William Aspinwall Bradley: Men of Harlan

Updated September 23, 2019 | Infoplease Staff

Men of Harlan

William Aspinwall Bradley

Here in the level country, where the creeks run straight and wide,
Six men upon their pacing nags may travel side by side.
But the mountain men of Harlan, you may tell them all the while,
When they pass through our village, for they ride in single file.
And the children, when they see them, stop their play and stand and cry,
"Here come the men of Harlan, men of Harlan, riding by!"
O the mountain men of Harlan, when they come down to the plain,
With dangling stirrup, jangling spur, and loosely hanging rein,
They do not ride, like our folks here, in twos and threes abreast,
With merry laughter, talk and song, and lightly spoken jest;
But silently and solemnly, in long and straggling line,
As you may see them in the hills, beyond Big Black and Pine.
For, in that far strange country, where the men of Harlan dwell,
There are no roads at all, like ours, as we've heard travelers tell.
But only narrow trails that wind along each shallow creek,
Where the silence hangs so heavy, you can hear the leathers squeak.
And there no two can ride abreast, but each alone must go,
Picking his way as best he may, with careful steps and slow,
Down many a shelving ledge of shale, skirting the trembling sands,
Through many a pool and many a pass, where the mountain laurel stands
So thick and close to left and right, with holly bushes, too,
The clinging branches meet midway to bar the passage through, —
O'er many a steep and stony ridge, o'er many a high divide,
And so it is the Harlan men thus one by one do ride.
Yet it is strange to see them pass in line through our wide street,
When they come down to sell their sang, and buy their stores of meat,
These silent men, in sombre black, all clad from foot to head,
Though they have left their lonely hills and the narrow creek's rough bed.
And 't is no wonder children stop their play and stand and cry:
"Here come the men of Harlan, men of Harlan, riding by."
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