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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Western States: Prairies, The

A Prairie Nest

By Lucy Larcom (1826–1893)

WHEN youth was in its May-day prime,

Life’s blossoming and singing time,

While heart and hope made cheerful chime,

We dropped into our cottage-nest

Upon a prairie’s mighty breast,

Soft billowing towards the unknown West.

Green earth beneath, blue sky above!

Through verdure vast the hidden dove

Sent plaintively her moan of love.

South wind and sunshine filled the air;

Thought flew in widening curves, to share

The large, sweet calmness everywhere.

In space two confluent rivers made,—

Kaskaskia, that far southward strayed,

And Mississippi, sunk in shade

Of level twilights,—nestled we,

As in the cleft branch of a tree;

Green grass, blue sky, all we could see.

Torch-like, our garden-plot illumed

The sea-like waste, when sunset gloomed;

Its homely scents the night perfumed;

And through the long bright noontide hours

Its tints outblazed the prairie-flowers:

Gay, gay and glad, that nest of ours!

Our marigolds, our poppies red,

Straggling away from their trim bed,

With phlox and larkspur rioted;

And we, fresh-hearted, every day

Found fantasies wherewith to play,

As daring and as free as they.

The drumming grouse; the whistling quail;

Wild horses prancing down the gale;

A lonely tree that seemed a sail

Far out at sea; a cabin-spark

Winking at us across the dark:

The wolf’s cry, like a watch-dog’s bark;

And sometimes sudden jet and spire

Belting the horizon in with fire,

That writhed and died in serpent-gyre,—

Without a care we saw, we heard:

To dread or pleasure lightly stirred

As, in mid-flight, the homeward bird.

The stars hung low above our roof;

Rainbow and cloud-film wrought a woof

Of glory round us, danger-proof;

It sometimes seemed as if our cot

Were the one safe, selected spot

Whereon Heaven centred steadiest thought.

Man was afar, but God close by;

And we might fold our wings, or fly,

Beneath the sun, His open eye:

With bird and breeze in brotherhood,

We simply felt and understood

That earth was fair, that He was good.

Nature, so full of secrets coy,

Wrote out the mystery of her joy

On those broad swells of Illinois;

Her virgin heart to Heaven was true.

We trusted Heaven and her, and knew

The grass was green, the skies were blue,

And life was sweet! What find we more

In wearying quest from shore to shore?

Ah, gracious memory! to restore

Our golden West, its sun, its showers,

And that gay little nest of ours

Dropped down among the prairie-flowers!