Posts Tagged With: Edgar Allan Poe

Log #56: Poe and Pennsylvania Dutch

Log

10 September 2011

We have hiked many miles today, perhaps ten or twelve as the crow flies and half again as many around curves and over hills, before MacManus’s leg gave out. Brave man, to make that distance without complaint. The roads are as magnificent as all Americalish roads I have seen, which serves to make the miles slip by with greater ease than would the same distance on what passes for Irish roads, all mud and sharp stones.

Brother Bob was of the belief that we should not be on foot at all this day; we followed a wide black-stoned road, the which he said was an inter-state highway, and for much of it, Bob walked with his hand outthrust, with fist clenched and thumb prominently upraised. He called this “hitching a ride,” and claimed that beast-wagons would stop for us to embark and travel in speed and comfort within their steel bellies.

But the miles and the sun crossing the sky proved him wrong. Thousands of beast-wagons – perhaps ten thousands – passed us by, and nary a one slowed. My mates and I were unsurprised, as we do not share Brother Bob’s unflagging faith in the goodness of life, and of our fellow men

Ah, well. Tomorrow is another day. Who can say what Providence has in store? Perhaps we will hitch a ride. And if not – another fifteen miles toward our goal.

 

11 September 2011

This day was, it seems, a sad day for America; ’twas the tenth year passed since a terrible attack slaughtered thousands in a single day. Hearing of this put me in mind of Drogheda, and my mother and her kin who suffered so at the hands of Devil Cromwell and his Puritan savages – savages like my father. Brother Bob was most solemn this day. We had made camp on a soft green sward some few hundred paces away from the highway, beyond a hedgerow; when we woke with the dawn, we found that we lay within sight of a graveyard, which had been impossible to discern in the dim light of the night before. We Irish were confused that no church nor kirk stood guard over the graves, but we did not pose our curiosity to Bob: he had already bowed his head and was praying, facing a tall pole that bore the flag of this nation – a field of white and crimson stripes with a starred blue field atop it, in colors derived from the British flag, it seems. When Bob finished his prayer, he told us that the day was one of mourning for his nation, and as we broke our fast and began our journey once more, he told us of the attack: it seems the enemy stole air-planes, the same sort that Meredith Vance pilots, and drove them into buildings filled with people. There were great explosions – I must assume the air-planes were armed, and the collision struck off the powder rooms – and the buildings collapsed, like Jericho’s walls at Joshua’s trump, thus ending thousands of lives. These air-planes are a terrible weapon, it would seem. Now I imagine them as ships-of-the-line, but borne on the wind, rather than on the waves. It shudders me to imagine one such stooping down on my Grace from above, a falcon o’er a mere mouse, talons stretched and reaching, and a death-cry tearing from its throat. Terrible.

Though a sad day for this nation, it was a happier day for us: a man stopped and hitched us a ride. We made as many miles today in the back of his beast-wagon (And this one was properly wagon-shaped, with a covered bench in front and a high-sided bed behind for carrying goods) as we did all of yesterday, and he carried us for but half an hour or so. A kind man, he sat on the covered bench with Brother Bob while we three scalawags rode behind, the wind of our passing forcing us to silence, which merely allowed us to appreciate the sights of the countryside. It is a lovely land, here, green and verdant as home. I find the roads to be somewhat of an imposition on the greenery, though perhaps that is simply that I am unused to seeing their broad black expanse, far more apparent to the eyes than a dirt track would be. The driver, Bob told us later, was a veteran of an Americalish war, as Brother Bob himself was; that was the reason for the man’s stopping to retrieve us on this day, a day when, Bob said, people of America come together to help and succour one another. A happy outcome of an old tragedy. Would that the Irish had the same spirit, but our divisions go back through far too many centuries for the suffering caused by Cromwell to heal it. I find myself admiring these Americalish their patriot’s hearts.

Our kind Americalish patriot took us into the city of Baltimore, another of the great cities of this nation. I would write of its wonders, but what can I say that I have not said of Washington? Baltimore is large. It has too many buildings, and too many people. There are not enough trees. All the land, all the life, is crushed under stone and metal and glass and the feet of men. The ocean is near enough to smell on the air, but the smell is blocked by the stink of the city’s beast-wagons. Though I will freely admit that the scent of these Americalish cities is far kinder to the nose than London-town, which smells of nothing but sewage and rotting waste, for many and many a mile. The beast-wagons, as bad as their effluvia is, are better than that.

