“To the English Gipsies”, Abraham Lincoln

Rough swarthy Gipsy folk,
Would that my voice could once forget to falter,
And sing a song as free as swallows’ wings
Of ancient Gipsies, and their “dukes” and “kings,”
The men who braved the branding-rod and halter,
Because like birds they nimbly came and went,
And loved the stars and road, and crouching tent
Beneath a grove of oak.

In ages long ago
The Brahman priests pursued you with their curses,
Because you found life sweeter at the core
Without the mumbling of their magic lore.
And you have lived to see their Sanskrit verses
Fall dead; and Brahmans, like mere Romany,
Now tempt their gods by trusting to the sea,
Though trembling while they go.

Then hardened against fear
You looted caravans of gold-shot dresses
And gems upon their way to bright Baghdad,
And drove the Moslem Khalif rampant mad,
When pearls culled from the ocean for the tresses
Of his Circassian, in your pouches fell,
As trifles to adorn the dusky shell
Of some black virgin’s ear.

Next Greece and Thessaly
Became the home of many a jocund roamer,
Who gaily danced, or begged with mien forlorn,
And patched his Indian speech where it was torn
With remnants from Demosthenes and Homer,
Until you struck your blackened tents again
And tattered pageants crossed the endless plain
Of fertile Hungary.

’Tis even said you planned
To trick the Pope with penitential moaning,
And gained his leave to wander seven years
Towards the melancholy North, with tears
The sin of feigned apostasy atoning:
Thus fortified against enquiring foes,
You, with the budding of the Tudor rose,
Alighted on our land.

Who says it was not good
To see your handkerchiefs of red and yellow,
And silver rings and basket-laden carts,
And hear the honey-lipped prophetic arts
Of wheedling witches, or a clean-limbed fellow
Who fiddled by the hedgerow in the smoke,
And roused the antique Gipsy song that woke
The silence of the wood?

Now that your blood must fail,
What artist soul revengefully remembers
You raided the domain of chanticleer,
Or deftly poisoned pigs to swell your cheer
Of hedgehogs cooked in clay amid the embers?
Who says you sometimes wedded art to force,
Or made the worse appear the better horse
Before a coming sale?

You soon will pass away;
Laid one by one below the village steeple
You face the East from which your fathers sprang,
Or sleep in moorland turf, beyond the clang
Of towns and fairs; your tribes have joined the people
Whom no true Romany will call by name,
The folk departed like the camp-fire flame
Of withered yesterday

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