Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Catawba River

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

Southern States: Catawba, the River, N. C.

The Catawba River

By John Steinfort Kidney (1819–1911)


CROWNING the distance pure, the mountains lie,

Now full of glory in the rising morn:

In these cool summits basking in the sky

Like shining clouds, O river! thou art born;

And frost is busy in the dell

From which thy feeble waters well.

But let me roll away this winter dress,

And hush the madness of the driving air,

And show thee in thy summer loveliness,

When happy breezes rove about thee there;

For Fancy shivers—now to seek

Thy birthplace in the snow-clad peak.

A rocky palace in eternal shade,

All wildly roofed with tufts of brightest green,

With sweetest moss, and gleaming flowers inlaid,—

Its grim and native terror all unseen,—

Rises, within the forest, high;

A veil of leaves its only sky.

And at its foot still tenderer is the moss:

The flowers creep down in huddling ranks around,

And fairy odors all about they toss;

Cradling in beauty thus that faintest sound

Thy gurgling voice all softly makes,

When first the darkness it forsakes.

Oh, in that nest woven with gentle hues

Thy trembling life all feebly is begun;—

Child of the sunny showers and nightly dews!

From such a home thy devious race thou ’lt run:

Like all things else upon the earth,

The purest at thy place of birth.


And soon thou art a lovely brook, revealing

Within thy broader depths a leafy bower;

With over thee the matchless odors stealing

From damask and the gold azalea’s flower;

While white and purple lilies seem

Over their images to dream.

The silent deer about thee come to drink,

Where’er the mossy sward slopes from the hills:

And through the steeper banks thy waters sink,

To embrace in gloom the tributary rills

That die for joy to reach the home

Whither they ’ve spent their life to come.

In thy rich fringe that casts unbroken shade

The breeze is lost, and cannot come to play

On thy pure bosom whither it had strayed;

And mid the rustling reeds it sighs away:

But thou, beneath that sadder voice,

Makest thine own the more rejoice.

From this thy darkest, calmest home of all,

At length thou leapest to the open sight,

Still where the shadows of the mountains fall:

Athwart whose sombre sides, like fluttering light,

The crimson birds, and birds of blue,

Do glance the solemn verdure through.

’T is there thou seest first the azure sky,—

A greater grandeur than aught yet to thee:

There first thou lookest to the mountains high,—

The gorgeous land of thy sweet infancy:

Yet nothing loath to move along;

In thy new freedom proud and strong.

And, curving round the brown and rocky steeps,

Thou hurriest to the sweetly opening dale;

There first above thee, too, the willow weeps,

And there thy wavelets rise to greet the gale,

And thither, to some grassy cove,

The sturdy water-birds will rove.

Through fruitful valleys next thou wilt resound;

There all about thee fair plantations sleep,

Pent in by sober forests all around,

Alive with feeding herds and snowy sheep;

And living voices cheerly ring

To thee a human welcoming.

Such art thou here,—now quiet in the woods,

And now in rapids roaring to the fields;

Now curling round the rocks in hissing floods,

And now the lowland smoother passage yields:

A river proud and turbulent,

In many a curve and angle bent.


And on for many a mile, such art thou still;

Only with sister rivers greater grown:

Urging thy passage with unerring skill,

To make the home of waters, too, thine own;

And ever with a rapture tost,

To be in its deep bosom lost.

Thy course is calmer far in yonder land—

Where dismal woods and dark morasses be;

Where not a pebble rolls upon thy strand,

And earth is level as the waveless sea;

Where hangs the graceful jessamine

In wreaths of gold, the woods within.

There, in the gloomy swamps the black pools lie,

Studded with ranks of feathery cypress-trees;

Which thither wading from the cheerful sky,

And from the uneasy presence of the breeze,

Seem pillars to the halls of Death;

Where never stirs a living breath.

And in the shining pond each cone-like base

Seems resting on its image from below;—

The slim trunks shooting toward heaven’s brighter face,

Whose other selves down into darkness go:

And all is, like a picture, still;—

Fixed thus, beneath the Master’s will.

There, too, the forest roof is hung in gray,

The dusky emblem of a mourning land;

With long moss trailing down from every spray;—

Like funeral weeds sent from the Maker’s hand

To mark the terror of the place,

And warn our all too venturous race.

Through such a land, O river! dost thou roll,

The ocean’s sandy shores at length to lave:

Thy arrowy force, beneath the vast control

Put back subdued, subsides into its grave.

There wilt thou take unquiet rest,

Diffused throughout thy mother’s breast.