Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Introductory to Chinese Empire


By Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903)

(From Guests of the State)

WHAT shall we call

This Curious One, who builded a great wall,

That, rivers crossing, skirting mountain steeps,

Did not keep out, but let in, the Invader;

Who is what her ancients made her;

Who neither wholly wakes, nor wholly sleeps,

Fool at once and sage,

Childhood of more than patriarchal age?

With twinkling, almond eyes, and little feet,

She totters hither, from her fields of flowers,

From where Pekin uplifts its pictured towers,

And from the markets where her merchants meet

And barter with the world. We close our eyes,

And see her otherwise.

(Perhaps the spell began

With the quaint figures on her painted fan.)

At first she is a Land,

A stretch of plains and mountains, and long rivers,

Down which her inland tribute she delivers

To the sea cities: where a child may stand,

A man may climb, plants are, and shrubs, and trees;

Arable everywhere,

No idlers there

In that vast hive-world of industrious bees!

Now she is many persons, many things,

The little and the great:

The Emperor ploughing in the Sacred Field,

What time the New-Year comes in solemn state;

A soldier, with his matchlock, bow, and shield,

Behind the many-bannered dragon wings;

A bonze, where the high pagodas rise,

And Buddha sits, cross-legged, in rapt repose;

A husbandman that goes

And sows his fallow fields with barley, wheat,

And gathers in his harvests, dries his tea;

Hunter, from whom the silver pheasant flies;

Boatman, whose boat floats downward to the sea;

Sailor, whose junk is clumsy; woodman, who

Cuts camphor-trees and groves of tall bamboo;

Gardens, wherein the zones like sisters meet,

Where bud and flower and fruit together grow,

The banyan and pomegranate, and the palm,

And the great water-lily, white as snow;

Rivers, with low squat bridges; everywhere

Women and children; beardless men, with queues,

In tunics, short wide trousers, silken shoes,

Some with the peakéd caps of Mandarins;

Behold the ruby button burning there,

And yonder severed head that ghastly grins;

Old hillside tombs, where mourners still repair;

Innumerous bustle, immemorial calm,—

And this is China!