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

Central America: Nicaragua

In Nicaragua

By Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)

(From With Walker in Nicaragua)

HOW wound we through the solid wood,

With all its broad boughs hung in green,

With lichen-mosses trailed between!

How waked the spotted beasts of prey,

Deep sleeping from the face of day,

And dashed them like a troubled flood

Down some defile and denser wood!

And snakes, long, lithe, and beautiful

As green and graceful-boughed bamboo,

Did twist and twine them through and through

The boughs that hung red-fruited full.

One, monster-sized, above me hung,

Close eyed me with his bright pink eyes,

Then raised his folds, and swayed and swung,

And licked like lightning his red tongue,

Then oped his wide mouth with surprise;

He writhed and curved, and raised and lowered

His folds like liftings of the tide,

And sank so low I touched his side,

As I rode by, with my broad sword.

The trees shook hands high overhead,

And bowed and intertwined across

The narrow way, while leaves and moss

And luscious fruit, gold-hued and red,

Through all the canopy of green,

Let not one sunshaft shoot between.

Birds hung and swung, green-robed and red,

Or drooped in curved lines dreamily,

Rainbows reversed, from tree to tree,

Or sang low-hanging overhead,—

Sang low, as if they sang and slept,

Sang faint, like some far waterfall,

And took no note of us at all,

Though nuts that in the way were spread

Did crush and crackle as we stept.

Wild lilies, tall as maidens are,

As sweet of breath, as pearly fair,

As fair as faith, as pure as truth,

Fell thick before our every tread,

As in a sacrifice to ruth,

And all the air with perfume filled

More sweet than ever man distilled.

The ripened fruit a fragrance shed

And hung in hand-reach overhead,

In nest of blossoms on the shoot,

The bending shoot that bore the fruit.

How ran the monkeys through the leaves!

How rushed they through, brown-clad and blue,

Like shuttles hurried through and through

The threads a hasty weaver weaves!

How quick they cast us fruits of gold,

Then loosened hand and all foothold,

And hung limp, limber, as if dead,

Hung low and listless overhead;

And all the time, with half-oped eyes

Bent full on us in mute surprise,—

Looked wisely too, as wise hens do

That watch you with the head askew.

The long days through from blossomed trees

There came the sweet song of sweet bees,

With chorus-tones of cockatoo

That slid his beak along the bough,

And walked and talked and hung and swung,

In crown of gold and coat of blue,

The wisest fool that ever sung,

Or had a crown, or held a tongue.

Oh, when we broke the sombre wood

And pierced at last the sunny plain,

How wild and still with wonder stood

The proud mustangs with bannered mane,

And necks that never knew a rein,

And nostrils lifted high, and blown,

Fierce breathing as a hurricane:

Yet by their leader held the while

In solid column, square, and file,

And ranks more martial than our own!

Some one above the common kind,

Some one to look to, lean upon,

I think is much a woman’s mind;

But it was mine, and I had drawn

A rein beside the chief while we

Rode through the forest leisurely;

When he grew kind and questioned me

Of kindred, home, and home affair,

Of how I came to wander there,

And had my father herds and land

And men in hundreds at command?

At which I silent shook my head,

Then, timid, met his eyes and said,

“Not so. Where sunny foot-hills run

Down to the North Pacific sea,

And Willamette meets the sun

In many angles, patiently

My father tends his flocks of snow,

And turns alone the mellow sod,

And sows some fields not over broad,

And mourns my long delay in vain,

Nor bids one serve-man come or go;

While mother from her wheel or churn,

And may be from the milking shed,

There lifts an humble weary head

To watch and wish for my return

Across the camas’ blossomed plain.”

He held his bent head very low,

A sudden sadness in his air;

Then turned and touched my yellow hair

And took the long locks in his hand,

Toyed with them, smiled, and let them go,

Then thrummed about his saddle-bow

As thought ran swift across his face;

Then turning sudden from his place,

He gave some short and quick command.

They brought the best steed of the band,

They swung a bright sword at my side,

He bade me mount and by him ride,

And from that hour to the end

I never felt the need of friend.