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Saxon Grit.

April 21, 2010


Read on “Forefathers’ Day,” December 22, 1879, at the banquet of the New England Society in New York, in response to the toast, “Saxon Grit.”

—Robert Collyer.

WORN with the battle, by Stamford town,
Fighting the Norman, by Hastings bay,
Harold, the Saxon’s, sun went down,
While the acorns were falling one autumn day.
Then the Norman said, “I am lord of the land;
By tenor of conquest here I sit;
I will rule you now with the iron hand;”
But he had not thought of the Saxon grit.
He took the land, and he took the men,
And burnt the homesteads from Humber to Tyne,
Made the freemen serfs by the stroke of his pen,
Eat up the corn, and drank the wine;
And said to the maiden pure and fair,
“Thou shalt be my leman, as is most fit,
Your Saxon churl may rot in his lair;”
But he had not measured the Saxon grit.
To the merry green-wood went bold Robin Hood,
With his strong-hearted yeomanry ripe for the fray,
Driving the arrow into the marrow
Of all the proud Normans who came in his way:
Scorning the fetter, fearless and free,
Winning by valour or foiling by wit,
Dear to our Saxon folk ever is he
That jolly old rogue with the Saxon grit.
And Kett the tanner whipt out his knife,
And Watt the Tyler his hammer brought down,
For ruth of the maid he loved better than life,
And by breaking a head made a hole in the crown.
From the Saxon heart rose a mighty roar,
“Our life shall not be by the King’s permit!
We will fight for the right—we want no more!”
Then the Norman found out the Saxon grit.
For slow and sure as the oaks had grown
From the acorns falling that autumn day,
So this Saxon manhood in thorpe and town
To a nobler stature grew alway.
Winning by inches, holding by clinches,
Standing by law and the human right,
Many times failing, never once quailing,
So the new day came out of the night.
Then rising afar-in the Western Sea,
A new world stood in the dawn of the day,
Ready to welcome the brave and free
Who could wrench out their heart and march away
From the narrow, contracted, dear old land,
Where the poor were held by a cruel bit,
To ampler spaces for heart and hand—
And here was a chance for the Saxon grit.
Steadily steering, eagerly peering,
Trusting in God your fathers came,
Pilgrims and strangers, fronting all dangers,
Cool-headed Saxons, with hearts aflame.
Bound by the letter, but free from the fetter,
And hiding their freedom in Holy Writ,
They gave Deuteronomy hints in economy,
But made a new Moses of Saxon grit.
They whittled and waded through forest and fen,
Fearless as ever of what might befall;
Pouring out life for the nurture of men;
In faith that by manhood the world wins all.
Inventing baked beans, and no end of machines;
Great with the rifle and great with the axe—
Sending their notions over the oceans,
To fill empty stomachs and straighten bent backs.
Swift to see chances that end in the dollar,
Yet open of hand when the dollar is made,
Maintaining the meeting, exalting the scholar,
But a little too anxious about a good trade;
This is young Jonathan, son of old John,
Positive, peaceable, firm in the right,
Saxon men all of us may we be one,
Steady for freedom and strong in her might.
Then, slow and sure, as the oaks have grown
From the acorns which fell on that old dim day,
So this Saxon manhood, in city and town,
To a nobler stature will grow alway;
Winning by inches, holding by clinches,
Slow to contention, but slower to quit,
Now and then failing, never once quailing,
Let us thank God for our Saxon grit!


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  1. Kett’s Rebellion « Democratic Thinker

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