Bunker Hill

(1775)

Upon hearing the news of the battle of Bunker Hill, Nathaniel Niles, a New England minister, wrote a stark broadside ballad called “The American Hero.” It urged Americans to be prepared to die for their freedom. Why should “vain mortals,” he asked, hesitate to act when their country was at stake? Niles’s poem was almost immediately set to music, and the song became known as “Bunker Hill.”

--Sheila Gaffney

Bunker Hill
by Nathaniel Niles

Why should vain mortals tremble at the sight of
Death and destruction in the field of battle,
Where blood and carnage, where blood and carnage,
Clothe the ground in crimson, sounding with death groans?

Now, Mars, I dare thee, clad in smoky pillars,
Bursting from bomb-shells, roaring from the cannon,
Rattling in grape shot, rattling in grape shot,
Like a storm of hailstones, torturing aether!

While all their hearts quick palpitate for havoc,
Let slip your bloodhounds, named the British lions,
Dauntless as death stares, dauntless as death stares,
Nimble as the whirlwind, dreadful as demons.

Life for my country, and the cause of freedom,
Is but a trifle for a worm to part with;
And if preserved, and if preserved
In so great a contest, life is redoubled.

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