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

Introductory to Western States

The Cañon

By Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)

(From Joaquin Murietta)

I STAND upon a stony rim,

Stone-paved and patterned as a street;

A rock-lipped cañon plunging south,

As if it were earth’s opened mouth,

Yawns deep and darkling at my feet;

So deep, so distant, and so dim

Its waters wind, a yellow thread,

And call so faintly and so far,

I turn aside my swooning head.

I feel a fierce impulse to leap

Adown the beetling precipice,

Like some lone, lost, uncertain star;

To plunge into a place unknown,

And win a world all, all my own;

Or if I might not meet that bliss,

At least escape the curse of this.

I gaze again. A gleaming star

Shines back as from some mossy well

Reflected from blue fields afar.

Brown hawks are wheeling here and there,

And up and down the broken wall

Cling clumps of dark green chaparral,

While from the rent rocks, gray and bare,

Blue junipers hang in the air.

Here, cedars sweep the stream, and here,

Among the boulders mossed and brown

That time and storms have toppled down

From towers undefiled by man,

Low cabins nestle as in fear,

And look no taller than a span.

From low and shapeless chimneys rise

Some tall straight columns of blue smoke,

And weld them to the bluer skies;

While sounding down the sombre gorge

I hear the steady pickaxe stroke,

As if upon a flashing forge.

Another scene, another sound!—

Sharp shots are fretting through the air,

Red knives are flashing everywhere,

And here and there the yellow flood

Is purpled with warm smoking blood.

The brown hawk swoops low to the ground,

And nimble chipmonks, small and still,

Dart stripéd lines across the sill

That lordly feet shall press no more.

The flume lies warping in the sun,

The pan sits empty by the door,

The pickaxe on its bed-rock floor

Lies rusting in the silent mine.

There comes no single sound nor sign

Of life, beside yon monks in brown

That dart their dim shapes up and down

The rocks that swelter in the sun;

But dashing round yon rocky spur

Where scarce a hawk would dare to whir,

Fly horsemen reckless in their flight.

One wears a flowing black capote,

While down the cape doth flow and float

Long locks of hair as dark as night,

And hands are red that erst were white.

All up and down the land to-day

Black desolation and despair

It seems have sat and settled there,

With none to frighten them away.

Like sentries watching by the way

Black chimneys topple in the air,

And seem to say, Go back, beware!

While up around the mountain’s rim

Are clouds of smoke, so still and grim

They look as they are fastened there.

A lonely stillness, so like death,

So touches, terrifies all things,

That even rooks that fly o’erhead

Are hushed, and seem to hold their breath,

To fly with muffled wings,

And heavy as if made of lead.

Some skulls that crumble to the touch,

Some joints of thin and chalk-like bone,

A tall black chimney, all alone,

That leans as if upon a crutch,

Alone are left to mark or tell,

Instead of cross or cryptic stone,

Where fair maids loved or brave men fell.