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

Western States: Memphis, Tenn.


By John Townsend Trowbridge (1827–1916)

(From Guy Vernon)

AT last he seemed to lose it altogether

Upon the Mississippi; where he stayed

His course at Memphis, undecided whether

He should go back or forward. Here he strayed

One afternoon along the esplanade

And high bluff of the river-fronting town,

To watch the boats and see the sun go down.

The lyric fit had left him; but the sight

Of the strong river sweeping vast and slow,

Gleaming far off, a flood of crimson light;

And, darkly hung between it and the glow

Of a most lovely sunset sky, the low,

Interminable forests of Arkansas,

Might have inspired some very pretty stanzas.

The esplanade looks down upon the landing,

A broadly shelving bank, well trodden and bare,

Called by a singular misunderstanding

The levee,—while there is no levee there;

The famous landing at New Orleans, where

There is one, having fixed the name forever

For that and other landings on the river.

Acres of merchandise, of cotton-bales,

And bales of hay, awaiting transportation;

Ploughs, household goods, and kegs of rum or nails,

Endless supplies for village and plantation,

Enclosed a scene of wondrous animation,

Of outcry and apparent wild confusion

Contrasting with the sunset’s soft illusion;—

The steamers lying broadside to the stream,

With delicately pillared decks, the clang

Of bells, the uproar of escaping steam;

There, tugging at some heavy rope, the gang

Of slaves that all together swayed and sang,

Their voices rising in a wild, rich chime,

To which lithe forms and lithe black arms kept time;

The shouts of negro-drivers, droves of mules,

Driven in their turn by madly yelling blacks;

Chairs, tables, kitchen-ware and farming-tools,

Carts, wagons, barrels, boxes, bales, and sacks,

Pushed, hauled, rolled, tumbled, tossed, or borne on backs

Of files of men, across the ways of plank

Between the loading steamers and the bank!

Then as the sunlight faded from the stream,

And deepening shadows cooled the upper air,

The waves were lighted by the lurid gleam

Of flamebeaux that began to smoke and flare,

And cast a picturesque and ruddy glare

On shore and boats and men of every hue.