Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1861–1889
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889
Down the Bayou
By Mary Ashley Townsend (1836–1901)
[Born in Lyons, Wayne Co., N. Y. Died in Galveston, Tx., 1901. Down the Bayou, and Other Poems. 1882.]

WE drifted down the long lagoon,
My Love, my Summer Love and I,
Far out of sight of all the town,
The old Cathedral sinking down,
With spire and cross, from view below        5
The borders of St. John’s bayou,
As toward the ancient Spanish Fort,
With steady prow and helm a-port,
We drifted down, my Love and I,
Beneath an azure April sky,—        10
My Love and I, My Love and I,
  Just at the hour of noon.
*        *        *        *        *
We drifted down, and drifted down,
My Love, my Summer Love and I.
The wild bee sought the shadowed flower,        15
Yet wet with morning’s dewy dower,
While here and there across the stream
A daring vine its frail bridge builded,
As fair, as fragile as some dream
Which Hope with hollow hand hath gilded.        20
Now here, now there, some fisher’s boat,
By trudging fisher towed, would float
Toward the town beyond our eyes;
The drowsy steersman in the sun,
Chanting meanwhile, in drowsy tone,—        25
Under the smiling April skies,
To which the earth smiled back replies,—
Beside his helm some barcarole,
Or, in the common patois known
To such as he before his day,        30
Sang out some gay chanson créole,
And held his bark upon its way.
Slowly along the old shell-road
Some aged negro, ’neath his load
Of gathered moss and latanier        35
Went shuffling on his homeward way;
While purple, cool, beneath the blue
Of that hot noontide, bravely smiled,
With bright and iridescent hue,
Whole acres of the blue-flag flower,        40
The breathy Iris, sweet and wild,
That floral savage unsubdued,
The gypsy April’s gypsy child.
Now from some point of weedy shore
An Indian woman darts before        45
The light bow of our idle boat,
In which, like figures in a dream,
My Love, my Summer Love and I,
Adown the sluggish bayou float;
While she, in whose still face we see        50
Traits of a chieftain ancestry,
Paddles her pirogue down the stream
Swiftly, and with the flexile grace
Of some dusk Dian in the chase.
As nears our boat the tangled shore,        55
Where the wild mango weaves its boughs,
And early willows stoop their hair
To meet the sullen bayou’s kiss;
Where the luxuriant “creeper” throws
Its eager clasp round rough and fair        60
To climb toward the coming June;
Where the sly serpent’s sudden hiss
Startles sometimes the drowsy noon,—
There the rude hut, banana-thatched,
Stands with its ever open door;        65
Its yellow gourd hung up beside
The crippled crone who, half asleep,
In garments most grotesquely patched,
Grim watch and ward pretends to keep
Where there is naught to be denied.
*        *        *        *        *
Still darkly winding on before,
For half a dozen miles or more,
Past leagues and leagues of lilied marsh,
The murky bayou swerved and slid,
Was lost, and found itself again.        75
And yet again was quickly hid
Among the grasses of the plain.
As gazed we o’er the sedgy swerves,
The wild and weedy water curves,
Toward sheets of shining canvas spread        80
High o’er the lilies blue and red,
So low the shores on either hand,
The sloops seemed sailing on the land.
*        *        *        *        *
We drifted on, and drifted on,
My Love, my Summer Love and I.        85
All youth seemed like an April land,
All life seemed like a morning sky.
Like the white fervor of a star
That burns in twilight skies afar,
Between the azure of the day        90
And gates that shut the night away;
Bright as an Ophir jewel’s gleam
On some Egyptian’s swarthy hand,
About my heart one radiant dream
Shone with a glow intense, supreme,        95
Yet vague, withal, like some sweet sky
We trust for sunshine, nor know why.
The reed-birds chippered in the reeds,
As drifted on my Love and I;
The sleepy saurian by the bank        100
Slid from his sunny log, and sank
Beneath the dank, luxuriant weeds
That lay upon the bayou’s breast,
Like vernal argosies at rest.
Like some blind Homer of the wood,—        105
A king in beggared solitude,—
Upon the wide, palmettoed plain,
A giant cypress here and there
Stood in impoverished despair;
With leafless crown, with outstretched limbs,        110
With mien of woe, with voiceless hymns,
With mossy raiment, tattered, gray,
Waiting in dumb and sightless pain,
A model posing for Doré.
Aloft, on horizontal wing,        115
We saw the buzzard rock and swing;
That sturdy sailor of the air,
Whose agile pinions have a grace
That prouder plumes might proudly wear,
And claim it for a kinglier race.        120
From distant oak-groves, sweet and strong,
The voicy mocking-bird gave song,—
That plagiarist whose note is known
As every bird’s, yet all his own.
As shuttles of the Persian looms        125
Catch all of Nature’s subtlest blooms,
Alike her bounty and her dole
To weave in one bewildering whole,
So has this subtile singer caught
All sweetest songs, and deftly wrought        130
Them into one entrancing score
From his rejoicing heart to pour.
Remembering that song, that sky,
“My Love,” I say, “my Love and I”—
“My Summer Love”—yet know not why.        135
We had been friends, we still were friends;
Where love begins and friendship ends,
To both was like some new strange shore
Which hesitating feet explore.
There had we met, surprised to meet        140
And glad to find surprise so sweet;
But not a word, nor sigh, nor token,
Nor tender word unconscious spoken,
Nor lingering clasp, nor sudden kiss,
Had shown Love born of Friendship’s broken,        145
Golden, glorious chrysalis.
Each well content with each to dream,
We drifted down that silent stream,
Searching the book of Nature fair,
To find each other’s picture there,        150
  Lifting our eyes
  To name the skies
Prophets of cloudless destinies,
As down and down the long lagoon
We swept that semi-tropic noon,        155
Each one as sure love lay below
The careless thoughts our lips might breathe,
Or lighter laughter might unfold,
As doth the earnest alchemist know
Beneath his trusted crucibles glow        160
Fires to transmute his dross to gold.

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