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

Introductory to Western States

An Arctic Vision

By Bret Harte (1836–1902)

WHERE the short-legged Esquimaux

Waddle in the ice and snow,

And the playful polar bear

Nips the hunter unaware;

Where by day they track the ermine,

And by night another vermin,—

Segment of the frigid zone,

Where the temperature alone

Warms on St. Elias’ cone;

Polar dock, where Nature slips

From the ways her icy ships;

Land of fox and deer and sable,

Shore end of our western cable,—

Let the news that flying goes

Thrill through all your Arctic floes,

And reverberate the boast

From the cliffs of Beechey’s coast,

Till the tidings, circling round

Every bay of Norton Sound,

Throw the vocal tide-wave back

To the isles of Kodiac.

Let the stately polar bears

Waltz around the pole in pairs,

And the walrus, in his glee,

Bare his tusk of ivory;

While the bold sea unicorn

Calmly takes an extra horn;

All ye polar skies, reveal your

Very rarest of parhelia;

Trip it, all ye merry dancers,

In the airiest of lancers;

Slide, ye solemn glaciers, slide,

One inch farther to the tide,

Nor in rash precipitation

Upset Tyndall’s calculation.

Know you not what fate awaits you,

Or to whom the future mates you?

All ye icebergs make salaam,—

You belong to Uncle Sam!

On the spot where Eugene Sue

Led his wretched Wandering Jew,

Stands a form whose features strike

Russ and Esquimaux alike.

He it is whom Skalds of old

In their Runic rhymes foretold;

Lean of flank and lank of jaw,

See the real Northern Thor!

See the awful Yankee leering

Just across the Straits of Behring;

On the drifted snow, too plain,

Sinks his fresh tobacco stain

Just beside the deep inden-

Tation of his Number Ten.

Leaning on his icy hammer

Stands the hero of this drama,

And above the wild-duck’s clamor,

In his own peculiar grammar,

With its linguistic disguises,

Lo, the Arctic prologue rises:

“Wall, I reckon ’t ain’t so bad,

Seein’ ez ’t was all they had;

True, the Springs are rather late

And early Falls predominate;

But the ice crop ’s pretty sure,

And the air is kind o’ pure;

’T ain’t so very mean a trade,

When the land is all surveyed.

There ’s a right smart chance for fur-chase

All along this recent purchase,

And, unless the stories fail,

Every fish from cod to whale;

Rocks, too; mebbe quartz; let ’s see,—

’T would be strange if there should be,—

Seems I ’ve heerd such stories told;

Eh!—why, bless us;—yes, it ’s gold!”

While the blows are falling thick

From his California pick,

You may recognize the Thor

Of the vision that I saw,—

Freed from legendary glamour,

See the real magician’s hammer.