The Mississippi

A poem by Hanford Lennox Gordon

Onward rolls the Royal River, proudly sweeping to the sea,
Dark and deep and grand, forever wrapt in myth and mystery.
Lo he laughs along the highlands, leaping o'er the granite walls;
Lo he sleeps among the islands, where the loon her lover calls.
Still like some huge monster winding downward through the prairied plains,
Seeking rest but never finding, till the tropic gulf he gains.
In his mighty arms he claspeth now an empire broad and grand;
In his left hand lo he graspeth leagues of fen and forest land;
In his right the mighty mountains, hoary with eternal snow,
Where a thousand foaming fountains singing seek the plains below.
Fields of corn and feet of cities lo the mighty river laves,
Where the Saxon sings his ditties o'er the swarthy warriors' graves.

Aye, before the birth of Moses--ere the Pyramids were piled--
All his banks were red with roses from the sea to nor'lands wild,
And from forest, fen and meadows, in the deserts of the north,
Elk and bison stalked like shadows, and the tawny tribes came forth;
Deeds of death and deeds of daring on his leafy banks were done,
Women loved and men went warring, ere the siege of Troy begun.
Where his foaming waters thundered, roaring o'er the rocky walls,
Dusky hunters sat and wondered, listening to the spirits' calls.
"Ha-ha!"[1] cried the warrior greeting from afar the cataract's roar;
"Ha-ha!" rolled the answer beating down the rock-ribbed leagues of shore.
Now, alas, the bow and quiver and the dusky braves have fled,
And the sullen, shackled river drives the droning mills instead.

Where the war-whoop rose, and after women wailed their warriors slain,
List the Saxon's silvery laughter, and his humming hives of gain.
Swiftly sped the tawny runner o'er the pathless prairies then,
Now the iron-reindeer sooner carries weal or woe to men.
On thy bosom, Royal River, silent sped the birch canoe
Bearing brave with bow and quiver on his way to war or woo;
Now with flaunting flags and streamers--mighty monsters of the deep--
Lo the puffing, panting steamers through thy foaming waters sweep;
And behold the grain-fields golden, where the bison grazed of eld;
See the fanes of forests olden by the ruthless Saxon felled.
Plum├Ęd pines that spread their shadows ere Columbus spread his sails,
Firs that fringed the mossy meadows ere the Mayflower braved the gales,
Iron oaks that nourished bruin while the Vikings roamed the main,
Crashing fall in broken ruin for the greedy marts of gain.

Still forever and forever rolls the restless river on,
Slumbering oft but ceasing never while the circling centuries run.
In his palm the lakelet lingers, in his hair the brooklets hide,
Grasped within his thousand fingers lies a continent fair and wide--
Yea, a mighty empire swarming with its millions like the bees,
Delving, drudging, striving, storming, all their lives, for golden ease.

Still, methinks, the dusky shadows of the days that are no more,
Stalk around the lakes and meadows, haunting oft the wonted shore:
Hunters from the land of spirits seek the bison and the deer
Where the Saxon now inherits golden field and silver mere;
And beside the mound where buried lies the dark-eyed maid he loves,
Some tall warrior, wan and wearied, in the misty moonlight moves.
See--he stands erect and lingers--stoic still, but loth to go--
Clutching in his tawny fingers feathered shaft and polished bow.
Never wail or moan he utters and no tear is on his face,
But a warrior's curse he mutters on the crafty Saxon race.

O thou dark, mysterious River, speak and tell thy tales to me;
Seal not up thy lips forever--veiled in mist and mystery.
I will sit and lowly listen at the phantom-haunted falls
Where thy waters foam and glisten o'er the rugged, rocky walls,
Till some spirit of the olden, mystic, weird, romantic days
Shall emerge and pour her golden tales and legends through my lays.

Then again the elk and bison on thy grassy banks shall feed,
And along the low horizon shall the plumed hunter speed;
Then again on lake and river shall the silent birch canoe
Bear the brave with bow and quiver on his way to war or woo:
Then the beaver on the meadow shall rebuild his broken wall,
And the wolf shall chase his shadow and his mate the panther call.
From the prairies and the regions where the pine-plumed forest grows
Shall arise the tawny legions with their lances and their bows;
And again the cries of battle shall resound along the plain,
Bows shall twang and quivers rattle, women wail their warriors slain;
And by lodge-fire lowly burning shall the mother from afar
List her warrior's steps returning from the daring deeds of war.

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