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

Australia: Pelican Island

Pelican Island

By James Montgomery (1771–1854)


MEANWHILE, not idle, though unwatched by me,

The coral architects in silence reared

Tower after tower beneath the dark abyss.

Pyramidal in form the fabrics rose,

From ample basements narrowing to the height,

Until they pierced the surface of the flood,

And dimpling eddies sparkled round their peaks.

Then (if great things with small may be compared)

They spread like water-lilies, whose broad leaves

Make green and sunny islets on the pool,

For golden flies, on summer days, to haunt,

Safe from the lightning-seizure of the trout;

Or yield their lap to catch the minnow springing

Clear from the stream to ’scape the ruffian pike,

That prowls in disappointed rage beneath,

And wonders where the little wretch found refuge.

One headland topt the waves, another followed;

A third, a tenth, a twentieth soon appeared,

Till the long barren gulf in travail lay

With many an infant struggling into birth.

Larger they grew and lovelier, when they breathed

The vital air, and felt the genial sun;

As though a living spirit dwelt in each,

Which, like the inmate of a flexile shell,

Moulded the shapeless slough with its own motion,

And painted it with colors of the morn.

Amidst that group of younger sisters stood

The Isle of Pelicans, as stands the moon

At midnight, queen among the minor stars,

Differing in splendor, magnitude, and distance.

So looked that sleeping archipelago: small isles,

By interwinding channels linked yet sundered;

All flourishing in peaceful fellowship,

Like forest-oaks that love society:

Of various growth and progress; here, a rock

On which a single palm-tree waved its banner

There, sterile tracts unmouldered into soil;

Yonder, dark woods whose foliage swept the water,

Without a speck of turf, or line of shore,

As though their roots were anchored in the ocean.

But most were gardens redolent with flowers,

And orchards bending with Hesperian fruit

That realized the dreams of olden time.

Throughout this commonwealth of sea-sprung lands

Life kindled in ten thousand happy forms;

Earth, air, and ocean were all full of life,

Still highest in the rank of being soared

The fowls amphibious, and the inland tribes

Of dainty plumage or melodious song;

In gaudy robes of many-colored patches,

The parrots swung like blossoms on the trees,

While their harsh voices undeceived the ear.

More delicately pencilled, finer drawn

In shape and lineament,—too exquisite

For gross delights,—the Birds of Paradise

Floated aloof, as though they lived on air,

And were the orient progeny of heaven,

Or spirits made perfect veiled in shining raiment.

From flower to flower, where wild bees flew and sung,

As countless, small, and musical as they,

Showers of bright humming-birds came down, and plied

The same ambrosial task, with slender bills

Extracting honey, hidden in those bells

Whose richest blooms grew pale beneath the blaze

Of twinkling winglets hovering o’er their petals,

Brilliant as rain-drops where the western sun

Sees his own beams of miniature in each.


The fierce sea-eagle, humble in attire,

In port terrific, from his lonely eyrie,

(Itself a burden for the tallest tree)

Looked down o’er land and sea as his dominions:

Now, from long chase, descending with his prey,

Young seal or dolphin, in his deadly clutch,

He fed his eagles in the noonday sun;

Nor less at midnight ranged the deep for game;

At length entrapped with his own talons, struck

Too deep to be withdrawn, where a strong shark,

Roused by the anguish, with impetuous plunge,

Dragged his assailant down into the abyss,

Struggling in vain for liberty and life:

His young ones heard their parent’s dying shrieks,

And watched in vain for his returning wing.

Here ran the stormy-petrels on the waves,

As though they were the shadows of themselves

Reflected from a loftier flight through space.

The stern and gloomy raven haunted here,

A hermit of the atmosphere, on land

Among vociferating crowds a stranger,

Whose hoarse, low, ominous croak disclaimed communion

With those upon the offal of whose meals

He gorged alone, or tore their own rank corses.

The heavy penguin, neither fish nor fowl,

With scaly feathers and with finny wings,

Plumped stone-like from the rock into the gulf,

Rebounding upward swift as from a sling.

Through yielding water as through limpid air,

The cormorant, Death’s living arrow, flew,

Nor ever missed a stroke, or dealt a second,

So true the infallible destroyer’s aim.