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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX. 1876–79.

Introductory to Mexico

El Palo Santo

By Frances Fuller Victor (1826–1902)

IN the deep woods of Mexico,

Where screams the painted paroquet,

Where mocking-birds flit to and fro,

With borrowed notes they half forget;

Where brilliant flowers and poisonous vines

Are mingled in a firm embrace,

And the same gaudy plant entwines

Some reptile of a venomed race;

Where spreads the Itos’ chilly shade,

Benumbing, even in summer’s heat,

The weary traveller who hath laid

Himself to noonday slumbers sweet;

Where skulks unseen the beast of prey,

The native robber glares and hides,

And treacherous death keeps watch alway

For him who flies or him who bides.

In the deep tropic woods there grows

A tree whose tall and silvery bole

Above the dusky forest shows

As shining as a saintly soul

Among the souls of sinful men,

Lifting its milk-white flowers to heaven,

And breathing incense out, as when

Earth’s almost sinless ones are shriven.

The skulking robber drops his eyes,

And signs himself with holy cross,

If far, between him and the skies,

He sees its pearly blossoms toss:

The wanderer halts to gaze upon

The lovely vision far and near,

And smiles and sighs to think of one

He wishes for the moment here.

Nor Mexic native fears the fang,

The poisoned vine, the venomed bee,

If he may soothe the baleful pang

With juices from his “holy tree.”

How do we all in life’s wild ways,

Which oft we traverse lost and lone,

Need that which heavenward draws the gaze,

Some Palo Santo of our own!