Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > America
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX.  1876–79.
Middle States: Watkins Glen, N. Y.
The Watkins Glen at the Head of Seneca Lake
Alfred Billings Street (1811–1881)
SWEET music steals with fragrancy of flowers,
The melody of waters, and the breath
Of perfumed June within me! Memory
Hath startled her tranced empire, and around
A vision spreads. Have we not seen the mist        5
Mantling the form of Nature? in its depths
All her fair features mingle, shrub and tree
And flashing waterfall and skyward crag,
In one weird, wavering tumult; but a glance
Of sunshine cleaves the chaos, and behold        10
The glorious picture. That dark spectre reared
Aloft hath brightened to a stately pine
That shifting gleam to a far cataract;
And yon black mass to a near grotto curled
In the rock-strata. The gray precipice        15
Plunges the eye below until it sinks
Into blank gloom; or rears it till the edge
Of slanting tree and hanging shelf breaks up
The sky-roof into streaks of fretted blue
And dancing spangles; clearer still the scene,        20
And now show darkling gorge and ragged rift,
And shelving path and jutting gallery,
And dashing, tumbling foam and showering spray,
Ledges of clutching roots, and sheer, brown rock
With dangling threads of rootlets, hung like fringe,        25
Where not the clinging foot of moss or fern
Spots its stern, savage wildness.
                            Hark! from out
The wizard realm, a loud, tumultuous sound!
Yet tuned into sweet harmony as tunes
Nature her varied voices! murmurings deep        30
Of winds in minstrel-pines, so soft, so deep,
They sway the soul as their lithe limbs are swayed,
And rumble soft of far-off waterfalls!
It is thy image in the heart, new-born,
Glen of the Hills! and lo, before me now        35
It stands in all its vividness of life!
A path of stars, that path of summer hours,
I passed with thee, the morn of sunny June
When Nature, bright with Spring’s fresh miracle
Crowning her forehead, smiled in harmony        40
Of blue and green and gold; no cloud to stain,
No woe to mar, all cloudless as the heavens!
*        *        *        *        *
And now the path begins that shall disclose
Thee in thy loveliness and stateliness!
Thy galleries clambering like the clambering goat;        45
Thy hanging platforms like great eagle-nests
Seen through the trees; thy bridges leading o’er
The dizzy chasms; thy soaring, beetling crags
Frowning like Titans at their solitude
Destroyed; thy sunken pathways through the rocks;        50
Thy shelves, thy ledges, and thy towering pines;
Thy streaks of sky-roof, and thy parent stream
With its long chain of headlong cataracts,
And pools and windings!
                        See, in front, the rock
Spouts silver; the first vision of thy stream,        55
Glen Brook. We mount the clinging gallery,
And lo, Glen Alpha! vestibule sublime
To the vast fane. How like to opening youth
With life before us! Hope in living light
Shines in our front, and objects rise around        60
Anchored on lofty platforms, row on row,
Until they mingle with the loftiest blue
Of expectation; pleasure’s plumy ferns
And mosses blent with flowers of present bliss,
Too frail even for the morrow, charm the eye.        65
We pause to breathe the clear inspiring air,
And revel in the very consciousness
Of life that brims the heart and fills the veins.
How like the tangle of the plans and pains
And joys and interests our stern manhood shows,        70
That wild-tossed spot, well named The Labyrinth!
Now let us step behind the diamond curve
Of this swift leap of foam! the glittering roof,
The Cavern Cascade shapes above the mouth
Of this The Grotto. Voices of the plunge        75
Fill all the ear, and the rapt sight is whelmed
In dropping jewelry, as when June sends
Her gentle shower to sparkle in the sun.
What contrast to yon gorge where once the wind
Crushed down great trees and hurled as in wild sport        80
Fragments of crag, its fierce clutch tore from out
The strata, till its grand and fearful tread,
Gorge of the Whirlwind! made this leafy nook
A savage wreck.
*        *        *        *        *
Now Mystic Gorge, with chalices of rock        85
Cut by the whirling boulder! list that strain,
Where Sylvan Rapids tune their little lute!
A mingled minstrelsy of purl and dash,
Warble and gurgle, like the braided song
Of robin, wren, and bobolink. A broad        90
White burst of dazzling day! Thy mighty urn,
O Glen Cathedral! where the soaring rocks
Prop the high heavens as Atlas props his mount.
