Thursday, December 3, 2009

Huguenot Vines

Wherever Providence directed the Huguenots of the Diaspora, newly-planted vineyards frequently adorned their adopted homelands. This is true of Ireland, South Africa, Florida, New York, Virgina and elsewhere around the world.

It is also true of a little town called Oxford, Massachusetts, where, in 1686, Huguenot refugees built a fort and planted a vineyard in hopes of establishing a new settlement where they could live in peace. They had to abandon their plantations in 1704 after a series of Indian attacks and other difficulties proved an insurmountable obstacle.

However, the vines they planted continued to grow.

In 1822, a young lady recently married to a descendant of French Huguenots, paid a visit to the ruins of the Huguenot Fort at Oxford. Lydia Sigourney, the "Sweet Singer of Hartford," one of the most popular female American poets of the 19th century, was moved some years later to write not one but two poems based on her experience at the Fort. In fact, she continued to write about the story of the Huguenots often both in prose and in verse.

Her two Oxford Huguenot poems both capture something beautiful and poignant about Huguenot vines still growing long after their planters have moved away and pay tribute to their memory.

On Visiting a Vine among the ruins of the French fort at Oxford, (Mass.) supposed to have been planted by the Huguenots, who made settlements at that place, when they fled from their native country, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685 (1830)

SAY, did thy germ e'er drink the fostering dews
Of beauteous Languedoc? -- Didst thou unfold
Thy latent fibre 'neath the genial skies
Of smiling Rousillon? -- or fragrant hang
In purple cluster from some fruitful vine
Of fair Rochelle? -- Perchance thy infant leaves
Have trembled at the bitter sigh of those
Whom Tyranny oppress'd, or shuddering caught
That silent tear which suffering Virtue sheds
In loneliness -- that tear which witnesseth
To the high Judge. -- Not by rash, thoughtless hands
Who sacrifice to Bacchus, pouring forth
Libations at his altar, with wild songs
Hailing his madden'd orgies, wert thou borne
To foreign climes -- but with suffering band
Of pious Huguenots didst dare the wave,
Whey they essay'd to plant Salvation's vine
In the drear wilderness. Pensive they mark'd
The everlasting forest's gloomy shade,
The uncultur'd vale, the snow-invested heath
Tracked by the vengeful native; yet to rear
Their Temple to the Eternal Sire, and pay
Unfetter'd homage to his name were joy,
Though on their hymn of praise the desert howl'd.
The savage arrow scath'd them, and dark clouds
Involv'd their infant Zion, yet they bore
Toil and affliction with unwavering eye
Fix'd on the heavens, and firm in hope sublime
Sank to their last repose. -- Full many a son
Among the noblest of our land, looks back
Through Time's long vista, and exulting claims
These as his Sires. -- They sleep in mouldering dust,
But thou, fair Vine, in beauteous verdure bloom'st
O'er Man's decay. Wooing thy tendril green
Springs the wild Rose, as if it fain would twine
Wreaths for its native soil. -- And well it may;
For here dwells Liberty and laurelled Peace
Lending to life new lustre, and with dews
Etherial bathing Nature's charms. The child
Of Poverty feels here no vassalage, nor shrinks
From Persecution's scourage. The simplest hind,
Whether he homeward guides his weary team,
Beneath the evening star, or whistling leads
To pastures fresh with morn his snowy sheep,
Bears on his brow in deepen'd characters
"Knowledge is Power." -- He too, with filial eye
Unchecked, undimm'd, marks blest Religion come,
In simple mildness, binding on the heart
Her law of love, gilding each gather'd cloud
Of varied sentiment, that o'er the dust
Of Earth's low confine hangs -- with beams serene
From that bright Sun which shall hereafter blend
All fleeting shades in one effulgent smile
Of Immortality.

