Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Oceanica
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI.  1876–79.
Appendix: New Zealand
Silent Cataracts
Alfred Domett (1811–1887)
(From Ranolf and Amohia)

FROM the low sky-line of the hilly range
Before them, sweeping down its dark-green face
Into the lake that slumbered at its base,
A mighty cataract, so it seemed,
Over a hundred steps of marble streamed        5
And gushed, or fell in dripping overflow,—
Flat steps, in flights half-circled,—row o’er row,
Irregularly mingling side by side;
They and the torrent-curtain wide,
All rosy-hued, it seemed, with sunset’s glow.—        10
But what is this! no roar, no sound,
Disturbs that torrent’s hush profound!
The wanderers near and nearer come,—
Still is the mighty cataract dumb!
A thousand fairy lights may shimmer        15
With tender sheen, with glossy glimmer,
O’er curve advanced and salient edge
Of many a luminous water-ledge;
A thousand slanting shadows pale
May fling their thin transparent veil        20
O’er deep recess and shallow dent
In many a watery stair’s descent:
Yet, mellow-bright, or mildly dim,
Both lights and shades, both dent and rim,
Each wavy streak, each warm snow-tress,        25
Stand rigid, mute, and motionless!
No faintest murmur, not a sound,
Relieves that cataract’s hush profound;
No tiniest bubble, not a flake
Of floating foam, is seen to break        30
The smoothness where it meets the lake;
Along that shining surface move
No ripples; not the slightest swell
Rolls o’er the mirror darkly green,
Where, every feature limned so well,        35
Pale, silent, and serene as death,
The cataract’s image hangs beneath
The cataract, but not more serene,
More phantom-silent, than is seen
The white rose-hued reality above.        40
They paddle past, for on the right
Another cataract comes in sight;
Another broader, grander flight
Of steps, all stainless, snowy-bright!
They land,—their curious way they track        45
Near thickets made by contrast black;
And then that wonder seems to be
A cataract carved in Parian stone,
Or any purer substance known,—
Agate or milk-chalcedony!        50
Its showering snow-cascades appear
Long ranges bright of stalactite,
And sparry frets and fringes white,
Thick-falling, plenteous, tier o’er tier;
Its crowding stairs, in bold ascent        55
Piled up that silvery-glimmering height,
Are layers, they know, accretions slow
Of hard silicious sediment:
For as they gain a rugged road,
And cautious climb the solid rime,        60
Each step becomes a terrace broad,
Each terrace a wide basin brimmed
With water, brilliant, yet in hue
The tenderest, delicate harebell-blue
Deepening to violet! Slowly climb        65
The twain, and turn from time to time
To mark the hundred baths in view,—
Crystalline azure, snowy-rimmed,—
The marge of every beauteous pond
Curve after curve, each lower beyond        70
The higher, outsweeping white and wide,
Like snowy lines of foam that glide
O’er level sea-sands lightly skimmed
By thin sheets of the glistening tide.
They climb those milk-white flats incrusted        75
And netted o’er with wavy ropes
Of wrinkled silica. At last,
Each basin’s heat increasing fast,
The topmost step the pair surmount,
And lo, the cause of all! Around,        80
The circling cliffs a crater bound,—
Cliffs damp with dark-green moss, their slopes
All crimson-stained with blots and streaks,
White-mottled and vermilion-rusted;
And in the midst, beneath a cloud        85
That ever upward rolls and reeks
And hides the sky with its dim shroud,
Look where upshoots a fuming fount,—
Up through a blue and boiling pool
Perennial,—a great sapphire steaming,        90
In that coralline crater gleaming.
Upwelling ever, amethystal,
Ebullient comes the bubbling crystal!
Still growing cooler and more cool
As down the porcelain stairway slips        95
The fluid flint, and slowly drips,
And hangs each basin’s curling lips
With crusted fringe each year increases,
Thicker than shear-forgotten fleeces;
More close and regular than rows,        100
Long rows of snowy trumpet-flowers
Some day to hang in garden-bowers,
When strangers shall these wilds enclose.

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