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

Western States: Mississippi, the River

Brother Antonio

By Annie Chambers-Ketchum (1824–1904)


THE WOOD-YARD fires flare over the deck,

As the steamer is moored to a sunken wreck.

They glare on the smoke-stacks, tall and black;

They flush on the quick steam’s flying rack;

But shimmer soft on the curly hair

Of children crouched by the gangway and stair,

And rest like hands on the furrowed brow

Of an old man bent o’er his shrouded frau.

Dark sweeps the restless river’s tide,

While the pall of night comes down to hide

From the careless gaze of strangers near,

The pale thin form on the pine-plank bier.

They had come from the legend-haunted Rhine

To the grand New World where the free stare shine,

Seeking the fortune they might not find

In the Fatherland they had left behind;

And while the proud fleet ship would toss

The spray from her wings like an albatross,

Their shouting children sung with glee

Wild, stirring songs of the brave and free.

They saw the Indian isles of palm;

The Mexique shores with their spice and balm;

And the Mississippi, an inland main,

With its orange-groves and its fields of cane.

Sweet, round the tawny river’s mouth,

Blew the rare odors of the South,

And bright in the reeds, as the steamer sped,

The white crane gleamed, and the ibis red.

So, ere they reached the far-off goal

Where boundless prairie gardens roll

From river to mount in their flowery braid

Like playgrounds by the Titans made;

While all her little ones round her crept,

And looked in her dying face and wept,—

She closed her sunken, faded eyes,

Forever on alien woods and skies.

They were far from consecrated ground,

And the unshorn forest before them frowned;

But a vagrant footfall would not press

The lone grave in the wilderness;

So, turning away from his cherished dead,

With a quivering lip old Hermann said,

As he looked toward the peaceful, virgin sod,

“I ’ll bury her there, in the name of God.”

They dug her grave in the forest lone,

While the night-wind murmured a sobbing moan,

And the wood-yard fires, now red, now dim,

Peopled the dark with spectres grim.


The old man kneels in the sacred place;

On the cold damp clay he lays his face;

When out from the gloom of a moss-hung tree,

A low voice murmurs, “Pray for me.”

He sees in the thicket a dark-browed man

Where the green palmetto spreads its fan;

His tall form hid in the darkening night,

His face aglow in the flambeau’s light.

A moment more, and a palm-branch fair

Is laid on the fresh-heaped hillock there;

The stranger kneels by the silent dead,—

“I, too, have buried my life,” he said.


Fair in the morning’s rosy fire

Saint Lazarus lifts its silver spire.

The river circles the garden round,

And the still, bird-haunted burying-ground.

Children about the cloisters play,

And tell, as a tale of yesterday,

How the corner-stone by the bishop was laid,

And Brother Antonio a deacon made,—

Brother Antonio, round whose head

The brown bees hum when the hives are fed;

Who pulls the weeds from the garden-walks,

And shields from the sun the tender stalks;

In whose boat the fisher’s children ride

And sing as he rows to the farther side;

About whose feet each helpless thing

May buzz and blossom and crawl and sing,—

Brother Antonio, who gave his gold

To build this home for the sick and old;

Who teaches the lads in the village class;

Who helps old Hermann mow the grass,

Or sits at his door in the twilight dim,

And sings with his sons their mother’s hymn.

The ships come in with their emigrant poor

Crowded like sheep on the steerage-floor;

But smiles on the lips of the feeblest play

As Brother Antonio leads the way,

Guiding their babes with a tender care

Down the noisy deck and the gangway-stair

To the hospital grounds so fresh and cool,

Where the gold-fish glance in the sparkling pool,

And the gentle Sisters day and night

Watch by the sick on their couches white.

Many a nook in the graveyard fair

Is bright with lilies and roses rare;

But one wild spot by the river-side

Is fairest at midnight’s solemn tide;

And there, where the green palmetto’s fan

Shadows a headstone gray and wan,

Where the long moss swings and the eddies moan,

Brother Antonio prays, alone.