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

Introductory to Western States

Elsie in Illinois

By Lucy Larcom (1826–1893)

“HOME is home, no matter where!”

Sang a happy, youthful pair,

Journeying westward, years ago,—

As they left the April snow

White on Massachusetts’ shore;

Left the sea’s incessant roar;

Left the Adirondacks, piled

Like the playthings of a child,

On the horizon’s eastern bound;

And, the unbroken forests found,

Heard Niagara’s sullen call,

Hurrying to his headlong fall,

Like a Titan in distress,

Tearing through the wilderness,

Rending earth apart, in hate

Of the unpitying hounds of fate.

Over Erie’s green expanse

Inland wildfowl weave their dance:

Lakes on lakes, a crystal chain,

Give the clear heaven back again;—

Wampum strung by Manitou,

Lightly as the beaded dew.

Is it wave, or is it shore?—

Greener gleams the prairie-floor,

West and south, one emerald;

Earth untenanted, unwalled.

There, a thread of silent joy,

Winds the grass-hid Illinois.

Bringing comfort unawares

Out of little daily cares,

Here has Elsie lived a year,

Learning well that home is dear,

By the green breadth measureless

Of the outside wilderness,

So unshadowed, so immense!

Garden without path or fence,

Rolling up its billowy bloom

To her low, one-windowed room.

Breath of prairie-flowers is sweet;

But the baby at her feet

Is the sweetest bud to her,

Keeping such a pleasant stir,

On the cabin hearth at play,

While his father turns the hay,

Loads the grain, or binds the stack,

Until sunset brings him back.

Elsie’s thoughts awake must keep,

While the baby lies asleep.

Far Niagara haunts her ears;

Mississippi’s rush she hears;

Ancient nurses twain, that croon

For her babe their mighty tune,

Lapped upon the prairies wild:

He will be a wondrous child!

Ah! but Elsie’s thoughts will stray

Where, a child, she used to play

In the shadow of the pines:

Moss and scarlet-berried vines

Carpeted the granite ledge,

Sloping to the brooklet’s edge,

Sweet with violets, blue and white;

While the dandelions, bright

As if Night had spilt her stars,

Shone beneath the meadow-bars.

Could she hold her babe, to look

In that merry, babbling brook,—

See it picturing his eye

As the violet’s blue and shy,—

See his dimpled fingers creep

Where the sweet-breathed Mayflowers peep

With pale pink anemones,

Out among the budding trees!—

On his soft cheek falls a tear

For the hillside home so dear.

At her household work she dreams;

And the endless prairie seems

Like a broad, unmeaning face

Read through in a moment’s space,

Where the smile so fixed is grown,

Better you would like a frown.

Elsie sighs, “We learn too late,

Little things are more than great.

Hearts like ours must daily be

Fed with some kind mystery,

Hidden in a rocky nook,

Whispered from a wayside brook,

Flashed on unexpecting eyes,

In a wingèd, swift surprise:

Small the pleasure is to trace

Boundlessness of commonplace.”

But the south-wind, stealing in,

Her to happier moods will win.

In and out the little gate

Creep wild roses delicate:

Fragrant grasses hint a tale

Of the blossomed intervale

Left behind, among the hills.

Every flower-cup mystery fills;

Every idle breeze goes by,

Burdened with life’s blissful sigh.

Elsie hums a thoughtful air;

Spreads the table, sets a chair

Where her husband firs t shall see

Baby laughing on her knee;

While she watches him afar,

Coming with the evening star

Through the prairie, through the sky,

Each as from eternity.