Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Inside Plum Island

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

New England: Plum Island, Mass.

Inside Plum Island

By Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835–1921)


WE floated in the idle breeze,

With all our sails a-shiver;

The shining tide came softly through,

And filled Plum Island River.

The shining tide stole softly up

Across the wide green splendor,

Creek swelling creek till all in one

The marshes made surrender.

And clear the flood of silver swung

Between the brimming edges,

And now the depths were dark, and now

The boat slid o’er the sedges.

And here a yellow sand-spit foamed

Amid the great sea meadows,

And here the slumberous waters gloomed

Lucid in emerald shadows.

While, in their friendly multitude

Encamped along our quarter,

The host of hay-cocks seemed to float

With doubles in the water.

Around the sunny distance rose

A blue and hazy highland,

And winding down our winding way

The sand-hills of Plum Island,—

The windy dunes that hid the sea

For many a dreary acre,

And muffled all its thundering fall

Along the wild South Breaker.

We crept by Oldtown’s marshy mouth,

By reedy Rowley drifted,

But far away the Ipswich bar

Its white caps tossed and shifted.

Sometimes we heard a bittern boom,

Sometimes a piping plover,

Sometimes there came the lonesome cry

Of white gulls flying over.

Sometimes, a sudden fount of light,

A sturgeon splashed, and fleeting

Behind the sheltering thatch we heard

Oars in the rowlocks beating.

But all the rest was silence, save

The rippling in the rushes,

The gentle gale that struck the sail

In fitful swells and gushes.

Silence and summer and the sun,

Waking a wizard legion,

Wove as we went their ancient spells

In this enchanted region.

No spectral care could part the veil

Of mist and sunbeams shredded,

That everywhere behind us closed

The labyrinth we threaded.

Beneath our keel the great sky arched

Its liquid light and azure;

We swung between two heavens, ensphered,

Within their charmed embrasure.

Deep in that watery firmament,

With flickering lustres splendid,

Poised in his perfect flight, we saw

The painted hawk suspended,

And there, the while the boat-side leaned,

With youth and laughter laden,

We saw the red fin of the perch,

We saw the swift manhaden.

Outside, the hollow sea might cry,

The wailing wind give warning;

No whisper saddened us, shut in

With sunshine and the morning.

Oh, far, far off the weary world

With all its tumult waited,

Forever here with drooping sails

Would we have hung belated!

Yet, when the flaw came ruffling down,

And round us curled and sallied,

We skimmed with bubbles on our track,

As glad as when we dallied.

Broadly the bare brown Hundreds rose,

The herds their hollows keeping,

And clouds of wings about her mast

From Swallowbanks were sweeping.

While evermore the Bluff before

Grew greenly on our vision,

Lifting beneath its waving boughs

Its grassy slopes Elysian.

There, all day long, the summer sea

Creams murmuring up the shingle;

There, all day long, the airs of earth

With airs of heaven mingle.

Singing we went our happy way,

Singing old songs, nor noted

Another voice that with us sang,

As wing and wing we floated.

Till hushed, we listened, while the air

With music still was beating,

Voice answering tuneful voice, again

The words we sang repeating.

A flight of fluting echoes, sent

With elfin carol o’er us,—

More sweet than bird-song in the prime

Rang out the sea-blown chorus.

Behind those dunes the storms had heaped

In all fantastic fashion,

Who syllabled our songs in strains

Remote from human passion?

What tones were those that caught our own,

Filtered through light and distance,

And tossed them gayly to and fro

With such a sweet insistence?

What shoal of sea-sprites, to the sun

Along the margin flocking,

Dripping with salt dews from the deeps,

Made this melodious mocking?

We laughed,—a hundred voices rose

In airiest, fairiest laughter;

We sang,—a hundred voices quired

And sang the whole song after.

One standing eager in the prow

Blew out his bugle cheerly,

And far and wide their horns replied

More silverly and clearly.

And falling down the falling tide,

Slow and more slowly going,

Flown far, flown far, flown faint and fine,

We heard their horns still blowing.

Then, with the last delicious note

To other skies alluring,

Down ran the sails; beneath the Bluff

The boat lay at her mooring.