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
Brother Antonio
Annie Chambers-Ketchum (1824–1904)
 
(Excerpt)

THE WOOD-YARD fires flare over the deck,
As the steamer is moored to a sunken wreck.
 
They glare on the smoke-stacks, tall and black;
They flush on the quick steam’s flying rack;
 
But shimmer soft on the curly hair        5
Of children crouched by the gangway and stair,
 
And rest like hands on the furrowed brow
Of an old man bent o’er his shrouded frau.
 
Dark sweeps the restless river’s tide,
While the pall of night comes down to hide        10
 
From the careless gaze of strangers near,
The pale thin form on the pine-plank bier.
 
They had come from the legend-haunted Rhine
To the grand New World where the free stare shine,
 
Seeking the fortune they might not find        15
In the Fatherland they had left behind;
 
And while the proud fleet ship would toss
The spray from her wings like an albatross,
 
Their shouting children sung with glee
Wild, stirring songs of the brave and free.        20
 
They saw the Indian isles of palm;
The Mexique shores with their spice and balm;
 
And the Mississippi, an inland main,
With its orange-groves and its fields of cane.
 
Sweet, round the tawny river’s mouth,        25
Blew the rare odors of the South,
 
And bright in the reeds, as the steamer sped,
The white crane gleamed, and the ibis red.
 
So, ere they reached the far-off goal
Where boundless prairie gardens roll        30
 
From river to mount in their flowery braid
Like playgrounds by the Titans made;
 
While all her little ones round her crept,
And looked in her dying face and wept,—
 
She closed her sunken, faded eyes,        35
Forever on alien woods and skies.
 
They were far from consecrated ground,
And the unshorn forest before them frowned;
 
But a vagrant footfall would not press
The lone grave in the wilderness;        40
 
So, turning away from his cherished dead,
With a quivering lip old Hermann said,
 
As he looked toward the peaceful, virgin sod,
“I ’ll bury her there, in the name of God.”
 
They dug her grave in the forest lone,        45
While the night-wind murmured a sobbing moan,
 
And the wood-yard fires, now red, now dim,
Peopled the dark with spectres grim.
*        *        *        *        *
The old man kneels in the sacred place;
On the cold damp clay he lays his face;        50
 
When out from the gloom of a moss-hung tree,
A low voice murmurs, “Pray for me.”
 
He sees in the thicket a dark-browed man
Where the green palmetto spreads its fan;
 
His tall form hid in the darkening night,        55
His face aglow in the flambeau’s light.
 
A moment more, and a palm-branch fair
Is laid on the fresh-heaped hillock there;
 
The stranger kneels by the silent dead,—
“I, too, have buried my life,” he said.
*        *        *        *        *
        60
Fair in the morning’s rosy fire
Saint Lazarus lifts its silver spire.
 
The river circles the garden round,
And the still, bird-haunted burying-ground.
 
Children about the cloisters play,        65
And tell, as a tale of yesterday,
 
How the corner-stone by the bishop was laid,
And Brother Antonio a deacon made,—
 
Brother Antonio, round whose head
The brown bees hum when the hives are fed;        70
 
Who pulls the weeds from the garden-walks,
And shields from the sun the tender stalks;
 
In whose boat the fisher’s children ride
And sing as he rows to the farther side;
 
About whose feet each helpless thing        75
May buzz and blossom and crawl and sing,—
 
Brother Antonio, who gave his gold
To build this home for the sick and old;
 
Who teaches the lads in the village class;
Who helps old Hermann mow the grass,        80
 
Or sits at his door in the twilight dim,
And sings with his sons their mother’s hymn.
 
The ships come in with their emigrant poor
Crowded like sheep on the steerage-floor;
 
But smiles on the lips of the feeblest play        85
As Brother Antonio leads the way,
 
Guiding their babes with a tender care
Down the noisy deck and the gangway-stair
 
To the hospital grounds so fresh and cool,
Where the gold-fish glance in the sparkling pool,        90
 
And the gentle Sisters day and night
Watch by the sick on their couches white.
 
Many a nook in the graveyard fair
Is bright with lilies and roses rare;
 
But one wild spot by the river-side        95
Is fairest at midnight’s solemn tide;
 
And there, where the green palmetto’s fan
Shadows a headstone gray and wan,
 
Where the long moss swings and the eddies moan,
Brother Antonio prays, alone.
*        *        *        *        *
        100
 
 
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