Huguenot Fort, At Oxford, Massachusetts, Scenes in My Native Land (1844)

I stood upon a breezy height, and marked
The rural landscape's charms: fields thick with corn,
And new-mown grass that bathed the ruthless scythe
With a forgiving fragrance, even in death
Blessing its enemies; and broad-armed trees
Fruitful, or dense with shade, and crystal streams
That cheered their sedgy banks.
But at my feet
Were vestiges, that turned the thoughts away
From all this summer-beauty. Moss-clad stones
That formed their fortress, who in earlier days
Sought refuge here, from their own troubled clime,
And from the madness of a tyrant king,
Were strewed around.
Methinks, yon wreck stands forth
In rugged strength once more, and firmly guards
From the red Indian's shaft, those sons of France,
Who for her genial flower-decked vales, and flush
Of purple vintage, found but welcome cold
From thee, my native land! the wintry moan
Of wind-swept forests, and the appalling frown
Of icy floods. Yet didst thou leave them free
To strike the sweet harp of the secret soul,
And this was all their wealth. For this they blest
Thy trackless wilds, and 'neath their lowly roof
At morn and night, or with the murmuring swell
Of stranger waters, blent their hymn of praise.

Green Vine! that mantlest in thy fresh embrace
Yon old, grey rock, I hear that thou with them
Didst brave the ocean surge.
Say, drank thy germ
The dews of Languedoc? or slow uncoiled
An infant fibre, mid the fruitful mould
Of smiling Roussillon? or didst thou shrink
From the fierce footsteps of a warlike train,
Brother with brother fighting unto death,
At fair Rochelle?
Hast thou no tale for me?

Methought its broad leaves shivered in the gale,
With whispered words.
There was a gentle form,
A fair, young creature, who at twilight hour
Oft brought me water, and would kindly raise
My drooping head. Her eyes were dark and soft,
As the gazelle's, and well I knew her sigh
Was tremulous with love. For she had left
One in her own fair land, with whom her heart
From childhood had been twined.
Oft by her side,
What time the youngling moon went up the sky,
Chequering with silvery beam their woven bower;
He strove to win her to the faith he held,
Speaking of heresy with flashing eye,
Yet with such blandishment of tenderness,
As more than argument dissolveth doubt
With a young pupil, in the school of love.
Even then, sharp lightning quivered thro' the gloom
Of persecution's cloud, and soon its storm
Burst on the Huguenots.
Their churches fell,
Their pastors fed the dungeon, or the rack;
And mid each household-group, grim soldiers sat,
In frowning espionage, troubling the sleep
Of infant innocence.
Stern war burst forth,
And civil conflict on the soil of France
Wrought fearful things.
The peasant's blood was ploughed
In, with the wheat he planted, while from cliffs
That overhung the sea, from caves and dens
The hunted worshippers were madly driven,
Out 'neath the smiling sabbath skies, and slain,
The anthem on their tongues.
The coast was thronged
With hapless exiles, and that dark-haired maid,
Leading her little sister, in the steps
Of their afflicted parents, hasting left
The meal uneaten, and the table spread
In their sweet cottage, to return no more.
The lover held her to his heart, and prayed
That from her erring people she would turn
To the true fold of Christ, for so he deemed
That ancient Church, for which his breast was clad
In soldier's panoply.
But she, with tears
Like Niobe, a never-ceasing flood,
Drew her soft hand from his, and dared the deep.
And so, as years sped on, with patient brow
She bare the burdens of the wilderness,
His image, and an everlasting prayer
Within her soul.
And when she sank away,
As fades the lily when its day is done,
There was a deep-drawn sigh, and up-raised glance
Of earnest supplication, that the hearts
Severed so long, might join, where bigot zeal
Should find no place.
She hath a quiet bed
Beneath yon turf, and an unwritten name
On earth, which sister angels speak in heaven.

Vine of Roussillon! tell me other tales
Of that high-hearted race, who for the sake
Of conscience, made those western wilds their home?
How to their door the prowling savage stole,
Staining their hearth-stone with the blood of babes,
And as the Arab strikes his fragile tent
Making the desert lonely, how they left
Their infant Zion with a mournful heart
To seek a safer home?
Fain would I sit
Beside this ruined fort and muse of them,
Mingling their features with my humble verse,
Whom many of the noblest of our land
Claim as their honored sires.
On all who bear
Their name, or lineage, may their mantle rest,
That firmness for the truth, that calm content
With simple pleasures, that unswerving trust
In toil, adversity and death, which cast
Such healthful leaven mid the elements
That peopled this New World.

No comments:

Post a Comment