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

Middle States: Seneca, the Lake, N. Y.

Seneca Lake

By James Gates Percival (1795–1856)

ONE evening in the pleasant month of May,

On a green hillock swelling from the shore

Above thy emerald wave, when the clear west

Was all one sheet of light, I sat me down,

Wearied, yet happy. I had wandered long,

That bright, fair day; and all the way my path

Was tended by a warm and soothing air,

That breathed like bliss; and round me all the woods

Opened their yellow buds, and every cottage

Was bowered in blossoms, for the orchard trees

Were all in flower. I came, at close of day,

Down to thy brink, and it was pleasure there

To bathe my dripping forehead in thy cool,

Transparent waters. I refreshed me long

With the bright sparkling stream, and from the pebbles,

That bedded all thy margin, singled out

Bare casts of unknown shells, from off thy cliffs

Broken by wintry surges. Thou wert calm,

Even as an infant calm, that gentle evening;

And one could hardly dream thou ’dst ever met

And wrestled with the storm. A breath of air,

Felt only in its coolness, from the west

Stole over thee, and stirred thy golden mirror

Into long waves, that only showed themselves

In ripples on thy shore,—far distant ripples,

Breaking the silence with their quiet kisses,

And softly murmuring peace. Up the green hillock

I mounted languidly, and at the summit

On the new grass reposed, and saw that evening

Fade sweetly over thee.
Far to the south

Thy slumbering waters floated, one long sheet

Of burnished gold,—between thy nearer shores

Softly embraced, and melting distantly

Into a yellow haze, embosomed low

Mid shadowy hills and misty mountains, all

Covered with showery light, as with a veil

Of airy gauze. Beautiful were thy shores,

And manifold their outlines, here up-swelling

In bossy green,—there hung in slaty cliffs,

Black as if hewn from jet, and overtopped

With the dark cedar’s tufts, or new-leaved birch,

Bright as the wave below. How glassy clear

The far expanse! Beneath it all the sky

Swelled downward, and its fleecy clouds were gay

With all their rainbow fringes, and the trees

And cliffs and grassy knolls were all repeated

Along the uncertain shores,—so clearly seen

Beneath the invisible transparency,

That land and water mingled, and the one

Seemed melting in the other. Oh, how soft

Yon mountain’s heavenly blue, and all o’erlaid

With a pale tint of roses! Deep between

The ever-narrowing lake, just faintly marked

By its reflected light, and farther on

Buried in vapory foam, as if a surf

Heaved on its utmost shore. How deep the silence!

Only the rustling boughs, the broken ripple,

The cricket and the tree-frog, with the tinkle

Of bells in fold and pasture, or a voice

Heard from a distant farm, or hollow bay

Of home-returning hound,—a virgin land

Just rescued from the wilderness, still showing

Wrecks of the giant forest, yet all bright

With a luxuriant culture, springing wheat,

And meadows richly green,—the blessed gift

Of liberty and law. I gazed upon them,

And on the unchanging lake, and felt awhile

Unutterable joy,—I loved my land

With more than filial love,—it was a joy

That only spake in tears.
With early dawn

I woke, and found the lake was up before me,

For a fresh, stirring breeze came from the south,

And all its deep-green waves were tossed and mingled

Into a war of foam. The new-risen sun

Shone on them, as if they were worlds of stars,

Or gems, or crystals, or some other thing

Sparry and flashing bright. A gentle murmur,

A roar scarce uttered, like a voice of mirth

Amid the dancing waters, blended well

With the æolian whispering of boughs

In a wide grove of pines. The fields and woods

Were sparkling all with dew, and curling smoke

Rose from the cottage fires;—the robin, too,

And the brown thrush, and other birds concealed

Amid the half-blown thickets, joyously

Poured out their morning songs, and thus attended,

I wandered by the shore. Oh, it was pleasant

To feel the dashing of the dewy spray

Rain on my forehead, and to look between

Long crests of foam, into an unknown depth

Of deepest green, and then to see that green

Soft changing into snow. Over this waste

Of rolling surges, on a lofty bank,

With a broad surf beneath it, brightly shone

White roofs and spires, and gilded vanes, and windows,

Each like a flame,—thy peaceful tenements,

Geneva, aptly named; for not the walls

By the blue, arrowy Rhone, nor Leman’s lake,

With all its vineyard shores and mouldering castles,

Nor even its shaggy mountains, nor above

Its world of Alpine snows,—these are not more

Than thou, bright Seneca, whether at peace,

As I at evening met thee, or this morning,

Tossed into foam. Thou, too, shalt have thy fame:

Genius shall make thy hills his home, and here

Shall build his airy visions,—bards shall come,

And fondly sing thee,—pilgrims too shall haunt

Thy sacred waters, and in after ages,

Oh, may some votary on the hillock sit,

At evening, by thy shore!