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: Mississippi, the River
The Mississippi River
Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879)
 
(Excerpt)

SHADOWED beneath those awful piles of stone,
Where Liberty has found a Pisgah height,
O’erlooking all the land she loves to bless,
The jagged rocks and icy towers her guard,
Whose splintered summits seize the warring clouds,        5
And roll them, broken, like a host o’erthrown,
Adown the mountain’s side, scattering their wealth
Of powdered pearl and liquid diamond drops,—
There is thy source,—great River of the West!
 
Slowly, like youthful Titan gathering strength        10
To war with heaven and win himself a name,
The stream moves onward through the dark ravines,
Rending the roots of overarching trees,
To form its narrow channel, where the star,
That fain would bathe its beauty in the wave,        15
Like lover’s glance steals, trembling, through the leaves,
That veil the waters with a vestal’s care;
And few of human form have ventured there,
Save the swart savage in his bark canoe.
 
But now it deepens, struggles, rushes on;        20
Like goaded war-horse, bounding o’er the foe,
It clears the rocks it may not spurn aside,
Leaping, as Curtius leaped adown the gulf,
And rising, like Antæus from the fall,
Its course majestic through the land pursues,        25
And the broad River o’er the Valley reigns!
 
It reigns alone. The tributary streams
Are humble vassals, yielding to its sway.
And when the wild Missouri fain would join
A rival in the race,—as Jacob seized        30
On his red brother’s birthright, even so
The swelling Mississippi grasps that wave,
And, rebaptizing, makes the waters one.
 
It reigns alone,—and Earth the sceptre feels;—
Her ancient trees are bowed beneath the wave,        35
Or, rent like reeds before the whirlwind’s swoop,
Toss on the bosom of the maddened flood,
A floating forest, till the waters, calmed,
Like slumbering anaconda gorged with prey,
Open a haven to the moving mass,        40
Or form an island in the dark abyss.
 
It reigns alone. Old Nile would ne’er bedew
The lands it blesses with its fertile tide.
Even sacred Ganges, joined with Egypt’s flood,
Would shrink beside this wonder of the West!        45
Ay, gather Europe’s royal rivers all,—
The snow-swelled Neva, with an empire’s weight
On her broad breast, she yet may overwhelm;
Dark Danube, hurrying, as by foe pursued,
Through shaggy forests and from palace walls,        50
To hide its terrors in a sea of gloom;
The castled Rhine, whose vine-crowned waters flow,
The fount of fable and the source of song;
The rushing Rhone, in whose cerulean depths
The loving sky seems wedded with the wave;        55
The yellow Tiber, choked with Roman spoils,
A dying miser shrinking ’neath his gold;
And Seine, where Fashion glasses fairest forms;
And Thames, that bears the riches of the world;
Gather their waters in one ocean mass,—        60
Our Mississippi, rolling proudly on,
Would sweep them from its path, or swallow up,
Like Aaron’s rod, these streams of fame and song!
And thus the peoples, from the many lands,
Where these old streams are household memories,        65
Mingle beside our river, and are one,
And join to swell the strength of Freedom’s tide,
That from the fount of Truth is flowing on,
To sweep earth’s thousand tyrannies away.
  How wise, how wonderful the works of God!        70
And, hallowed by his goodness, all are good.
The creeping glowworm, the careering sun,
Are kindled from the effluence of his light;
The ocean and the acorn-cup are filled
By gushings from the fountain of his love.        75
He poured the Mississippi’s torrent forth,
And heaved its tide above the trembling land,—
Grand type how Freedom lifts the citizen
Above the subject masses of the world,—
And marked the limits it may never pass.        80
Trust in his promises, and bless his power,
Ye dwellers on its banks, and be at peace.
  And ye, whose way is on this warrior wave,
When the swoln waters heave with ocean’s might,
And storms and darkness close the gate of heaven,        85
And the frail bark, fire-driven, bounds quivering on,
As though it rent the iron shroud of night,
And struggled with the demons of the flood,—
Fear nothing! He who shields the folded flower,
When tempests rage, is ever present here.        90
Lean on “our Father’s” breast in faith and prayer,
And sleep,—his arm of love is strong to save.
  Great Source of being, beauty, light, and love,—
Creator,—Lord,—the waters worship thee!
Ere thy creative smile had sown the flowers,—        95
Ere the glad hills leaped upward, or the earth,
With swelling bosom, waited for her child,—
Before eternal Love had lit the sun,
Or Time had traced his dial-plate in stars,—
The joyful anthem of the waters flowed;        100
And Chaos like a frightened felon fled,
While on the deep the Holy Spirit moved.
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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