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

Birds of Passage

Flight the First. The Ropewalk

IN that building, long and low,

With its windows all a-row,

Like the port-holes of a hulk,

Human spiders spin and spin,

Backward down their threads so thin

Dropping, each a hempen bulk.

At the end, an open door;

Squares of sunshine on the floor

Light the long and dusky lane;

And the whirring of a wheel,

Dull and drowsy, makes me feel

All its spokes are in my brain.

As the spinners to the end

Downward go and reascend,

Gleam the long threads in the sun;

While within this brain of mine

Cobwebs brighter and more fine

By the busy wheel are spun.

Two fair maidens in a swing,

Like white doves upon the wing,

First before my vision pass;

Laughing, as their gentle hands

Closely clasp the twisted strands,

At their shadow on the grass.

Then a booth of mountebanks,

With its smell of tan and planks,

And a girl poised high in air

On a cord, in spangled dress,

With a faded loveliness,

And a weary look of care.

Then a homestead among farms,

And a woman with bare arms

Drawing water from a well;

As the bucket mounts apace,

With it mounts her own fair face,

As at some magician’s spell.

Then an old man in a tower,

Ringing loud the noontide hour,

While the rope coils round and round

Like a serpent at his feet,

And again, in swift retreat,

Nearly lifts him from the ground.

Then within a prison-yard,

Faces fixed, and stern, and hard,

Laughter and indecent mirth;

Ah! it is the gallows-tree!

Breath of Christian charity,

Blow, and sweep it from the earth!

Then a school-boy, with his kite

Gleaming in a sky of light,

And an eager, upward look;

Steeds pursued through lane and field;

Fowlers with their snares concealed;

And an angler by a brook.

Ships rejoicing in the breeze,

Wrecks that float o’er unknown seas,

Anchors dragged through faithless sand;

Sea-fog drifting overhead,

And, with lessening line and lead,

Sailors feeling for the land.

All these scenes do I behold,

These, and many left untold,

In that building long and low;

While the wheel goes round and round,

With a drowsy, dreamy sound,

And the spinners backward go.