poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

John Rollin Ridge was born on March 19, 1827, in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia. When Ridge was a child, his father and grandfather, both influential figures in the Cherokee Nation, decided to give up Cherokee lands and go west. Responding to federal pressure over the land, the Ridges and some other prominent Cherokees signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota and thus became part of what was called the “Treaty Party,” which caused tension with Cherokee leader John Ross and a large portion of the Cherokee tribe. Ross and his faction opposed giving up Cherokee lands and viewed the Treaty Party as traitors for doing so.

From 1836 to 1837 the Ridges, having sold their Georgia holdings, traveled west, ahead of the forced removal of the rest of the Cherokee people that would lead to the Trail of Tears. In 1839, the conflict between the two Cherokee factions rose to a climax when a group from the antitreaty faction murdered Ridge’s father at their own home. That same night the faction also murdered Ridge’s grandfather and cousin, and the rest of the family fled to Arkansas.

From 1843 to 1845, Ridge studied at Great Barrington Academy in Massachusetts, where he studied Latin, Greek, and classical literature. Ridge went on to study law, but after killing a member of the rival Cherokee party in 1849, he fled to Missouri but left again the following year for a life in California, where he joined the gold rush but ultimately began his career as a noted newspaper editor and journalist.

In 1854, Ridge, who published under the name Yellow Bird (the English translation of his Cherokee name Chees-quat-a-law-ny), published The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (W. B. Cooke and Co.), which became the first English novel written by a Native American writer.

After the Civil War, in the late 1860s, Ridge joined the Southern Cherokee party in Washington, D.C., to renegotiate with the federal government regarding the return of Cherokee lands.

Ridge spent the rest of his life in California, where he worked as editor of The Daily National until his death. Ridge died on October 5, 1867. In 1869, his wife posthumously published his Poems (Henry Payot & Company, 1868). 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Poems (Henry Payot & Company, 1868)

My Harp

Oh must I fling my harp aside,
     Nor longer let it soothe my heart?
No! sooner might the tender bride
     From th’ first night’s nuptial chamber part!
No! sooner might the warrior cast
     His martial plume of glory down,
Or worshipt monarch fling in dust
     His royal sceptre and his crown!

Must all that ever smoothed my way
     Along the tedious path of time,
Or kept me for some glimpse of day,
     Or held my desperate hand from crime;
Must all, that I have loved so dear,
     When every other source of joy
Had fled, be careless thrown away
     As if it were some idle toy?

Oh no—that harp may all be rough
     And grating to another’s ear—
So let it be—it is enough
     That unto me it still is dear!
If, in the silent midnight, I
     Have oft my weeping heart beguiled,—
If oft when gloom surrounded me,
     My spirit o’er its strains have smiled.

It were a folly strange indeed
     To cast that solace from my breast!
It were but wishing yet to bleed
     Without one certain place of rest;
It were to drink the bitterest gall,
     To add but poison to a wound,
And find new pangs of sorrowing
     Where hitherto they were not found.

It were to plunge within the deep
     Of wilderness and night—where grope
Worse ills than e’er disturbed the sleep
     Of minds forsook of peace and hope!
Oh, tell me not to spurn this harp,
     Although it may not be divine,
For thou hast felt no pangs, as I,
     And my sad soul’s unlike to thine.

’Tis sweet, when mournfulness enshrouds
     The spirit sorrowing and pale,
And gather round the angry clouds,
     To take the harp and tune its wail.
’Tis sweet, when calmly broods the night,
     To wander forth where waters roll,
And, mingling with the waves its voice,
     To rouse the passions of the soul!

Then, off with ye! who coldly tell
     Me my loved harp to fling away—
I’d rather bid all friends farewell,
     Than have the folly to obey!
For friends are but a fleeting trust,
     As transient as the evening’s blush;
But, true to me in all my moods,
     My harp shall ne’er its soothings hush!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

John Rollin Ridge

John Rollin Ridge was the author of The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (W. B. Cooke and Co., 1854), which became the first English novel written by a Native American writer, and Poems (Henry Payot & Company, 1868).

by this poet

poem

I look upon the purple hills
     That rise in steps to yonder peaks,
And all my soul their silence thrills
     And to my heart their beauty speaks.

What now to me the jars of life,
     Its petty cares, its harder throes?
The hills are free from toil and strife,
     And

poem

I cast a backward look—how changed
       The scenes of other days!
I walk, a wearied man, estranged
       From youth’s delightful ways.
There in the distance rolleth yet
       That stream whose waves my
Boyish bosom oft has met,
       When pleasure lit mine eye.
It

poem

     Behold the dread Mt. Shasta, where it stands
Imperial midst the lesser heights, and, like
Some mighty unimpassioned mind, companionless
And cold. The storms of Heaven may beat in wrath
Against it, but it stands in unpolluted
Grandeur still; and from the rolling mists upheaves
Its