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)

Song

I saw her once—her eye’s deep light
Fell on my spirit’s deeper night,
     The only beam that e’er illumed
Its shadows drear. The glance was slight,
     But oh, what softness it assumed!

I saw her twice—her glance again
Lit up its fire within my brain;
     My thoughts leaped up, like lightning warm,
And felt a sweetness mixed with pain,
     While gath’ring wildly round her form.

I saw her thrice—she was alone,
And her deep glance more deeply shone
     Upon my heart with rapture chained,
The thrill was a meteor thrown
     Athwart some sky where darkness reigned!

I saw her yet again—and clear,
But low, her rich tones met my ear;
     They wandered thro’ my bosom sad,
As waters thro’ a woodland sere,
     That make decay itself seem glad.

The fifth time I saw her—and still
She taught my quiv’ring heart to thrill,
     Like some wild hand upon a lyre,
That’s borne along, without its will,
     Across the strings of magic fire!

I saw her oft again—, each hour
Enhanced o’er me her conquering power;
     Her image in my thought became
A spirit-planted, fadeless flower;
     And all my music was her name!

I loved the earth on which she trod—
More beautiful than if a God
     Had placed immortal foot-prints there!
I loved the world, though dark its load
     Of ills, because she breathed its air!

I loved her slightest careless word—
More sweet than matin of the bird
     That scales the Heaven on mounting wing!
It through my maddened pulses stirred,
     As though it were a living thing.

Oh, that ’rapt heart’s forever gone,
That boweth once to Beauty’s throne,
     And feels the bliss her looks inspire;
For, oh, the seeds of death are sown,
     When love assumes its mad empire!

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

Hail solitary star!
That shinest from thy far blue height,
And overlookest Earth
And Heaven, companionless in light!
The rays around thy brow
Are an eternal wreath for thee;
Yet thou’rt not proud, like man,
Though thy broad mirror is the sea,
And thy calm home eternity!

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

poem

Come to the river’s side, my love,
     My light canoe is by the shore,—
We’ll float upon the tide my love,
     And thou shalt hold the dripping oar.

Methinks thy hand could guide so well
     The tiny vessel on its course;
The waves would smooth their crests to thee