It seems the chamber of the Glen’s great King,
The Genius Loci. Mosses hang the walls        95
With curtained emerald, and the printless floor
Smooth as yon pool! Above, the broadened roof
Is wrought of God’s own brow of beaming blue,
Save where the slanting pine one wrinkle plants.
What maelstrom of whirled boulders fashioned thee,        100
Cathedral of the rock! what thundering scoop,
What sweeping swing? Thy same slight arm, O rill,
That penetrated softly yon dark cleft,
And parted with its light and gradual touch
This little pathway, like the touch of Time        105
That wears the blossom and the mountain down.
Gaze round! what contrast rich of brights and darks,
Close shade and cheery sun,—a fretwork dance
Of breezy leaves,—mosaic of quick tints,—
A dazzling interchange of black and gold.        110
The sparks of sunshine sprinkled on the leaves
Glitter like stars; upon the sunny grass
Each tree has dropped its shadow as the Turk
At noontide drops his carpet. Edges of light
Lace the thick evergreens and yon slight spray        115
Of the black-walnut, fringed with oval leaves,
Seems as if melting into fluid gold.
Pool of the Nymphs at moonlight, do you see
The naiads plunge within thy silver balm
And float like glittering pearls, until the scene        120
Is full of merriest mirth and sweetest song?
Art thou a mirror to the rich red dawn,
And doth the evening star in thy clear depth
Drop its grand diamond? Thou too, Glen of the Pools!
Thy rocky goblets look as if their draughts        125
Had oft shone for the Genii of the spot,
Feasting together in the summer heats,
What time the breeze lay lifeless on the leaf
Of even the aspen, and the very thread
Of gossamer drooped downward, and save close        130
To the unending plunge of falling foam,
Not one soft, downy, airy atom stirred.
Thou ownest, too, the epitome of charms
Of all the Glen in this thy Matchless Scene;
The grace, the grandeur, the wild loveliness,        135
And stern magnificence of waterfall;
Dark chasm, smooth pool, tall tree, and foamy flash
Of rapids; foliage fresh and green as heart
Of childhood; curls of feathery ferns which gave
To the Greek temple the acanthus leaf,        140
And mosses plump as formed Titania’s floor
At elfin dances. So did Zeuxis blend
In his bright Helen all the varied charms
Of Athens, till the canvas flashed with tints
That live in dawns and sunsets, gems and flowers,        145
And smile at Time. But hark, that organ-voice,
And see yon cataract bursting into view,
Careering down its threefold terraces!
Toward it, along the ledges of our path
Grazing the cliff, a lace-work of quick drops—        150
A shivered rill—falls down in diamond gauze
Between us and the scene; the lush green moss
Grows greener here; the fern shows richer curve,
And every grass blade wears more vivid hue.
But now we pause beside the towering rock        155
Where the rich bastion, crystalline half-moon
Of this,—the Glen’s crown-gem,—the Rainbow Fall
Curves from the beetling crag. Behind the sheet!
What delicate balm of coolness, flitting airs,
As from invisible fairy fans! We bathe        160
In the soft bliss, and, glancing through the veil,
That wondrous opal of the sun and rain,
The first-born of the deluge, bends its bow,
Melting and brightening, dancing, quivering there,
Young as when first it filled the wondering eye        165
Of Noah, kindled the niched Ark, and crowned
Grand Ararat with diadem of the sun.
*        *        *        *        *
And yet, O Stream, though gentle in thy smile
Of Summer, woe, when Winter bursts his chain
And lets thee loose, with all thy frantic wrath        170
Upon thee! when the weight of melted snows
Is wreaked on thy full breast, and scourging rains
Have roused thy heart to direst frenzy; lo!
With roar of splintering thunders, thou dost break
Down from thy sources; and with tawny mane,        175
Wild tossing, and with foamy fangs that tear,
Fierce dost thou hurl thy fearful length along,
Drowning the fairy waterfalls, the pools
Brimming, till even their dimpling whirls are lost
In gushes, stripping from the raw rough banks        180
The mantling mosses; rolling onward rocks
Like pebbles, and huge trunks of jagged trees
Like straws; and tugging at the tough old roots
Of pines until they shake with awful dread.
On rush thy waters, while the tortured Glen        185
Roars to thy roar and trembles at thy speed,
Until, with headlong plunge, at last thy surge
Slumbers in quiet in the quiet Lake.

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