Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (26 September 1863)
Bayard Taylor, "A Thousand Years" National Anti-Slavery Standard (26 September 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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A THOUSAND YEARS.

A thousand years! through storm and fire, With varying fate, the work has grown, 'Til Alexander crowns the spire Where Rurik laid the corner-stone.[1]
The chieftain's sword, that could not rust, But bright in constant battle grew, Raised to the world a throne august, A nation grander than he knew.
Nor he alone; but those who have, Through faith or deed, an equal part— The subtle brain of Yaroslav, Vladimir's arm, and Nikon's heart:[2]
The later hands that built so well The work sublime which these began, And from base to pinnacle Wrought out the Empire's mighty plan.
All these, to-day, are crowned anew, And rule, in splendor, where they trod, While Russia's children throng to view Her holy cradle, Novgorod.[3]
From Volga's banks, from Dwina's side; From pine-clad Ural, dark and long; Or where the foaming Terek's tide[4] Leaps down from Kasbek,[5] bright with song!
From Altai's chain of mountain-cones, Mongolian deserts, far and free, And lands that bind, through changing zones, The Eastern and the Western sea.
To every race she gives a home, And creeds and laws enjoy her shade; Till, far beyond the dream of Rome, Her Cæsar's mandate is obeyed.
She blends the virtues they impart, And holds, within her life combined, The patient faith of Asia's heart, The force of Europe's restless mind.
She bids the nomad's wandering cease; She binds the wild marauder fast, Her plow-shares turn to homes of peace The battle-field of ages past.
And, nobler far, she dares to know Her future's task—nor knows in vain, But strikes at once the generous blow That makes her millions men again![6]
So, firmer-based, her power expands, Nor yet has seen its crowning hour, Still teaching to the struggling lands That Peace the offspring is of Power.
Build up the storied bronze, to tell The steps whereby this height she trod— The thousand years that chronicle The toil of Man, the help of God!
And may the thousand years to come— The future ages wise and free,— Still see her flag, and hear her drum, Across the world, from sea to sea!—
Still find, a symbol stern and grand, Her ancient eagle's strength unshorn, One head to watch the western land, And one to guard the land of morn!

Notes

  1. Rurik was renowned as the founder of a dynasty; according to contemporary histories, he became the first king of Russia in AD 862 (a thousand years before Taylor wrote his poem). Tsar Alexander II ruled 1855–81; in 1861 he decreed that twenty million serfs be emancipated.Go back
  2. Yaroslav, Vladimir, and Nikon were three preeminent Russians. Iaroslav I, known as "Iaroslav the Wise," reigned 1019–54. Iaroslav's father, Vladimir (St. Vladimir), ruled ca. 980–1015 and adopted Christianity as the religion of the state after his own conversion. Orthodox patriarch Nikon (1652–58) made "efforts to promote greater piety and purity in religious life" (Nicholas V. Riasanovsky and Mark D. Steinberg, A History of Russia [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], 198).Go back
  3. City on the Volkhov River, where Rurik established his dynasty.Go back
  4. The Volga, Dwina, and Terek are rivers. The Volga and the Terek flow into the Caspian Sea; the Dwina, or Dvina, flows into the White Sea.Go back
  5. Mount Kasbek, in the Caucasus Mountains.Go back
  6. Emancipation decree of Alexander II; issued in Lent 1861, it freed over twenty million serfs.Go back
  7. Bayard Taylor (1828–1878) captivated antebellum audiences with accounts of his extensive travels. By the time war broke out, he had established a formidable reputation as a travel writer, lecturer, and poet. He had also been appointed manager of the New York Tribune's Literary Department. He served as the Tribune's Washington "special" until May 1862, when he accepted a diplomatic post as secretary (then charge d'affaires) to the American Legation at St. Petersburg, Russia. For over a year, he monitored and managed Russian reactions to the progress of the American Civil War.
     
    In the winter of 1862, he helped to ensure that the emperor resisted Anglo-French pressure to intervene in war. Although Lincoln did not give him the diplomatic post he desired, Taylor reported himself well satisfied that he had "done real service to the country" (Selected Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Paul C. Wermuth [Cranbury, NJ: Bucknell University Press, 1997], 199). Shortly before he began his journey back to America, he learned that his brother had been killed at Gettysburg. He returned to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, with his family in the autumn of 1863. During the rest of the war, Taylor worked the lyceum circuit with material from his Russian sojourn, and wrote and published his first two novels, Hannah Thurston (1863) and John Godfrey's Fortunes (1864). See also Cary Wolfe, "Taylor, Bayard," in American National Biography Online.
     
    "A Thousand Years" first appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard issue dated November 1, 1862. The poem's reappearance in late September 1863, almost a year after Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, was doubly timely; Taylor's poem at once served as a commentary on America's progress toward the abolition of slavery and fed popular interest in newly arrived Russian sailors. "A Russian Fleet Coming into Our Harbor," announced the New York Times on September 24, 1863: "The Russian frigate Osliaba, which has lain at anchor in our harbor for several days past, and has been an object of so much interest to our citizens, is about to be reinforced by a fleet of four or five vessels of the same nationality" ([2]). The visitors were welcomed warmly. The American public, however, was unaware that the emperor had sent the squadron to a friendly port so that if war broke out with France and Britain as a result of his brutal policies in Poland, Russian ships would not be blockaded.
    Go back