We have found lodging as we found it the night before we left Washington: in a hostel, what would be called a hospital, a place for sheltering the indigent and desperate, supervised by a religious order. We have offered our labor, and were rewarded with a meal and a place to sleep, the which we now mean to enjoy.

 

12th September

We have walked out of Baltimore and back into the countryside today, and I am happy to say it. I do not like these cities. So many people should not exist in one place. I felt the same of London, when I visited – I could not depart fast enough. Even the fields and forests and mountains of this land feel the footsteps of more people than I would wish, but then they are not my fields, nor my people. I do wish them joy of their land and their prodigious legions of fellows. I only want to return to my ship.

Brother Bob made me a present this day. During our passage through Baltimore, we saw many and many a sign or a graven image, a statue or a shop, which made reference to someone named Poe; when I inquired of Bob as to this Poe and his great fame in the city of Baltimore, Bob was shocked to hear that I had no knowledge of him. He bought me a book, filled with poems by Edgar Allan Poe. I mean to read myself to sleep this night, and I am pleased by it.

 

Later

I understand now why this Poe is so revered in the city of his birth. What brilliance! I have not known the like, not since the great poems of old, the ones my mother told me, and my uncles sang to me at night, under Irish stars. But this – here, I will copy it here.

 

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were; I have not seen

As others saw; I could not bring

My passions from a common spring.

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow; I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone;

And all I loved, I loved alone.

Then- in my childhood, in the dawn

Of a most stormy life- was drawn

From every depth of good and ill

The mystery which binds me still:

From the torrent, or the fountain,

From the red cliff of the mountain,

From the sun that round me rolled

In its autumn tint of gold,

From the lightning in the sky

As it passed me flying by,

From the thunder and the storm,

And the cloud that took the form

(When the rest of Heaven was blue)

Of a demon in my view.

 

This man has known what I see when I look out on this land. Indeed, when I think on it, I may very well have felt this for the whole of my life. Gods. And it is titled “Alone.” Aye. Aye, ’tis the gods’ own truth, it is.

I wonder if this Poe was a man out of his own time, as am I. Perhaps if not one in fact, he was such in spirit. I would pity him, if he were not already in the peace of the grave, and myself still alive to suffer here.

I must read more.

 

13th September

I slept but little, this past night, and we walked many miles today – still no rides hitched to us. I must sleep.

 

14th September

No rides. More miles. Nothing to report. I am weary.

 

15th September

We have reached the outskirts of yet another city – Wilmington, this one is called, in the land of Delaware. Sweet mother of Christ, how bloody many of these Americalish are there? Where do they get the food to sustain these people? We have passed through farmland, for most of the miles that have not been drowned in buildings and cities and people – but surely they could not grow sufficient wheat for this many. Millions. Brother Bob said there are millions along this coast, what he calls the East Coast – which only tells me this land has a West Coast, perhaps with millions more. Damn me, there are not enough fish in the sea to feed this many. This is the entire world, in but one land!

I found myself growing desperate for something that is familiar, something from home. I would speak to my traveling companions, but I fear we have spent too long in each others’ pockets, and too many miles have rubbed us raw against one another. Our tempers are short, and the very sound of our voices sure to set them aflame, regardless of what is said. So I could not ask them to ease my home-sickness, nor keep fond company with me – and Brother Bob, of course, though his cheer is unfailing (and all the more irritating for that, as our spirits have descended), does not make me feel of home. So as the sun touched the horizon and we called a stop to this day’s slog, I used a telephone Lynch spotted for me to call the number that connects me to the Grace. It took several attempts, spread over the next hour or two, while we earned our night’s lodging in yet another shelter (I am correct: there are simply too many people here. The land cannot sustain them all, and some must rely on the charity of others to survive. Why have they not realized this? The answer, after all, is simple: they must leave. Take up sail, take up service in the army of one nation or another – go out and seek fortune in this wide world. Find a place where there are fewer people, who thus have more to eat. It is foolish to stay somewhere you must live like these people live. But then, I have ever thought the same when I do see beggars on the streets of cities who are neither halt nor lame nor plagued. I simply extend this query to people who must live in this place, with so many, many neighbors.), but at last, a voice answered, and when I requested Llewellyn Vaughn, soon brought that fine man to speak with me.

