Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Saxon Grit

R OBERT COLLYER, the author of this poem, read it at the New England dinner on December 22, 1879, given in commemoration of the Landing of the Pilgrims. It tells of the strength of the Saxon race, and traces the ancestry of Brother Jonathan in America back through the stirring history of England.

First was Harold, the last Saxon king in England. He succeeded Edward the Confessor on the throne in 1066, but William, Duke of Normandy, disputed his claim, and invaded England with a great army in September of that year. Harold was in the north, fighting invaders from Norway. He won the battle of Stamford Bridge, in Yorkshire, and turned south to meet William. At the battle of Hastings the English army was overwhelmingly defeated, and Harold killed. William the Conqueror became king, and united the Norman race with the Saxon.

Later came Robin Hood, the native outlaw hero, who lived in Sherwood Forest, and with his band of merry men made war on proud Norman nobles who came his way. He is supposed to have lived in the twelfth century, and was as friendly to the poor and oppressed as he was hostile to the rich and powerful.

Afterwards Ket, the tanner, and Wat Tyler, the smith, both Saxons, led revolts against tyranny. Wat marched on London in 1381, when Richard II was king, and although his revolt failed at the time, it helped to improve the lot of the English peasants. Ket's rising came much later, in the days when Henry VIII reigned.

So the Saxon fight for liberty went on through the ages, and Saxon grit led the Pilgrims to cross the sea and make a new home for freedom in the western world. Thus it is that "Brother Jonathan," the son of old "John Bull," has much the same qualities to-day that belonged to Harold, and Robin Hood, Ket and Wat, and all the Saxon blood.

Saxon Grit

by 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.

* * * * * *

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 valor, or foiling by wit,

Dear to our Saxon folk ever is he,

This merry old rogue with the Saxon grit.

And Ket, the tanner, whipped out his knife,

And Wat, the smith, 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 oak had grown

From the acorns falling that autumn day,

So the 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 morn of the day,

Ready to welcome the brave and the free,

Who could wrench out the heart and march away

From the narrow, contracted, dear old land,

Where the poor are 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,

And 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 take chances that end in the dollar,

Yet open of hand when the dollar is made,

Maintaining the "meetin'," 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 that fell on that autumn day,

So this new manhood in city and town,

To a nobler stature will grow alway;

Winning by inches, holding by clinches,

Slow to contention, and slower to quit,

Now and then failing, never once quailing,

Let us thank God for the Saxon grit.

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