Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Pictures from Appledore

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

New England: Isles of Shoals, N. H.

Pictures from Appledore

By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)


A HEAP of bare and splintery crags

Tumbled about by lightning and frost,

With rifts and chasms and storm-bleached jags,

That wait and growl for a ship to be lost;

No island, but rather the skeleton

Of a wrecked and vengeance-smitten one,

Where, æons ago, with half-shut eye,

The sluggish saurian crawled to die,

Gasping under titanic ferns;

Ribs of rock that seaward jut,

Granite shoulders and boulders and snags,

Round which, though the winds in heaven be shut,

The nightmared ocean murmurs and yearns,

Welters, and swashes, and tosses, and turns,

And the dreary black seaweed lolls and wags;

Only rock from shore to shore,

Only a moan through the bleak clefts blown,

With sobs in the rifts where the coarse kelp shifts,

Falling and lifting, tossing and drifting,

And under all a deep, dull roar,

Dying and swelling, forevermore,—

Rock and moan and roar alone,

And the dread of some nameless thing unknown,

These make Appledore.

These make Appledore by night:

Then there are monsters left and right;

Every rock is a different monster;

All you have read of, fancied, dreamed,

When you waked at night because you screamed,

There they lie for half a mile,

Jumbled together in a pile,

And (though you know they never once stir),

If you look long, they seem to be moving

Just as plainly as plain can be,

Crushing and crowding, wading and shoving

Out into the awful sea,

Where you can hear them snort and spout

With pauses between, as if they were listening,

Then tumult anon when the surf breaks glistening

In the blackness where they wallow about.

All this you would scarcely comprehend,

Should you see the isle on a sunny day;

Then it is simple enough in its way,—

Two rocky bulges, one at each end,

With a smaller bulge and a hollow between;

Patches of whortleberry and bay;

Accidents of open green,

Sprinkled with loose slabs square and gray,

Like graveyards for ages deserted; a few

Unsocial thistles; an elder or two,

Foamed over with blossoms white as spray;

And on the whole island never a tree

Save a score of sumachs, high as your knee,

That crouch in hollows where they may,

(The cellars where once stood a village, men say,)

Huddling for warmth, and never grew

Tall enough for a peep at the sea;

A general dazzle of open blue;

A breeze always blowing and playing rat-tat

With the bow of the ribbon round your hat;

A score of sheep that do nothing but stare

Up and down at you everywhere;

Three or four cattle that chew the cud

Lying about in a listless despair;

A medrick that makes you look overhead

With short, sharp scream, as he sights his prey,

And, dropping straight and swift as lead,

Splits the water with sudden thud;—

This is Appledore by day.


Away northeast is Boone Island light;

You might mistake it for a ship,

Only it stands too plumb upright,

And like the others does not slip

Behind the sea’s unsteady brink;

Though, if a cloud-shade chance to dip

Upon it a moment, ’twill suddenly sink,

Levelled and lost in the darkened main,

Till the sun builds it suddenly up again,

As if with a rub of Aladdin’s lamp.

On the mainland you see a misty camp

Of mountains pitched tumultuously:

That one looming so long and large

Is Saddleback, and that point you see

Over yon low and rounded marge,

Like the boss of a sleeping giant’s targe

Laid over his breast, is Ossipee;

That shadow there may be Kearsarge;

That must be Great Haystack; I love these names,

Wherewith the lonely farmer tames

Nature to mute companionship

With his own mind’s domestic mood,

And strives the surly world to clip

In the arms of familiar habitude.

’T is well he could not contrive to make

A Saxon of Agamenticus:

He glowers there to the north of us,

Wrapt in his blanket of blue haze,

Unconvertibly savage, and scorns to take

The white man’s baptism or his ways.

Him first on shore the coaster divines

Through the early gray, and sees him shake

The morning mist from his scalp-lock of pines;

Him first the skipper makes out in the west,

Ere the earliest sunstreak shoots tremulous,

Plashing with orange the palpitant lines

Of mutable billow, crest after crest,

And murmurs Agamenticus!

As if it were the name of a saint.

But is that a mountain playing cloud,

Or a cloud playing mountain, just there, so faint?

Look along over the low right shoulder

Of Agamenticus into that crowd

Of brassy thunderheads behind it;

Now you have caught it, but, ere you are older

By half an hour, you will lose it and find it

A score of times; while you look ’t is gone,

And, just as you ’ve given it up, anon

It is there again, till your weary eyes

Fancy they see it waver and rise,

With its brother clouds; it is Agiochook,

There if you seek not, and gone if you look,

Ninety miles off as the eagle flies.


How looks Appledore in a storm?

I have seen it when its crags seemed frantic,

Butting against the mad Atlantic,

When surge on surge would heap enorme,

Cliffs of emerald topped with snow,

That lifted and lifted, and then let go

A great white avalanche of thunder,

A grinding, blinding, deafening ire

Monadnock might have trembled under;

And the island, whose rock-roots pierce below

To where they are warmed with the central fire,

You could feel its granite fibres racked,

As it seemed to plunge with a shudder and thrill

Right at the breast of the swooping hill,

And to rise again snorting a cataract

Of rage-froth from every cranny and ledge,

While the sea drew its breath in hoarse and deep,

And the next vast breaker curled its edge,

Gathering itself for a mightier leap.

North, east, and south there are reefs and breakers

You would never dream of in smooth weather,

That toss and gore the sea for acres,

Bellowing and gnashing and snarling together;

Look northward, where Duck Island lies,

And over its crown you will see arise,

Against a background of slaty skies,

A row of pillars still and white,

That glimmer, and then are out of sight,

As if the moon should suddenly kiss,

While you crossed the gusty desert by night,

The long colonnades of Persepolis;

Look southward for White Island light,

The lantern stands ninety feet o’er the tide;

There is first a half-mile of tumult and fight,

Of dash and roar and tumble and fright,

And surging bewilderment wild and wide,

Where the breakers struggle left and right,

Then a mile or more of rushing sea,

And then the lighthouse slim and lone;

And whenever the weight of ocean is thrown

Full and fair on White Island head,

A great mist-jotun you will see

Lifting himself up silently

High and huge o’er the lighthouse top,

With hands of wavering spray outspread,

Groping after the little tower,

That seems to shrink and shorten and cower,

Till the monster’s arms of a sudden drop,

And silently and fruitlessly

He sinks again into the sea.

You, meanwhile, where drenched you stand,

Awaken once more to the rush and roar,

And on the rock-point tighten your hand,

As you turn and see a valley deep,

That was not there a moment before,

Suck rattling down between you and a heap

Of toppling billow, whose instant fall

Must sink the whole island once for all,

Or watch the silenter, stealthier seas

Feeling their way to you more and more;

If they once should clutch you high as the knees,

They would whirl you down like a sprig of kelp,

Beyond all reach of hope or help;—

And such in a storm is Appledore.