Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
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Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
The Flight of the Wild Geese
By William Ellery Channing (1818–1901)
 
RAMBLING along the marshes,
On the bank of the Assabet,
Sounding myself as to how it went,
Praying that I might not forget,
And all uncertain        5
Whether I was in the right,
Toiling to lift Time’s curtain,
And if I burnt the strongest light;
Suddenly,
High in the air,        10
I heard the travelled geese
Their overture prepare.
 
Stirred above the patent ball,
The wild geese flew,
Nor near so wild as that doth me befall,        15
Or, swollen Wisdom, you.
 
In the front there fetched a leader,
Him behind the line spread out,
And waved about,
As it was near night,        20
When these air-pilots stop their flight.
 
Cruising off the shoal dominion
Where we sit,
Depending not on their opinion,
Nor hiving sops of wit;        25
Geographical in tact,
Naming not a pond or river,
Pulled with twilight down in fact,
In the reeds to quack and quiver,
There they go,        30
Spectators at the play below,
Southward in a row.
 
Cannot land and map the stars
The indifferent geese,
Nor taste the sweetmeats in odd jars,        35
Nor speculate and freeze;
Rancid weasands need be well,
Feathers glossy, quills in order,
Starts this train, yet rings no bell;
Steam is raised without recorder.        40
 
“Up, my feathered fowl, all,”—
Saith the goose commander,
“Brighten your bills, and flirt your pinions,
My toes are nipped,—let us render
Ourselves in soft Guatemala,        45
Or suck puddles in Campeachy,
Spitzbergen-cake cuts very frosty,
And the tipple is not leechy.
 
“Let’s brush loose for any creek,
There lurk fish and fly,        50
Condiments to fat the weak,
Inundate the pie.
Flutter not about a place,
Ye concomitants of space!”
 
Mute the listening nations stand        55
On that dark receding land;
How faint their villages and towns,
Scattered on the misty downs!
A meeting-house
Appears no bigger than a mouse.        60
 
How long?
Never is a question asked,
While a throat can lift the song,
Or a flapping wing be tasked.
 
All the grandmothers about        65
Hear the orators of Heaven,
Then put on their woollens stout,
And cower o’er the hearth at even;
And the children stare at the sky,
And laugh to see the long black line so high!        70
 
Then once more I heard them say,—
“’Tis a smooth, delightful road,
Difficult to lose the way,
And a trifle for a load.
 
“’Twas our forte to pass for this,        75
Proper sack of sense to borrow,
Wings and legs, and bills that clatter,
And the horizon of To-morrow.”
 
 
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