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

Appendix: New Zealand

Silent Cataracts

By Alfred Domett (1811–1887)

(From Ranolf and Amohia)

FROM the low sky-line of the hilly range

Before them, sweeping down its dark-green face

Into the lake that slumbered at its base,

A mighty cataract, so it seemed,

Over a hundred steps of marble streamed

And gushed, or fell in dripping overflow,—

Flat steps, in flights half-circled,—row o’er row,

Irregularly mingling side by side;

They and the torrent-curtain wide,

All rosy-hued, it seemed, with sunset’s glow.—

But what is this! no roar, no sound,

Disturbs that torrent’s hush profound!

The wanderers near and nearer come,—

Still is the mighty cataract dumb!

A thousand fairy lights may shimmer

With tender sheen, with glossy glimmer,

O’er curve advanced and salient edge

Of many a luminous water-ledge;

A thousand slanting shadows pale

May fling their thin transparent veil

O’er deep recess and shallow dent

In many a watery stair’s descent:

Yet, mellow-bright, or mildly dim,

Both lights and shades, both dent and rim,

Each wavy streak, each warm snow-tress,

Stand rigid, mute, and motionless!

No faintest murmur, not a sound,

Relieves that cataract’s hush profound;

No tiniest bubble, not a flake

Of floating foam, is seen to break

The smoothness where it meets the lake;

Along that shining surface move

No ripples; not the slightest swell

Rolls o’er the mirror darkly green,

Where, every feature limned so well,

Pale, silent, and serene as death,

The cataract’s image hangs beneath

The cataract, but not more serene,

More phantom-silent, than is seen

The white rose-hued reality above.

They paddle past, for on the right

Another cataract comes in sight;

Another broader, grander flight

Of steps, all stainless, snowy-bright!

They land,—their curious way they track

Near thickets made by contrast black;

And then that wonder seems to be

A cataract carved in Parian stone,

Or any purer substance known,—

Agate or milk-chalcedony!

Its showering snow-cascades appear

Long ranges bright of stalactite,

And sparry frets and fringes white,

Thick-falling, plenteous, tier o’er tier;

Its crowding stairs, in bold ascent

Piled up that silvery-glimmering height,

Are layers, they know, accretions slow

Of hard silicious sediment:

For as they gain a rugged road,

And cautious climb the solid rime,

Each step becomes a terrace broad,

Each terrace a wide basin brimmed

With water, brilliant, yet in hue

The tenderest, delicate harebell-blue

Deepening to violet! Slowly climb

The twain, and turn from time to time

To mark the hundred baths in view,—

Crystalline azure, snowy-rimmed,—

The marge of every beauteous pond

Curve after curve, each lower beyond

The higher, outsweeping white and wide,

Like snowy lines of foam that glide

O’er level sea-sands lightly skimmed

By thin sheets of the glistening tide.

They climb those milk-white flats incrusted

And netted o’er with wavy ropes

Of wrinkled silica. At last,

Each basin’s heat increasing fast,

The topmost step the pair surmount,

And lo, the cause of all! Around,

The circling cliffs a crater bound,—

Cliffs damp with dark-green moss, their slopes

All crimson-stained with blots and streaks,

White-mottled and vermilion-rusted;

And in the midst, beneath a cloud

That ever upward rolls and reeks

And hides the sky with its dim shroud,

Look where upshoots a fuming fount,—

Up through a blue and boiling pool

Perennial,—a great sapphire steaming,

In that coralline crater gleaming.

Upwelling ever, amethystal,

Ebullient comes the bubbling crystal!

Still growing cooler and more cool

As down the porcelain stairway slips

The fluid flint, and slowly drips,

And hangs each basin’s curling lips

With crusted fringe each year increases,

Thicker than shear-forgotten fleeces;

More close and regular than rows,

Long rows of snowy trumpet-flowers

Some day to hang in garden-bowers,

When strangers shall these wilds enclose.