Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Oceanica
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI.  1876–79.
 
Appendix: Sandwich Islands
Kilauea
W. C. Jones
 
DEEP Hades of the seven Phlegethons!
From thy basaltic pillared walls I gaze,
Through sulphurous clouds that ceaselessly ascend
From fiery maelstroms in red, rushing whirl,
Into thy vast abyss with silent awe.        5
  Eve’s curtains gather round thee like a shroud,
And drape in shadow Mauna Loa’s dome;
The trade-wind o’er the bending forest sweeps,
Cold and mist-laden from the eastern wave;
And as it parts the fire-born clouds below,        10
The smouldering ruins of a city vast—
A giant Moscow in a sea of flame—
Appear with blackened walls, and dome and spire
Of church and grand cathedral crashing fall;
Turret and tower and monument go down,        15
As round them lap and whirl the eddying flames,
Like those lost cities which Jehovah’s wrath
O’erwhelmed in sulphury hail and fiery rain,
Till from the ruined plain the smoke went up,
Seething and dense as from a furnace blast.
*        *        *        *        *
        20
  Thou fiery wonder of the untaught mind!
The simple natives of the isles had made
A home in thee for Pele,—fiery power,
Goddess of the volcano’s hot domain;
How like the ancient Greeks, who wove their dreams        25
Of the ideal in poetic forms,
And robed Cocytus’ son with Pele’s power
Over their burning, weird, infernal river.
  No Stygian waves surround thy Hades deep,
No Iris bright descends with golden vase,        30
To bring the dreaded draught to perjured gods;
Yet thy wild, fiery glare hath lighted up
A scene more brilliant than Greek poet’s dream,
Sublime in moral courage and the faith
That rent asunder superstition’s chains,        35
And by her incandescent throne of power,
Defied the Goddess Pele in thy depths.
  Kapiolani—noblest of her race,—
Kapiolani—type of womankind,—
In high moral heroism born of love,        40
In past or present and in every clime,
Immortal as the faith which fired her heart,
Her deed sheds lustre on these ocean isles!
*        *        *        *        *
  O’er fire-browned clinkers and through tangled woods,
Up mountain steeps a hundred miles she walked,        45
Trampling the creeds of ages ’neath her feet,
Braving the wrath of all the mythic gods,
That, like dark incubi on heart and brain,
Had checked the progress of Hawaii’s race,
She sought thy depths to tempt and to defy        50
The rage, the power of their multiple gods;
While awe-struck thousands on thy lofty rim
Gazed tremblingly beneath in firm belief
That Pele in her wrath would hurl her fires
On one who dared her in her sulphury home.        55
  Her brow all radiantly illumed by hope,
She stood beside thy rushing, liquid tide
Of red-hot lava in its maddest flow,
And as the sulphury vapors, wreathing, rolled
In eddying fire-lit waves round her tall form,        60
She seemed divine as thus she calmly spoke:
  “In His great name who died for men I come,
To prove to my lost race the living God!
And here, O Pele! superstition’s myth!
I do defy thee on thy throne of power!        65
If thou existest, whelm me ’neath thy waves,
Pour on me all thy scorching lava flood,
Or suffocate me with thy sulphury breath,
Or close around me all thy lakes of fire!
But no,—the fresh breeze lifts the sulphury clouds,        70
The waves subside, the fiery jets decrease;
God calms thy vortex as the restless sea;
I trample here on thy pretended power,
And cry, Io Jehova! in thy depths;
Io Jehova! let the triumph ring,        75
Till all the isles shall know the living God!”
  She passed majestic o’er the lava vale,
As a triumphant smile illumed her face,
God-like and noble, born of faith and hope.
  Now sable night hangs o’er thee, Kilauea,        80
But night illumined by thy sulphury glare;
Thy seven seething lakes light up the clouds
With an unearthly and demoniac glow,
The fever flush from thy hot heart of flame,
The hectic glow of an expiring world.
*        *        *        *        *
        85
  Now the waves flash, and, eddying, whirl and leap
’Gainst crumbling shores of glass-like lava cliffs,
Where Pele’s fair hair waves in sulphury steam;
The fiery jets, fierce bubbling, chase each other,
Like flame-maned coursers on their burning track,        90
Then disappear, lost in the raging gulf;
Ever with northward flow the current sweeps,
Crackling and sparkling in red fissures deep,
As the cooled surface breaks, like fields of ice,
And dark-red lava heaps in fiery drift.
*        *        *        *        *
        95
  Thou seemest not of earth; thy red waves come,
Up,—rushing from that central, fiery sea,
Beneath earth’s ocean that resistless wars
With all that forms this planet’s fragile crust.
  And as I gaze upon thy deep abyss,        100
Thoughts of the grandeur of Eternal Power
Sweep o’er the mind in wild magnificence,
To far past ages, when Creative Will
Flashed through this planet’s incandescent mass
Ere the earth’s crust was cooled, or the vast sea,        105
Condensing, fell from seething atmosphere,
On lava beds just cooling round the poles.
  Around me are God’s forges, in the domes
Of mountains vast that pierce the blue of heaven,
And from their snowy diadems look down        110
On plains of lava blackening to the sea,
And in the line of lessening cones that sweep
From thy weird chasm by pit-craters deep;
Here in Time’s morn, red columns flamed from ocean,
Hurled boiling back the hot and vapory waves,        115
With blazing cataracts of liquid fire,
Till this great isle arose, a smoking mass
Of fire-scorched cinders, as the giant tread
Of the mad earthquake stamped it into form!
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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