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

Southern States: Bayou Plaquemine, La.

Bayou Plaquemine

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

(From Evangeline)

ONWARD o’er sunken sands, through a wilderness sombre with forests,

Day after day they glided adown the turbulent river;

Night after night, by their blazing fires, encamped on its borders.

Now through rushing chutes, among green islands, where plumelike

Cotton-trees nodded their shadowy crests, they swept with the current,

Then emerged into broad lagoons, where silvery sand-bars

Lay in the stream, and along the wimpling waves of their margin,

Shining with snow-white plumes, large flocks of pelicans waded.

Level the landscape grew, and along the shores of the river,

Shaded by china-trees, in the midst of luxuriant gardens,

Stood the houses of planters, with negro-cabins and dove-cots.

They were approaching the region where reigns perpetual summer,

Where through the Golden Coast, and groves of orange and citron,

Sweeps with majestic curve the river away to the eastward.

They, too, swerved from their course; and, entering the Bayou of Plaquemine,

Soon were lost in a maze of sluggish and devious waters.

Which, like a network of steel, extended in every direction.

Over their heads the towering and tenebrous boughs of the cypress

Met in a dusky arch, and trailing mosses in mid-air

Waved like banners that hang on the walls of ancient cathedrals.

Deathlike the silence seemed, and unbroken, save by the herons

Home to their roosts in the cedar-trees returning at sunset,

Or by the owl, as he greeted the moon with demoniac laughter.

Lovely the moonlight was as it glanced and gleamed on the water,

Gleamed on the columns of cypress and cedar sustaining the arches,

Down through whose broken vaults it fell as through chinks in a ruin.


Then in his place, at the prow of the boat, rose one of the oarsmen,

And, as a signal sound, if others like them peradventure

Sailed on those gloomy and midnight streams, blew a blast on his bugle.

Wide through the dark colonnades and corridors leafy the blast rang,

Breaking the seal of silence, and giving tongues to the forest.

Soundless above them the banners of moss just stirred to the music.

Multitudinous echoes awoke and died in the distance,

Over the watery floor, and beneath the reverberant branches;

But not a voice replied; no answer came from the darkness;

And, when the echoes had ceased, like a sense of pain was the silence.

Then Evangeline slept; but the boatmen rowed through the midnight,

Silent at times, then singing familiar Canadian boat-songs,

Such as they sang of old on their own Acadian rivers,

While through the night were heard the mysterious sounds of the desert,

Far off,—indistinct,—as of wave or wind in the forest,

Mixed with the whoop of the crane and the roar of the grim alligator.