Phillip Freneau wrote this piece in 1785. It first talks about the emigration from Europe to America and then from the East Coast of America to the West.
To western woods, and lonely plains,
Palemon from the crowd departs,
Where Nature’s wildest genius reigns,
To tame the soil, and plant the arts–
What wonders there shall freedom show,
What might states successive grow!
This man sets forth from the throng of Europe to go dwell in the frontiers, in the west of the United States. He goes so that he can make something of himself. He goes for agriculture, to see what he can grow and how he can grow.
From Europe’s proud, despotic shores
Hither the stranger takes his way,
And in our new found world explores
A happier soil, a milder sway,
Where no proud despot holds him down,
No slaves insult him with a crown.
Our man comes from Europe where no tyrrany can touch him. No kings and crowns will own him in this land of hope and peace and optimism.
What charming scenes attract the eye,
On wild Ohio’s savage stream!
There Nature reigns, whose works outvie
The boldest pattern art can frame;
There ages past have rolled away,
And forests bloomed but to decay.
And when he is in the nature of the west world falls away to the beauty of Nature. It is timeless and alive.
From these fair plains, these rural seats,
So long concealed, so lately known,
The unsocial Indian far retreats,
To make some other clime his own,
When other streams, less pleasing flow,
And darker forests round him grow.
The indians flee from the pioneer to go off somewhere, but the needs no men to forge his destiny, our man can build his life here if he wants.
Great Sire of floods! whose varied wave
Through climes and countries take its way,
To whom creating Nature gave
Ten thousand streams to swell thy sway!
No longer shall they useless prove,
Nor idly through the forests rove;
He addresses God telling him that now that he, man, is here. He will use the land that God has provided for him. No longer will it stand idly by waiting for man to make something of it. Man is here and he wall be a steward of God’s creation as is his natural calling.
Nor longer shall your princely flood
From distant lakes be swelled in vain,
Nor longer through a darksome wood
Advance, unnoticed to the main,
Far other ends, the heavens decree–
And commerce plans new freights for thee.
God he calls again. Your works, will not be for naught. I am here to witness your nature and to be within it and with it.
While virtue warms the generous breast,
There heaven-born freedom shall reside,
Nor shall the voice of war molest,
Nor Europe’s all-aspiring pride–
There Reason shall new laws devise,
And order from confusion rise.
And God! He calls a third time, I shall find true freedom in your work! I won’t heed and feel the tide of European wars. Out here in the west it will be man and nature and that is all it will be, as it is intended to be.
Forsaking kings and regal state,
With all their pomp and fancied bliss,
The traveller owns, convinced though late,
No realm so free, so blest as this–
The east is half to slaves consigned,
Where kings and priests enchain the mind.
The man will care not for kings or government. They are bloated and gorged in bureacracy. Here in nature it is free, it is pure. The east is enslaving itself to man, men who claim to speak with God’s voice. But here in the nature, here in the west man can truly commune with God.
In summary this poem is about a man who leaves both Europe and the Eastern United States for the west. The east is too much for him, he doesn’t want to live under the rules of king and government, he wants to live freely. And when he is in the west, he sees God’s wonder and God’s creation and can’t help knowing that this is where he is meant to be, that this is where man can truly find God. In nature is where man should be fulfilling his original purpose, to be a steward of God’s creation.