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.
 
Western States: Memphis, Tenn.
Memphis
John Townsend Trowbridge (1827–1916)
 
(From Guy Vernon)

AT last he seemed to lose it altogether
  Upon the Mississippi; where he stayed
His course at Memphis, undecided whether
  He should go back or forward. Here he strayed
  One afternoon along the esplanade        5
And high bluff of the river-fronting town,
To watch the boats and see the sun go down.
 
The lyric fit had left him; but the sight
  Of the strong river sweeping vast and slow,
Gleaming far off, a flood of crimson light;        10
  And, darkly hung between it and the glow
  Of a most lovely sunset sky, the low,
Interminable forests of Arkansas,
Might have inspired some very pretty stanzas.
 
The esplanade looks down upon the landing,        15
  A broadly shelving bank, well trodden and bare,
Called by a singular misunderstanding
  The levee,—while there is no levee there;
  The famous landing at New Orleans, where
There is one, having fixed the name forever        20
For that and other landings on the river.
 
Acres of merchandise, of cotton-bales,
  And bales of hay, awaiting transportation;
Ploughs, household goods, and kegs of rum or nails,
  Endless supplies for village and plantation,        25
  Enclosed a scene of wondrous animation,
Of outcry and apparent wild confusion
Contrasting with the sunset’s soft illusion;—
 
The steamers lying broadside to the stream,
  With delicately pillared decks, the clang        30
Of bells, the uproar of escaping steam;
  There, tugging at some heavy rope, the gang
  Of slaves that all together swayed and sang,
Their voices rising in a wild, rich chime,
To which lithe forms and lithe black arms kept time;        35
 
The shouts of negro-drivers, droves of mules,
  Driven in their turn by madly yelling blacks;
Chairs, tables, kitchen-ware and farming-tools,
  Carts, wagons, barrels, boxes, bales, and sacks,
  Pushed, hauled, rolled, tumbled, tossed, or borne on backs        40
Of files of men, across the ways of plank
Between the loading steamers and the bank!
 
Then as the sunlight faded from the stream,
  And deepening shadows cooled the upper air,
The waves were lighted by the lurid gleam        45
  Of flamebeaux that began to smoke and flare,
  And cast a picturesque and ruddy glare
On shore and boats and men of every hue.
 
 
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