the world
Beheld, and muttered from their ancient halls,
"Who is this stranger, young, unskilled and bold,
This Amazonian regent of the wilds
We spurned, and only sought when exile doomed —
Whose sons are marshalling the land and sea,
The winds, the electric currents and the light,
To do her bidding? Who this Titan queen
Whose face is flushed with sunrise, and whose hands
Reach forth to welcome all our swarms disowned,
Cast forth upon her shores, and turn their blight
To bloom and culture — e'en their crime to good?"
Then some beheld her with derisive sneers,
Judgments derived from rules of use outworn,
And stale conventional comparison;
With fear and envy some — others with awe
And vague hope of ideal rights of man, —
Green harvests now, but swelling into grain
For future time.
And still the years rolled on.
Tremors of battlefields thrilled through her limbs,
Once, twice, and thrice — the last, alas! like shocks
Of agonizing pain; for round her feet
Her own — her children grappled in the fields
Of blood and cannon-shot and fire and smoke —
One recreant multitude for slavery's crown,
And one for freedom and the common cause
That gave the country birth, and pledged the States
To unbroken union based on equal rights.
But justice triumphed, and the stricken land
Regained her poise hard-won.
Still rolled the years,
Till now she rounds her circling century;
And Peace and Plenty smile upon her fields
That stretch from sea to sea. Then she arose
And spake unto the States that clustered round,
Her children all, war's yawning gulf o'erbridged,
North, south, and east and west, her children still;
And to the ancestral realms across the seas: —
"This year I celebrate my birth. For me,
One of the Titan race of latest days,
A race Saturnian fables knew not of,
When giants grew, but hearts and minds were dwarfed
And cramped by precedents of brutal force
That stormed Olympus, so must needs be crushed —
For me a hundred years are as one year
To you, and this centennial year a day.
Therefore 't is meet that we invite the world
To bring its various treasures to our shores,
And blend with us, through symbols and results
Of art and grand achievement, in the creed
Of human brotherhood. And may this year
Be as the seal and pledge of race with race
Forever — one with all, and all with one!"
Then in a chosen spot, where the first vows
Of Liberty were plighted, we beheld
A wonder-work, as though some Geni snared
By incantation wrought the people's will.
For stately palaces arose and gleamed
Amid the trees; and on the distant sea
Came argosies full-laden with a wealth,
Not such as Cortez from the plundered realms
Of Montezuma bore, blood-steeped and wrapped
In crime, back to voracious Spain — but brought
With friendly rivalry from every clime;
From shops and looms of quiet industry
And rare inventive art; more wonderful
Than crude barbaric days could ever dream.
There, heaped profusely through those spacious halls,
The treasures of the abounding century
Were ranged in order. Thither, as to a shore,
The crowding time-waves of a hundred years —
Silent as streams of air — had pulsed and flowed
And broke in surges, not of yeasty foam,
Resultless thought, and aimless bubble-dreams,
But products of the busy world-wide Mind.
From European and from Asian lands,
From tropic heats and Arctic solitudes,
From towns of traffic and from western wilds,
From sunless mines and clear, high-windowed halls
Of skill and industry, and lonely rooms
Where artists and inventors dreamed and toiled,
Pledged to some dear thought-burden of a life: —
From schools and laboratories closely bent
On nature's inmost secrets, and where swift
Discovery trod upon discovery's heels,
In silent unforeseen audacity
Of masterly conception and result.
Here Europe lavished all her modern wealth
Of apt contrivance, imitative skill,
And costly comfort. There remote Japan
With strange and fascinating styles of art
Took fancy captive; and the Orient lands,
Whose more familiar forms we knew, set forth
Their porcelain wonders and their bronzes quaint,
Their ivory lace-work and their brilliant silks.
And there, from end to end of one vast space
Throbbed the blind force whose swift gigantic arm
A thousand glistening iron slaves obeyed,
By science taught to serve the age's need.
And day by day the thronging multitudes,
Flowing and ebbing like a tide, swept by,
And up and down through halls and corridors
Feasting their eyes in endless holiday,
Through long, far-reaching vistas all compact
Of use and beauty.
Proud she well may be.
Once cast on rocks and cradled in the winds,
She now commands, our Titan mother queen;
While thus the flattering world crowds round her feet,
One half to see the gifts the other half
Has laid before her — and we celebrate
Her first proud century's close with worthy signs
Of universal brotherhood and peace.
Then ring, ye bells! and let the organs blow
And swell the choral hymn of praise and joy.
And let the grand orchestral symphonies
Resound through park and palace; while afar
The flying thunders of the steam bring in
And out the thousands who in joyous groups
Make blithe centennial festival and cheer.
And as the autumn days move calmly on,
And from the trees the red and yellow leaves
Drop to the earth — let not the lesson fall
Unheeded. With fraternal grasp we have met
Through all these summer and autumnal months.
Henceforth may peace and unity prevail
O'er all the land. America demands
No pledge less true for her Centennial Year.

© Christopher Pearse Cranch