Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > America
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX.  1876–79.
 
Introductory to Western States
Elsie in Illinois
Lucy Larcom (1826–1893)
 
“HOME is home, no matter where!”
Sang a happy, youthful pair,
Journeying westward, years ago,—
As they left the April snow
White on Massachusetts’ shore;        5
Left the sea’s incessant roar;
Left the Adirondacks, piled
Like the playthings of a child,
On the horizon’s eastern bound;
And, the unbroken forests found,        10
Heard Niagara’s sullen call,
Hurrying to his headlong fall,
Like a Titan in distress,
Tearing through the wilderness,
Rending earth apart, in hate        15
Of the unpitying hounds of fate.
 
Over Erie’s green expanse
Inland wildfowl weave their dance:
Lakes on lakes, a crystal chain,
Give the clear heaven back again;—        20
Wampum strung by Manitou,
Lightly as the beaded dew.
 
Is it wave, or is it shore?—
Greener gleams the prairie-floor,
West and south, one emerald;        25
Earth untenanted, unwalled.
There, a thread of silent joy,
Winds the grass-hid Illinois.
 
Bringing comfort unawares
Out of little daily cares,        30
Here has Elsie lived a year,
Learning well that home is dear,
By the green breadth measureless
Of the outside wilderness,
So unshadowed, so immense!        35
Garden without path or fence,
Rolling up its billowy bloom
To her low, one-windowed room.
 
Breath of prairie-flowers is sweet;
But the baby at her feet        40
Is the sweetest bud to her,
Keeping such a pleasant stir,
On the cabin hearth at play,
While his father turns the hay,
Loads the grain, or binds the stack,        45
Until sunset brings him back.
 
Elsie’s thoughts awake must keep,
While the baby lies asleep.
Far Niagara haunts her ears;
Mississippi’s rush she hears;        50
Ancient nurses twain, that croon
For her babe their mighty tune,
Lapped upon the prairies wild:
He will be a wondrous child!
 
Ah! but Elsie’s thoughts will stray        55
Where, a child, she used to play
In the shadow of the pines:
Moss and scarlet-berried vines
Carpeted the granite ledge,
Sloping to the brooklet’s edge,        60
Sweet with violets, blue and white;
While the dandelions, bright
As if Night had spilt her stars,
Shone beneath the meadow-bars.
 
Could she hold her babe, to look        65
In that merry, babbling brook,—
See it picturing his eye
As the violet’s blue and shy,—
See his dimpled fingers creep
Where the sweet-breathed Mayflowers peep        70
With pale pink anemones,
Out among the budding trees!—
On his soft cheek falls a tear
For the hillside home so dear.
 
At her household work she dreams;        75
And the endless prairie seems
Like a broad, unmeaning face
Read through in a moment’s space,
Where the smile so fixed is grown,
Better you would like a frown.        80
 
Elsie sighs, “We learn too late,
Little things are more than great.
Hearts like ours must daily be
Fed with some kind mystery,
Hidden in a rocky nook,        85
Whispered from a wayside brook,
Flashed on unexpecting eyes,
In a wingèd, swift surprise:
Small the pleasure is to trace
Boundlessness of commonplace.”        90
 
But the south-wind, stealing in,
Her to happier moods will win.
In and out the little gate
Creep wild roses delicate:
Fragrant grasses hint a tale        95
Of the blossomed intervale
Left behind, among the hills.
Every flower-cup mystery fills;
Every idle breeze goes by,
Burdened with life’s blissful sigh.        100
 
Elsie hums a thoughtful air;
Spreads the table, sets a chair
Where her husband firs t shall see
Baby laughing on her knee;
While she watches him afar,        105
Coming with the evening star
Through the prairie, through the sky,
Each as from eternity.
 
 
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