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.
 
New England: Isles of Shoals, N. H.
Pictures from Appledore
James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)
 
(Extract)

I.
A HEAP of bare and splintery crags
Tumbled about by lightning and frost,
With rifts and chasms and storm-bleached jags,
That wait and growl for a ship to be lost;
No island, but rather the skeleton        5
Of a wrecked and vengeance-smitten one,
Where, æons ago, with half-shut eye,
The sluggish saurian crawled to die,
Gasping under titanic ferns;
Ribs of rock that seaward jut,        10
Granite shoulders and boulders and snags,
Round which, though the winds in heaven be shut,
The nightmared ocean murmurs and yearns,
Welters, and swashes, and tosses, and turns,
And the dreary black seaweed lolls and wags;        15
Only rock from shore to shore,
Only a moan through the bleak clefts blown,
With sobs in the rifts where the coarse kelp shifts,
Falling and lifting, tossing and drifting,
And under all a deep, dull roar,        20
Dying and swelling, forevermore,—
Rock and moan and roar alone,
And the dread of some nameless thing unknown,
These make Appledore.
 
These make Appledore by night:        25
Then there are monsters left and right;
Every rock is a different monster;
All you have read of, fancied, dreamed,
When you waked at night because you screamed,
There they lie for half a mile,        30
Jumbled together in a pile,
And (though you know they never once stir),
If you look long, they seem to be moving
Just as plainly as plain can be,
Crushing and crowding, wading and shoving        35
Out into the awful sea,
Where you can hear them snort and spout
With pauses between, as if they were listening,
Then tumult anon when the surf breaks glistening
In the blackness where they wallow about.        40
 
II.
All this you would scarcely comprehend,
Should you see the isle on a sunny day;
Then it is simple enough in its way,—
Two rocky bulges, one at each end,
With a smaller bulge and a hollow between;        45
Patches of whortleberry and bay;
Accidents of open green,
Sprinkled with loose slabs square and gray,
Like graveyards for ages deserted; a few
Unsocial thistles; an elder or two,        50
Foamed over with blossoms white as spray;
And on the whole island never a tree
Save a score of sumachs, high as your knee,
That crouch in hollows where they may,
(The cellars where once stood a village, men say,)        55
Huddling for warmth, and never grew
Tall enough for a peep at the sea;
A general dazzle of open blue;
A breeze always blowing and playing rat-tat
With the bow of the ribbon round your hat;        60
A score of sheep that do nothing but stare
Up and down at you everywhere;
Three or four cattle that chew the cud
Lying about in a listless despair;
A medrick that makes you look overhead        65
With short, sharp scream, as he sights his prey,
And, dropping straight and swift as lead,
Splits the water with sudden thud;—
This is Appledore by day.
*        *        *        *        *
III.
Away northeast is Boone Island light;
        70
You might mistake it for a ship,
Only it stands too plumb upright,
And like the others does not slip
Behind the sea’s unsteady brink;
Though, if a cloud-shade chance to dip        75
Upon it a moment, ’twill suddenly sink,
Levelled and lost in the darkened main,
Till the sun builds it suddenly up again,
As if with a rub of Aladdin’s lamp.
On the mainland you see a misty camp        80
Of mountains pitched tumultuously:
That one looming so long and large
Is Saddleback, and that point you see
Over yon low and rounded marge,
Like the boss of a sleeping giant’s targe        85
Laid over his breast, is Ossipee;
That shadow there may be Kearsarge;
That must be Great Haystack; I love these names,
Wherewith the lonely farmer tames
Nature to mute companionship        90
With his own mind’s domestic mood,
And strives the surly world to clip
In the arms of familiar habitude.
’T is well he could not contrive to make
A Saxon of Agamenticus:        95
He glowers there to the north of us,
Wrapt in his blanket of blue haze,
Unconvertibly savage, and scorns to take
The white man’s baptism or his ways.
Him first on shore the coaster divines        100
Through the early gray, and sees him shake
The morning mist from his scalp-lock of pines;
Him first the skipper makes out in the west,
Ere the earliest sunstreak shoots tremulous,
Plashing with orange the palpitant lines        105
Of mutable billow, crest after crest,
And murmurs Agamenticus!
As if it were the name of a saint.
But is that a mountain playing cloud,
Or a cloud playing mountain, just there, so faint?        110
Look along over the low right shoulder
Of Agamenticus into that crowd
Of brassy thunderheads behind it;
Now you have caught it, but, ere you are older
By half an hour, you will lose it and find it        115
A score of times; while you look ’t is gone,
And, just as you ’ve given it up, anon
It is there again, till your weary eyes
Fancy they see it waver and rise,
With its brother clouds; it is Agiochook,        120
There if you seek not, and gone if you look,
Ninety miles off as the eagle flies.
*        *        *        *        *
V.
How looks Appledore in a storm?
  I have seen it when its crags seemed frantic,
  Butting against the mad Atlantic,        125
When surge on surge would heap enorme,
  Cliffs of emerald topped with snow,
  That lifted and lifted, and then let go
A great white avalanche of thunder,
  A grinding, blinding, deafening ire        130
Monadnock might have trembled under;
  And the island, whose rock-roots pierce below
  To where they are warmed with the central fire,
You could feel its granite fibres racked,
  As it seemed to plunge with a shudder and thrill        135
  Right at the breast of the swooping hill,
And to rise again snorting a cataract
Of rage-froth from every cranny and ledge,
  While the sea drew its breath in hoarse and deep,
And the next vast breaker curled its edge,        140
  Gathering itself for a mightier leap.
 
North, east, and south there are reefs and breakers
  You would never dream of in smooth weather,
That toss and gore the sea for acres,
  Bellowing and gnashing and snarling together;        145
Look northward, where Duck Island lies,
And over its crown you will see arise,
Against a background of slaty skies,
  A row of pillars still and white,
  That glimmer, and then are out of sight,        150
As if the moon should suddenly kiss,
  While you crossed the gusty desert by night,
The long colonnades of Persepolis;
Look southward for White Island light,
  The lantern stands ninety feet o’er the tide;        155
There is first a half-mile of tumult and fight,
Of dash and roar and tumble and fright,
  And surging bewilderment wild and wide,
Where the breakers struggle left and right,
  Then a mile or more of rushing sea,        160
And then the lighthouse slim and lone;
And whenever the weight of ocean is thrown
Full and fair on White Island head,
  A great mist-jotun you will see
  Lifting himself up silently        165
High and huge o’er the lighthouse top,
With hands of wavering spray outspread,
  Groping after the little tower,
  That seems to shrink and shorten and cower,
Till the monster’s arms of a sudden drop,        170
  And silently and fruitlessly
  He sinks again into the sea.
 
You, meanwhile, where drenched you stand,
  Awaken once more to the rush and roar,
And on the rock-point tighten your hand,        175
As you turn and see a valley deep,
  That was not there a moment before,
Suck rattling down between you and a heap
  Of toppling billow, whose instant fall
  Must sink the whole island once for all,        180
Or watch the silenter, stealthier seas
  Feeling their way to you more and more;
If they once should clutch you high as the knees,
They would whirl you down like a sprig of kelp,
Beyond all reach of hope or help;—        185
  And such in a storm is Appledore.
 
 
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