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

Introductory to Western States


By Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)

(From Joaquin)

I STAND beside the mobile sea;

And sails are spread, and sails are furled

From farthest corners of the world,

And fold like white wings wearily.

Steamships go up, and some go down

In haste, like traders in a town,

And seem to see and beckon all.

Afar at sea some white shapes flee,

With arms stretched like a ghost’s to me,

And cloud-like sails far blown and curled,

Then glide down to the under-world.

As if blown bare in winter blasts

Of leaf and limb, tall naked masts

Are rising from the restless sea,

So still and desolate and tall,

I seem to see them gleam and shine

With clinging drops of dripping brine.

Broad still brown wings flit here and there,

Thin sea-blue wings wheel everywhere,

And white wings whistle through the air:

I hear a thousand sea-gulls call.

Behold the ocean on the beach

Kneel lowly down as if in prayer.

I hear a moan as of despair,

While far at sea do toss and reach

Some things so like white pleading hands.

The ocean’s thin and hoary hair

Is trailed along the silvered sands,

At every sigh and sounding moan.

’T is not a place for mirthfulness,

But meditation deep, and prayer,

And kneelings on the salted sod,

Where man must own his littleness

And know the mightiness of God.

The very birds shriek in distress

And sound the ocean’s monotone.

Dared I but say a prophecy,

As sang the holy men of old,

Of rock-built cities yet to be

Along these shining shores of gold,

Crowding athirst into the sea,

What wondrous marvels might be told!

Enough, to know that empire here

Shall burn her loftiest, brightest star;

Here art and eloquence shall reign,

As o’er the wolf-reared realm of old;

Here learned and famous from afar,

To pay their noble court, shall come,

And shall not seek or see in vain,

But look on all with wonder dumb.

Afar the bright Sierras lie

A swaying line of snowy white,

A fringe of heaven hung in sight

Against the blue base of the sky.

I look along each gaping gorge,

I hear a thousand sounding strokes

Like giants rending giant oaks,

Or brawny Vulcan at his forge;

I see pickaxes flash and shine

And great wheels whirling in a mine.

Here winds a thick and yellow thread,

A mossed and silver stream instead;

And trout that leaped its rippled tide

Have turned upon their sides and died.

Lo! when the last pick in the mine

Is rusting red with idleness.

And rot yon cabins in the mould,

And wheels no more croak in distress,

And tall pines reassert command,

Sweet bards along this sunset shore

Their mellow melodies will pour;

Will charm as charmers very wise,

Will strike the harp with master hand,

Will sound unto the vaulted skies

The valor of these men of old,—

The mighty men of ’Forty-nine;

Will sweetly sing and proudly say,

Long, long agone there was a day

When there were giants in the land.