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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Birds of Passage

Flight the Fifth. The Herons of Elmwood

  • Collected in the volume entitled Kéramos and other Poems, 1878. Elmwood, in the first poem, was the home of James Russell Lowell.

  • WARM and still is the summer night,

    As here by the river’s brink I wander;

    White overhead are the stars, and white

    The glimmering lamps on the hillside yonder.

    Silent are all the sounds of day;

    Nothing I hear but the chirp of crickets,

    And the cry of the herons winging their way

    O’er the poet’s house in the Elmwood thickets.

    Call to him, herons, as slowly you pass

    To your roosts in the haunts of the exiled thrushes,

    Sing him the song of the green morass,

    And the tides that water the reeds and rushes.

    Sing him the mystical Song of the Hern,

    And the secret that baffles our utmost seeking;

    For only a sound of lament we discern,

    And cannot interpret the words you are speaking.

    Sing of the air, and the wild delight

    Of wings that uplift and winds that uphold you,

    The joy of freedom, the rapture of flight

    Through the drift of the floating mists that infold you;

    Of the landscape lying so far below,

    With its towns and rivers and desert places;

    And the splendor of light above, and the glow

    Of the limitless, blue, ethereal spaces.

    Ask him if songs of the Troubadours,

    Or of Minnesingers in old black-letter,

    Sound in his ears more sweet than yours,

    And if yours are not sweeter and wilder and better.

    Sing to him, say to him, here at his gate,

    Where the boughs of the stately elms are meeting,

    Some one hath lingered to meditate,

    And send him unseen this friendly greeting;

    That many another hath done the same,

    Though not by a sound was the silence broken;

    The surest pledge of a deathless name

    Is the silent homage of thoughts unspoken.