Mountaineers

 

From the earliest days of our history, mountaineers, for example, the Green Mountain Boys, have played a not unimportant role in the story of our nation.  Stephen Vincent Benet in his epic on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, has a poem in regard to the mountaineers which I believe manages the feat of neither sneering at or romanticizing a way of life foreign to most Americans. 

  

Up in the mountains where the hogs are thin
And razorbacked, wild Indians of hogs,
The laurel’s green in April–and if the nights
Are cold as the cold cloud of watersmoke
Above a mountain-spring, the midday sun
Has heat enough in it to make you sweat.

They are a curious and most native stock,
The lanky men, the lost, forgotten seeds
Spilled from the first great wave-march toward the West
And set to sprout by chance in the deep cracks
Of that hill-billy world of laurel-bells.
They keep the beechwood-fiddle and the salt
Old-fashioned ballad-English of our first
Rowdy, corn-liquor-drinking, ignorant youth;
Also the rifle and the frying-pan,
The old feud-temper and the old feud-way
Of thinking strangers better shot on sight
But treating strangers that one leaves unshot
With border-hospitality.
                        The girls
Have the brief-blooming, rhododendron-youth
Of pioneer women, and the black-toothed age.
And if you yearn to meet your pioneers,
You’ll find them there, the same men, inbred sons
Of inbred sires perhaps, but still the same;
A pioneer-island in a world that has
No use for pioneers–the unsplit rock
Of Fundamentalism, calomel,
Clan-virtues, clannish vices, fiddle-tunes
And a hard God.
               They are our last frontier.
They shot the railway-train when it first came,
And when the Fords first came, they shot the Fords.
It could not save them.  They are dying now
Of being educated, which is the same.
One need not weep romantic tears for them,
But when the last moonshiner buys his radio,
And the last, lost, wild-rabbit of a girl
Is civilized with a mail-order dress,
Something will pass that was American
And all the movies will not bring it back.

They are misfit and strange in our new day,
In Sixty-One they were not quite so strange,
Before the Fords, before the day of the Fords . . .

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Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 5:58 am  Comments Off on Mountaineers  
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