THOMAS KENNEDY (November 29, 1776 – October 18, 1832)
Ode to the Mammoth Cheese
Presented to Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, by the Inhabitants of
Cheshire, Massachusetts, January 1, 1802
Most excellent, far fam’d and far fetch’d Cheese!
Superior far in smell, taste, weight and size,
To any ever form’d ‘neath foreign skies,
And highly honor’d—thou wert made to please
The Man belov’d by all—but stop a trice,
Before he’s prais’d, I too must have a slice.
Rich too thou art, and pleasant though as large,
As any millstone, or a north-west moon;
To measure thee ‘twoud take an afternoon,
Few tables can support the ponderous charge;
Into what cupboard, Mammoth, can thou enter
And where’s the knife can cut thee to thy center.
‘Twould take a Gallatin to ascertain,
How many meals for Congress, clerks and all,
The supernumeries about their hall,
Thy spacious limits actually contain,
What number of Welsh rabbits thou wouldst make,
How many thousand loaves there’s cause to bake.
For centuries past in Europe—sometimes here,
Placemen were said to share the loaves and fishes,
(And where’s the man that for a share ne’er wishes?)
But now Americans have better cheer,
And to their worthy servants ‘stead of these,
They’ve wisely substituted Loaves and Cheese.
Cheese is the attendant of a new year’s day,
Cheese is the Blythmeat when a bairn is born,
Cheese—may these taste thee ne’er, who tasting scorn,
Cheese still proceeding from the milky way,
Is nature’s purest, plain and simple food,
Cheese is a luxury, when like this ‘tis good.
God bless the cheese—and kindly bless the makers,
The givers—generous—good, and sweet and fair,
And the receiver—great beyond compare,
All those who shall be happy as partakers,
O! may no traitor to his country’s cause
E’er have a bit of thee between his jaws.
Some folks may sneer, with envy in their smiles,
And with low wit, at ridicule endeavor,
Their sense and breeding’s shewn by their behavior,
Well let them use aristocratic wiles,
Do what they can, and say just what they please,
Rats love to nibble at good Cheshire cheese.
To others leaving wealth and place and pow’r,
I’ll to my home, and to my Harris hie,
Our wants are few, those industry supply,
All that we want, or wish for in life’s hour,
Heaven still will grant us—they are only these,
Poetry—health—peace—freedom—bread and Cheese.
GEORGE ALFRED TOWNSEND, aka GATH (January 30, 1841 – April 15, 1914)
The Senate sloths sit up tonight—
Dear Kitty come with me!
The crowded Capitol was bright,
Dark was our gallery;
They crowded me and Kitty so,
Her courage to assure
My arm around her waist I throw:
“The subject is Cloture.”
“How mad they get,” said Kitty soon,
“On matters so demure!
They rush upon each other close,
Is that not like Cloture?”
“No, This more like that thing occult”—
She cuddled up demure:
“I hope we’ll come to some result
And early pass Cloture.”
Nought did we hear that blessed night
Yet sat in perfect bliss;
When noise and wrath were at their height
Cloture concealed a kiss:
“Are you in favor of repeal!
I think ‘tis quite obscure.”
“Light up the subject with your lips!—
Dear Kitty, press Cloture!
“Why do we need so much Reserve?
I’m sure we are secure.
I think more faith would give them nerve,—
And therefore more Cloture.”
“Kitty, our circulation’s high,
This panic may endure,
And Legal Tender’s in my eye
If you but say Cloture?”
At panic prices we drove back,—
That Herdic tilted sure;
Kitty came sliding down the hack
And all went on cloture:
“I’ve changed my mind; ‘tis nice to wait,—
Engagements can endure.
But never let them close debate
While we can have Cloture.”
KELLY MILLER (July 18, 1863 – December 29, 1939)
I hate a cat. The very sight
Of feline form evokes my wrath;
When’er one goes across my path,
I shiver with instinctive fright.
And yet there is one little kit
I treat with tender kindliness
The fondled pet of my darling Bess:
For I love her and she loves it.
In earth beneath, as Heaven above,
It satisfies the reasoning,
That those who love the self-same thing
Must also one another love.
Then if our Father loveth all
Mankind, of every clime and hue,
Who loveth Him must love them too;
It cannot otherwise befall.
These three poems come from an essential and historic anthology: By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital, edited by Kim Roberts (University of Virginia Press, 2020)
Thomas Kennedy lived in the Georgetown neighborhood and served as a delegate from Washington County in the Maryland State legislature. He published Poems (1816) and Songs of Love and Liberty (1817). He is remembered by the Speaker’s Society of the Maryland House of Delegates, who present an annual Thomas Kennedy Award to recognize a former House member for “personal courage and dedication to the principle of liberty and freedom.” The Thomas Kennedy Center, in Hagerstown, MD, created a park and sculpture in his honor in 2018.
Kelly Miller was a professor and administrator at Howard University for more than 40 years, teaching math and sociology, and serving as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He wrote a syndicated column that was published in over 100 African American newspapers in the 1920s and 30s. His books include The Education of the Negro (1902), From Servitude to Service (1905), Race Adjustment (1908), The Ultimate Race Problem (1910), Out of the House of Bondage (1914), An Appeal to Conscience (1918), The Negro in the New Reconstruction (1919), and Is Race Difference Fundamental, Eternal and Inescapable? (1921). Miller was coeditor of the Crisis, the journal of the NAACP. He is remembered in DC with a public housing development in the LeDroit Park neighborhood and a DC public middle school named in his honor.
Kim Roberts is the editor of the anthology By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of our Nation’s Capital (University of Virginia Press, 2020), selected by the East Coast Centers for the Book for the 2021 Route 1 Reads program as the book that “best illuminates important aspects” of the culture of Washington, DC. She is the author of A Literary Guide to Washington, DC: Walking in the Footsteps of American Writers from Francis Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston (University of Virginia Press, 2018), and five books of poems, most recently The Scientific Method (WordTech Editions, 2017). http://www.kimroberts.org
George Alfred Townsend was a journalist for the Philadelphia Enquirer, New York Herald, New York World, Chicago Tribune, New York Graphic, and The Capital. He is best remembered as a correspondent who covered the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He published books of nonfiction, novels, short stories, a memoir, and poems, including The Life, Crime, and Capture of John Wilkes Booth (1865), Tales of the Chesapeake (1880), Poetical Addresses of George Alfred Townsend (1881), The Entailed Hat (1884), Campaigns of a Non-Combatant (1886), Katy of Catoctin (1887), and Poems of Men and Events (1899).