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

Asiatic Russia: Siberia


By James Thomson (1834–1882)

(From The Seasons: Winter)

THENCE winding eastward to the Tartar’s coast,

She sweeps the howling margin of the main,

Where undissolving, from the first of time,

Snows swell on snows, amazing to the sky;

And icy mountains high on mountains piled,

Seem to the shivering sailor from afar,

Shapeless and white, an atmosphere of clouds.

Projected huge, and horrid o’er the surge,

Alps frown on Alps; or rushing hideous down,

As if old Chaos was again returned,

Wide-rend the deep, and shake the solid pole.

Ocean itself no longer can resist

The binding fury: but, in all its rage

Of tempest taken by the boundless frost,

Is many a fathom to the bottom chained,

And bid to roar no more: a bleak expanse,

Shagged o’er with wavy rocks, cheerless, and void

Of every life, that from the dreary months,

Flies conscious southward. Miserable they!

Who, here entangled in the gathering ice,

Take their last look of the descending sun;

While, full of death, and fierce with tenfold frost,

The long long night, incumbent o’er their heads,

Falls horrible. Such was the Briton’s fate,

As with first prow, (what have not Britons dared!)

He for the passage sought, attempted since

So much in vain, and seeming to be shut

By jealous Nature with eternal bars.

In these fell regions, in Arzina caught,

And to the stony deep his idle ship

Immediate sealed, he with his hapless crew

Each full exerted at his several task,

Froze into statues; to the cordage glued

The sailor, and the pilot to the helm.

Hard by these shores, where scarce his freezing stream

Rolls the wild Oby, live the last of men;

And half enlivened by the distant sun,

That rears and ripens man, as well as plants,

Here human nature wears its rudest form.

Deep from the piercing season sunk in caves,

Here by dull fires, and with unjoyous cheer,

They waste the tedious gloom. Immersed in furs,

Doze the gross race. Nor sprightly jest nor song

Nor tenderness they know; nor aught of life,

Beyond the kindred bears that stalk without,

Till morn at length, her roses drooping all,

Shed a long twilight brightening o’er their fields,

And calls the quivered savage to the chase.

What cannot active government perform,

New-moulding man? Wide-stretching from these shores,

A people savage from remotest time,

A huge neglected empire, one vast mind,

By Heaven inspired, from Gothic darkness called.

Immortal Peter! first of monarchs! he

His stubborn country tamed, her rocks, her fens,

Her floods, her seas, her ill-submitting sons:

And while the fierce barbarian he subdued,

To more exalted soul he raised the man.

Ye shades of ancient heroes, ye who toiled

Through long successive ages to build up

A laboring plan of state, behold at once

The wonder done! behold the matchless prince!

Who left his native throne, where reigned till then

A mighty shadow of unreal power;

Who greatly spurned the slothful pomp of courts;

And roaming every land, in every port

His sceptre laid aside, with glorious hand

Unwearied plying the mechanic tool,

Gathered the seeds of trade, of useful arts,

Of civil wisdom, and material skill.

Charged with the stores of Europe home he goes!

Then cities rise amid the illumined waste;

O’er joyless deserts smiles the rural reign;

Far distant flood to flood is social joined;

The astonished Euxine hears the Baltic roar;

Proud navies ride on seas that never foamed

With daring keel before; and armies stretch

Each way their dazzling files, repressing here

The frantic Alexander of the north,

And awing there stern Othman’s shrinking sons.

Sloth flies the land, and ignorance and vice,

Of old dishonor proud: it glows around,

Taught by the royal hand that roused the whole,

One scene of arts, of arms, of rising trade:

For what his wisdom planned, and power enforced,

More potent still, his great example showed.

Muttering, the winds at eve, with blunted point,

Blow hollow blustering from the south. Subdued,

The frost resolves into a trickling thaw.

Spotted the mountains shine; loose sleet descends,

And floods the country round. The rivers swell,

Of bonds impatient. Sudden from the hills,

O’er rocks and woods, in broad brown cataracts,

A thousand snow-fed torrents shoot at once;

And, where they rush, the wide resounding plain

Is left one slimy waste. Those sullen seas,

That washed the ungenial pole, will rest no more

Beneath the shackles of the mighty north;

But, rousing all their waves, resistless heave.

And hark! the lengthening roar continuous runs

Athwart the rifted deep: at once it bursts,

And piles a thousand mountains to the clouds.

Ill fares the bark with trembling wretches charged,

That, tossed amid the floating fragments, moors

Beneath the shelter of an icy isle,

While night o’erwhelms the sea, and horror looks

More horrible. Can human force endure

The assembled mischiefs that besiege them round?

Heart-gnawing hunger, fainting weariness,

The roar of winds and waves, the crush of ice,

Now ceasing, now renewed with louder rage,

And in dire echoes bellowing round the main.

More to embroil the deep, leviathan

And his unwieldy train, in dreadful sport,

Tempest the loosened brine, while through the gloom,

Far from the bleak inhospitable shore,

Loading the winds, is heard the hungry howl

Of famished monsters, there awaiting wrecks.

Yet Providence, that ever-waking eye,

Looks down with pity on the feeble toil

Of mortals lost to hope, and lights them safe,

Through all this dreary labyrinth of fate.