On Receiving An Eagle’s Quill From Lake Superior

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

All day the darkness and the cold
Upon my heart have lain,
Like shadows on the winter sky,
Like frost upon the pane;

But now my torpid fancy wakes,
And, on thy Eagle’s plume,
Rides forth, like Sindbad on his bird,
Or witch upon her broom!

Below me roar the rocking pines,
Before me spreads the lake
Whose long and solemn-sounding waves
Against the sunset break.

I hear the wild Rice-Eater thresh
The grain he has not sown;
I see, with flashing scythe of fire,
The prairie harvest mown!

I hear the far-off voyager’s horn;
I see the Yankee’s trail,
His foot on every mountain-pass,
On every stream his sail.

By forest, lake, and waterfall,
I see his pedler show;
The mighty mingling with the mean,
The lofty with the low.

He’s whittling by St. Mary’s Falls,
Upon his loaded wain;
He’s measuring o’er the Pictured Rocks,
With eager eyes of gain.

I hear the mattock in the mine,
The axe-stroke in the dell,
The clamor from the Indian lodge,
The Jesuit chapel bell!

I see the swarthy trappers come
From Mississippi’s springs;
And war-chiefs with their painted brows,
And crests of eagle wings.

Behind the scared squaw’s birch canoe,
The steamer smokes and raves;
And city lots are staked for sale
Above old Indian graves.

I hear the tread of pioneers
Of nations yet to be;
The first low wash of waves, where soon
Shall roll a human sea.

The rudiments of empire here
Are plastic yet and warm;
The chaos of a mighty world
Is rounding into form!

Each rude and jostling fragment soon
Its fitting place shall find,
The raw material of a State,
Its muscle and its mind!

And, westering still, the star which leads
The New World in its train
Has tipped with fire the icy spears
Of many a mountain chain.

The snowy cones of Oregon
Are kindling on its way;
And California’s golden sands
Gleam brighter in its ray!

Then blessings on thy eagle quill,
As, wandering far and wide,
I thank thee for this twilight dream
And Fancy’s airy ride!

Yet, welcomer than regal plumes,
Which Western trappers find,
Thy free and pleasant thoughts, chance sown,
Like feathers on the wind.

Thy symbol be the mountain-bird,
Whose glistening quill I hold;
Thy home the ample air of hope,
And memory’s sunset gold!

In thee, let joy with duty join,
And strength unite with love,
The eagle’s pinions folding round
The warm heart of the dove!

So, when in darkness sleeps the vale
Where still the blind bird clings
The sunshine of the upper sky
Shall glitter on thy wings!

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