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

Middle States: Cayuga, the Lake, N. Y.

Cayuga Lake

By Alfred Billings Street (1811–1881)

(From Frontenac)

SWEET, sylvan lake! in memory’s gold

Is set the time when first my eye

From thy green shore beheld thee hold

Thy mirror to the sunset sky.

No ripple brushed its delicate air,

Rich silken tints alone were there;

The far opposing shore displayed,

Mingling its tints, a tender shade;

A sail, scarce seeming to the sight

To move, spread there its pinion white,

Like some pure spirit stealing on

Down from its realm, by beauty won.

Oh, who could view the scene, nor feel

Its gentle peace within him steal,

Nor in his inmost bosom bless

Its rich and radiant loveliness!

My heart bent low its willing knee

Before the glorious Deity;

Beauty led up my soul to Him,—

Beauty, though cold and poor and dim

Beside his radiance, beauty still

That made my inmost bosom thrill;

To loftier life my being wrought,

And purified my every thought;

Crept, like soft music, through my mind,

And every feeling soft refined,

Lifting me, that pure, lovely even,

One precious moment up to heaven.

Then, contrast wild, I saw the cloud,

The next day, rear its sable crest;

And heard, with awe, the thunder loud

Come, crashing, o’er thy blackening breast.

Down swooped the Eagle of the Blast;

One mass of foam flew, tossing high;

While the red lightnings fierce and fast

Shot from the wild and scowling sky;

And burst in mad and mighty train

One tumbling cataract, the rain.

I saw, within the driving mist,

Dim, writhing, stooping shapes;—the trees

That the last eve so softly kissed,

And birds so filled with melodies.

Still rushed the wind with keener shriek;

The tossing waters higher rolled;

Still fiercer flashed the lightning’s streak,

Still gloomier frowned the tempest’s fold.

Ah! such, ah! such is life, I sighed,

That lovely yester eve and this.

Now it reflects the radiant pride

Of youth and hope and promised bliss;

Earth’s future track an Eden seems

Far lovelier than our loveliest dreams.

Again, the tempest rushes o’er,

The sky’s blue smile is seen no more;

The placid deep to foam is tossed,

All trace of peace and beauty lost.

Despair is hovering, dark and wild.

Ah, what can save Earth’s stricken child!

Sweet, sylvan lake! beside thee now

Green hamlets point their spires to heaven;

Rich meadows wave, broad grain-fields bow,

The axe resounds, the plough is driven,

Down verdant slopes roam herds to drink;

Flocks strew, like spots of snow, thy brink;

The frequent farm-house greets the sight;

Mid falling harvests scythes are bright;

The watch-dog’s bark sounds faint from far;

Shakes on the ear the saw-mill’s jar;

The steamer, like a gliding bird,

Stems the rich emerald of thy wave;

And the gay song and laugh are heard,

But all is o’er the Indian’s grave!

Pause, white man! check thy onward stride!

Cease o’er the wave thy prow to guide!

Until is given one sigh sincere

For those who once were monarchs here;

And prayer is made, beseeching God

To spare us his avenging rod

For all the wrongs upon the head

Of the poor, helpless savage shed;

Who, strong when we were weak, did not

Trample us down upon the spot,

But, weak when we were strong, were cast

Like leaves upon the rushing blast.

Sweet, sylvan lake! one single gem

Glitters in thy green diadem.

No sister has this fairy isle

To yield its beauty smile for smile;

With it, to hear the bluebird sing,

“Wake, leaves and flowers! here comes the Spring!”

With it, to weave for Summer’s tread

Mosses below, and bowers o’erhead;

With it, to flash on gorgeous skies

The opal pomp of Autumn dyes,

And when stern Winter’s tempests blow,

To shrink beneath his robes of snow.

Sweet, sylvan lake! that isle of thine

Is like one hope through grief to shine;

Is like one tie our life to cheer;

Is like one flower when all is sere;

One ray amid the tempest’s might;

One star amid the gloom of night.