The Wayfarer’s Song, Installment 10

November 14, 2014

An Experiment in point of view.

Thomas Paine (1737-1804) arrived in America from England in 1774. He was a radical pamphleteer who furiously attacked Christianity. Paine, a great man and friend of wayfarers, asserted in his famous pamphlet Common Sense (1776) that “Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never the means of riches; and though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitous poor, it generally makes him too timorous to become wealthy.” Sometimes I hum the tune to Paine’s “The Liberty Tree” (1775) when the Spirit moves me:

In a chariot of light from the regions of day,

   The Goddess of Liberty came;

Ten thousand celestials directed the way

   And hither conducted the dame.

 

A fair budding branch from the gardens above,

   Where millions with millions agree,

She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,

   And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

 

The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground,

   Like a native it flourished and bore;

The fame of its fruit drew nations around,

   To seek out this peaceable shore.

 

Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,

   For freemen like brothers agree;

With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,

   And their temple was Liberty Tree.

 

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,

   Their bread in contentment they ate

Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,

   The cares of the grand and the great.

 

With timber and tar they Old England supplied,

   And supported her power on the sea;

Her battles they fought, with getting a groat,

   For the honor of Liberty Tree.

 

But hear, O ye swains, ‘tis a tale most profane,

   How all the tyrannical powers,

Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,

    To cut down this guardian of ours;

 

From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,

   Though the land let the sound of it flee,

Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,

   In defense of our Liberty Tree.

Likewise, his The Rights of Man is sung to a traditional melody. I’ve played it on the fiddle for little Lotta to dance to; the Irish in the camps hear it and stamp their feet in solidarity. For those who march for peace, The Rights of Consciousness goes great with a fife tune – though it is mighty pretty heard on a dulcimer play by a lady in hoops. Now Issachar Bates (1758-1837) was a conundrum. A patriot, he became a pacifist; a father of nine children, he embraced celibacy. Brother Issacher was an arresting pacifist – he had misgivings about serving in any war; music became his ticket to a broader world. I learned a lot from his legend. Bates witnessed a sign of wonder in skies above New England in 1769 before the Revolution. It was like the day when God made the sun stand still in the midst of heaven for Joshua. A sign of God’s protection in an imminent battle, a peculiar dark cloud gathered and remained motionless and suspended in the skies over Massachusetts for a day before moving over a town where it swelled, looking black and fierce. The cloud began to roar and bellow, blow and thunder, vomiting smoke and fire and raging like Aetna in a thousand flames in a day that was like no other for New Englanders before it or after it. When he became a Shaker, Brother Issacher shook off soldiers’ pensions offered, and never fought in any other war.

Time is like a bubble floating on the main;

   Puff’d with joy or trouble, bursts and forms again,

On high waves a fleeting, takes its windy race;

   Down ‘tis next retreating takes the lowest place.

So in all my notions tossing up and down,

   Puff’d with various notions, how I’ll win the crown.

Time will still be fleeting, rifles all my plans;

   I am sick of fleeting, let my days be few,

I’ll in my last retreating, bid old time adieu.

Source: Carol Medicott. Issacher Bates: A Shaker’s Journey. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2013.

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