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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

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,—

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,

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.

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,—

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,

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

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,

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

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

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,

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

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;

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.

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

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.

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

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,

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

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,—

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,

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,

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.

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

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

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.

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

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,

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,

Lifting our eyes

To name the skies

Prophets of cloudless destinies,

As down and down the long lagoon

We swept that semi-tropic noon,

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

Fires to transmute his dross to gold.