The Mississippi.[A]

A poem by Samuel Griswold Goodrich


Far in the West, where snow-capt mountains rise,
Like marble shafts beneath Heaven's stooping dome,
And sunset's dreamy curtain drapes the skies,
As if enchantment there would build her home
O'er wood and wave, from haunts of men away
From out the glen, all trembling like a child,
A babbling streamlet comes as if to play
Albeit the scene is savage, lone and wild.
Here at the mountain's foot, that infant wave
'Mid bowering leaves doth hide its rustic birth
Here learns the rock and precipice to brave
And go the Monarch River of the Earth!
Far, far from hence, its bosom deep and wide,
Bears the proud steamer on its fiery wing
Along its banks, bright cities rise in pride,
And o'er its breast their gorgeous image fling.
The Mississippi needs no herald now
But here within this glen unknown to fame,
It flows content a bubble on its brow,
A leaf upon its breast without a name!


Strange contrasts here for on the glacier's height,
The tempest raves, and arrowy lightnings leap
Yet deep beneath, the wild flowers lone and light,
On slender stems in breezeless silence sleep.
Skyward the racing eagles wildly fling
Their savage clamor to the echoing dell
While sheltered deep, the bee with folded wing,
Voluptuous slumbers in his fragrant cell.
Around, the splintered rocks are heaped to heaven,
With grisly caverns yawning wide between,
As if the Titans there had battle given,
And left their ruin written on the scene!
Yet o'er these ghastly shapes, soft lichens wind,
And timid daisies droop, and tranquil flowers
A robe of many-colored beauty, bind,
As if some vagrant fairy claimed these bowers.


Fit cradle this Majestic Stream, for thee!
Nursed at the glacier's foot by tempests fed
The lightning flashing o'er thy canopy,
And thunders pealing round thine infant bed
The pious Indian marks thy mystic birth,
'Mid storm and cloud, and nature's aspect wild
And wondering, deems thee not a thing of earth,
But great Manitto's fair and favored child.
Aye and the mind, by inspiration taught,
Like nature's pupil feels a Presence near,
Which bids the bosom tremble with the thought
That He who came from Teman hath been here![B]


What thronging fancies crowd upon the soul,
As from these heights the Giant Stream we trace,
And wander with its waters as they roll
From hence, to their far ocean dwelling-place
Marking its birth in this bleak frigid zone,
Its conquering march to yonder tropic shore,
The boundless valley which it makes its own,
With thousand tribute rivers as they pour!
No classic page its story to reveal;
No nymph, or naïad, sporting in its glades;
No banks encrimsoned with heroic steel;
And haunted yet by dim poetic shades
Its annals linger in the eternal rock,
Hoary with centuries; in cataracts that sing
To the dull ear of ages; in the shock
Of plunging glaciers that madly fling,
The forest like a flight of spears, aloft:
In wooded vales that spread beyond the view;
In boundless prairies, blooming fair and soft;
In mantling vines that teem with clusters blue;
And as the sunny south upon us breathes
In orange groves that scent the balmy air,
And tempt soft summer with its fragrant wreaths,
Throughout the year to be a dweller there.


These of the past their whispered lore unfold,
And fertile fancy with its wizard art,
May weave wild legends, as the seers of old
Made gods and heroes into being start.
Perchance some mystic mound may wake the spell:
A crumbled skull a spear a vase of clay
Within its bosom half the tale may tell
And all the rest 'tis fancy's gift to say.
Alas! that ruthless science in these days,
To its stern crucible hath brought at last,
The cherished shapes that all so fondly gaze
Upon us from the dim poetic past!
Else might these moonlit prairies show at dawn,
The dew-swept circle of the elfin dance
These woodlands teem with sportive fay and faun
These grottoes glimmer with sweet Echo's glance.
Perchance a future Homer might have wrought
From out the scattered wreck of ages fled,
Some long lost Troy, where mighty heroes fought,
And made the earth re-echo with their tread!


It may not be, for though these scenes are fair,
As fabled Arcady the sylph and fay,
And all their gentle kindred, shun the air,
Where car and steamer make their stormy way.
Perchance some Cooper's magic art may wake
The sleeping legends of this mighty vale,
And twine fond memories round the lawn and lake,
Where Warrior fought or Lover told his tale:
And when the Red Man's form hath left these glades,
And memory's moonlight o'er his story streams,
From their dim graves shall rise heroic shades,
And fill the fancy with romantic dreams.
Then, in the city's gorgeous squares shall rise
The chiselled column to the admiring view
To mark the spot where some stern Black Hawk lies,
Whom ages gone, our glorious grandsires slew!


Dim shadows these that come at Fancy's call
Yet deeper scenes before the Patriot rise,
As fate's stern prophet lifts the fearful pall,
And shows the future to his straining eyes.
Oh! shall that vision paint this glorious vale
With happy millions o'er its bosom spread
Or ghastly scenes where battle taints the gale
With brother's blood by brother's weapon shed?
Away, ye phantom fears the scene is fair,
Down the long vista of uncounted years;
Bright harvests smile, sweet meadows scent the air,
And peaceful plenty o'er the scene appears.
The village rings with labor's jocund laugh,
The hoyden shout around the school-house door,
The old man's voice, as bending o'er his staff,
He waxes valiant in the tales of yore:
Far tapering spires from teeming cities rise,
The sabbath bell comes stealing on the air,
A holy anthem seeks the bending skies,
And earth and heaven seem fondly blended there!
Aye and beyond, where distance spreads its blue,
Down the unfolding vale of future time,
A glorious vision rises on the view,
And wakes the bosom with a hope sublime.
Majestic Stream! at dim Creation's dawn,
Thou wert a witness of that glorious birth
And thy proud waters still shall sweep the lawn
When Peace shall claim dominion of the earth.
Here in this vale for mighty empire made,
Perchance the glorious flag shall be unfurled,
And violence and wrong and ruin fade,
Before its conquering march around the world!

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