My heart was eased almost at once, though Vaughn’s tidings soon brought some worry back to my poor belabored mind. At the first, I confided in my friend that the miles and miles of people and people were wearing on me heavily; he quickly confirmed that the same darkness was gathering about the hearts of the men on board; New York, he told me, was larger and more populous than any place he would dare to imagine – it sounds of Washington, again. How can this be? How can there be two such cities in one land, a mere few hundreds of miles separated one from the other? With Baltimore, and Wilmington, in between, and who knows how many more?

We then moved on to happier tidings: the ship has been repaired, as the men found a source of wealth which bought them materials and men to apply them. They stand ready to sail, the very minute that we three do arrive. Ah! I am ready to be there now. My feet ache to stand on her boards, my eyes ache to see her lines. My heart aches for my Grace.

At the end, Vaughn did tell me that he was beginning to grow uneasy: the money they had was largely spent on the repairs and on reprovisioning for the voyage; their daily upkeep, though it was largely defrayed by the kindness shown them by their piermates – it seems my men have done some good turns for the ships docked alongside the Grace, and have received friendship and assistance in return – it will begin to grow too dear. I was right: there are not enough fish in the ocean for all of these people, and my men cannot draw any food from the waves, not without going for a cruise – and our experiences at sea have shown that this is no small matter. Vaughn and Ian do not want to weigh anchor without my presence; and so they wait; but Vaughn urged me to all haste in our trek.

We must move faster. For my men, and for our own sanity. MacManus and Lynch have just nearly come to blows over which should have the bunk closest to the door – Lynch claiming he was the more alert, with better hearing and faster reflexes, and MacManus opining that Lynch could do naught but awaken a better man to defend us, should any hazard approach; ’twas then that I set down my pen and separated the two, pointing out that there was potential danger all around, and we would all have to be alert and ready to defend, and then forcing a concession from Shane as to Lynch’s value in a fight, the which he grudgingly gave with a sigh and a curse. My ship needs me, and we all need her.

We must move faster.

 

17th September

Ha! Now we will move faster.

We left Wilmington and soon crossed into the land of Pennsylvania. Lovely countryside, it was thereabouts; farmland and field, woods and rivers – beautiful and green and alive. Most refreshing to be away from so much city – though Brother Bob tells us we will soon reach yet another great city, of a size proportionate to Washington and New York, called Philadelphia; my men and I can only shake our heads and wonder. City of Brotherly Love, is the meaning of that name in the Latin; methinks there is too much brotherly love in this land, and too many brothers.

But before we reached that place of stone and metal and men, we passed by some farms that sent our hearts winging back to our home: for we saw men swinging scythes, and women in bonnets, and horses drawing plows, and not a beast-wagon anywhere about. We expressed wonder to Brother Bob, who told us that we were then passing through Amish country: the Pennsylvania Dutch, he called them, though apparently there are several different such groups hereabouts, and he was not sure which these were. Still: these are people who have kept to the old ways, and done themselves and their land honor thereby.

More importantly, for our needs, these people use a conveyance with which my men and I are very familiar. They drive wagons – wooden wagons, drawn by actual horses. And when stopped on the road by a kindly hail, and then threatened with pistolas drawn, they do not fight back. Hah! ‘Twas the simplest highwayman’s work imaginable – the two young men, little more than Lynch’s age, slowed as they came near, and stopped when we hailed them; I saw our chance, and so I stepped up, took hold of the reins of their team, and shouted out to my men, who were quick to draw their weapons – and that was that. No resistance at all, simply a bit of Christian disapproval of our actions, a sentiment heartily and repeatedly echoed by Brother Bob, who, I fear, did not realize he was in the company of pirates. But his scruples bother me not at all: I am a pirate. I did need a means of travel faster and easier than my own feet, which have worn through the shoes I purchased in Charleston. They had such means; I took it. I have told Brother Bob that he may leave us at any time, or he may accompany us to the end of our road, at which point he may take this wagon and team back to their owners, if such is his will; I will have no more need of them, once we reach my ship. He has begrudgingly accepted this plan. I have given MacManus orders to keep an eye on him, between now and then. If he causes trouble, he will find himself afoot, and lucky if he is not stripped and bound first. I do not wish for that; I am fond of Brother Bob, who is a fine and kind man and a good road companion. But nothing will keep me from my ship.

Now, thanks to the Amish, we have a wagon, and a fine matched team to draw them. Now we will see how quickly we can reach New York.

I only hope there will not be too many cities between here and there.

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