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

Birds of Passage

Flight the First. The Golden Mile-Stone

  • “December 20, 1854. The weather is ever so cold. The landscape looks dreary; but the sunset and twilight are resplendent. Sketch out a poem, The Golden Mile-Stone.”

  • LEAFLESS are the trees; their purple branches

    Spread themselves abroad, like reefs of coral,

    Rising silent

    In the Red Sea of the winter sunset.

    From the hundred chimneys of the village,

    Like the Afreet in the Arabian story,

    Smoky columns

    Tower aloft into the air of amber.

    At the window winks the flickering fire-light;

    Here and there the lamps of evening glimmer,

    Social watch-fires

    Answering one another through the darkness.

    On the hearth the lighted logs are glowing,

    And like Ariel in the cloven pine-tree

    For its freedom

    Groans and sighs the air imprisoned in them.

    By the fireside there are old men seated,

    Seeing ruined cities in the ashes,

    Asking sadly

    Of the Past what it can ne’er restore them.

    By the fireside there are youthful dreamers,

    Building castles fair, with stately stairways,

    Asking blindly

    Of the Future what it cannot give them.

    By the fireside tragedies are acted

    In whose scenes appear two actors only,

    Wife and husband,

    And above them God the sole spectator.

    By the fireside there are peace and comfort,

    Wives and children, with fair, thoughtful faces,

    Waiting, watching

    For a well-known footstep in the passage.

    Each man’s chimney is his Golden Mile-Stone;

    Is the central point, from which he measures

    Every distance

    Through the gateways of the world around him.

    In his farthest wanderings still he sees it;

    Hears the talking flame, the answering night-wind,

    As he heard them

    When he sat with those who were, but are not.

    Happy he whom neither wealth nor fashion,

    Nor the march of the encroaching city,

    Drives an exile

    From the hearth of his ancestral homestead.

    We may build more splendid habitations,

    Fill our rooms with paintings and with sculptures,

    But we cannot

    Buy with gold the old associations!