Despise the garish presences
The obvious possession of today,
To wear with me the spectacles that haunt
The optic sense with wraiths of yesterday—
These cobbled shores through which the traffic streams
Have been the stage-set of successive towns,
Where coffined actors postured out their dreams,
And harlot Folly changed her thousand gowns.
This corner-shop was Bull’s Head Tavern,
When names now dead on marble lived in clay;
Its rooms were like a sanded cavern,
Where candles made a sallow jest of day,
And drovers’ boots came grinding like a quern,
While merchants drank their steaming cups of “tay.”
Here pock-marked Black Beard
To slit the Dons’ throats at St. Augustine,
And bussed light ladies, unknown to this sonnet,
Whose names, no doubt, would rime with Magdalene.
And English parsons, who had lost their fames,
Sat tippling wine as spicy as their joke,
Larding bald texts with bets on cocking mains,
And whiffing pipes churchwardens used to smoke.
Here macaronis, hands a-droop with laces,
Dealt knave to knave in picquet or ecarte,
In coats no whit less scarlet than their faces,
While bullies hiccuped healths to King and Party,
And Yankee slavers, in from Barbadoes,
Drove flinty bargains with keen Huguenots.
Then Meeting Street first
knew St. Michael’s steeple,
When redcoats marched with royal drums a-banging,
Or merchants stopped gowned tutors to inquire
Why school let out to see a pirate hanging;
And gentlemen took supper in the street,
When candle-shine from tables guled the dark,
While others passing by would be discreet
And take the farther side without remark,
Pausing perhaps to snuff the balmy savor
Of turtle-soup mulled with the bay-leaves’ flavor:
These walls beheld them, and these lingering trees
That still preempt the middle of the gutter;
They are the backdrops for old comedies—
If leaves were tongues—what stories they might utter!
I stood once where these rows
of deep piazzas
Frown on the harbor from their columned pride,
And saw the gallant youngest of the cities
Lift from the jealous many-fingered tide.
Flanked by the multi-colored sweeping marshes,
Among the little hummocks choked with thorn,
I saw the first, small, dauntless row of buildings
Give back the rose and orange of the dawn.
Above them swayed the shining green palmettoes
Vocal and plaintive at the winds’ caress;
While, at the edge of sight, the fluent silver
Of sea and bay framed the wide loneliness.