Poem - The Boatman's Horn
The Boatman's Horn
by General William O. Butler 1
- , boatman! wind that horn again,
For never did the listening air,
Upon its lambent bosom bear
So wild, so soft, so sweet a strain!
- What, though thy notes are sad and few,
By every simple boatman blown,
Yet is each pulse to nature true,
- And melody in every tone.
- How oft in boyhood's joyous days,
Unmindful of the lapsing hours,
I've loitered on my homeward way
By wild Ohio's bank of flowers;
While some lone boatman from the deck
Poured his soft numbers to the tide,
As if to charm from storm and wreck
The boat where all his fortunes ride!
Delighted Nature drank the sound,
Enchanted echo bore it round
In whispers soft and softer still,
From hill to plain and plain to hill,
Till e'en the thoughtless, frolic boy,
Elate with hope and wild with joy,
Who gamboled by the river side,
And sported with the fretting tide,
Feels something new pervade his breast,
Change his light step, repress his jest,
Bends o'er the flood his eager ear
To catch the sounds far off, yet dear .
Drinks the sweet draft, but knows not why
The tear of rapture fills his eye.
And can he now, to manhood grown,
Tell why those notes, so wild, so lone,
As on the ravish'd ear they fell,
Bound every sense in magic spell?
There is a tide of feeling given
To all on earth, its fountain Heaven;
Beginning with the downy flower
Just oped in Florio's vernal bower,
Running each nice gradation through,
With bolder murmur, and with brighter hue;
That tide is Sympathy! Its fitful flow
Gives to this life its joy or two:
Music, the master spirit, that can move
Its waves to war, or lull them into love;
Can charm the starting tear from Beauty's eye,
And bid the heart of virtue cease to sign;
Can cheer the dying sailor on the wave,
And shed bright halos round the Soldier's grave;
Inspire the fainting Pilgrim on his road,
And elevate his soul and thoughts to God!
Then Boatman! wind that Horn again!
Tho' much of Sorrow mark its strain;
Yet are its sounds to Sorrow dear!
What tho' they wake fond mem'ry's tear?
Tears are mem'ry's sacred feast,
Where Rapture sits a smiling guest.
1. The first draft of "The Boatman's Horn," by then-28-year-old William Orlando Butler — who signed it with his middle name — was published in the monthly Western Review and Miscellaneous Magazine of Lexington, Kentucky, in the issue for July, 1821.
In that final issue the editor wrote:
"If we have in any degree succeeded in creating or fostering a literary taste; if we have, to any extent, drawn out the resources of the scholars of the western country; if we have been instrumental in preserving for the future historian and for the admiration of posterity any of those interesting narratives, which contemporaries only could furnish, of the difficulties and dangers and almost incredible deeds of heroism that distinguished, and out to immortalize, the early settlers in the West; if, in fine, we have successfully repelled a single unjust aspersion cast uponthe American character, our exertions have not been in vain, and we have no cause to regret the existence, feeble and short-ived as it may have been, of the Western Review."