Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  On Receiving an Eagle’s Quill from Lake Superior

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

Western States: Superior, the Lake

On Receiving an Eagle’s Quill from Lake Superior

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)


ALL day the darkness and the cold

Upon my heart have lain,

Like shadows on the winter sky,

Like frost upon the pane;

But now my torpid fancy wakes,

And, on thy eagle’s plume,

Rides forth, like Sindbad on his bird,

Or witch upon her broom!

Below me roar the rocking pines,

Before me spreads the lake

Whose long and solemn-sounding waves

Against the sunset break.

I hear the wild rice-eater thresh

The grain he has not sown;

I see, with flashing scythe of fire,

The prairie harvest mown!

I hear the far-off voyager’s horn;

I see the Yankee’s trail,—

His foot on every mountain-pass,

On every stream his sail.

By forest, lake, and waterfall,

I see his pedler show;

The mighty mingling with the mean,

The lofty with the low.

He ’s whittling by St. Mary’s Falls,

Upon his loaded wain;

He ’s measuring o’er the Pictured Rocks,

With eager eyes of gain.

I hear the mattock in the mine,

The axe-stroke in the dell,

The clamor from the Indian lodge,

The Jesuit chapel bell!

I see the swarthy trappers come

From Mississippi’s springs;

And war-chiefs with their painted brows,

And crests of eagle wings.

Behind the scared squaw’s birch canoe

The steamer smokes and raves;

And city lots are staked for sale

Above old Indian graves.

I hear the tread of pioneers

Of nations yet to be;

The first low wash of waves, where soon

Shall roll a human sea.

The rudiments of empire here

Are plastic yet and warm;

The chaos of a mighty world

Is rounding into form!

Each rude and jostling fragment soon

Its fitting place shall find,—

The raw material of a State,

Its muscle and its mind!

And, westering still, the star which leads

The New World in its train

Has tipped with fire the icy spears

Of many a mountain chain.

The snowy cones of Oregon

Are kindling on its way;

And California’s golden sands

Gleam brighter in its ray!

Then blessings on thy eagle quill,

As, wandering far and wide,

I thank thee for this twilight dream

And Fancy’s airy ride!