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

South America: Amazon, the River (Orellana)

The Cry of a Lost Soul

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

IN that black forest, where, when day is done,

With a snake’s stillness glides the Amazon

Darkly from sunset to the rising sun,

A cry, as of the pained heart of the wood,

The long, despairing moan of solitude

And darkness and the absence of all good,

Startles the traveller, with a sound so drear,

So full of hopeless agony and fear,

His heart stands still and listens like his ear.

The guide, as if he heard a dead-bell toll,

Starts, drops his oar against the gunwale’s thole,

Crosses himself, and whispers, “A lost soul!”

“No, Señor, not a bird. I know it well,—

It is the pained soul of some infidel

Or cursèd heretic that cries from hell.

“Poor fool! with hope still mocking his despair,

He wanders, shrieking on the midnight air

For human pity and for Christian prayer.

“Saints strike him dumb! Our Holy Mother hath

No prayer for him who, sinning unto death,

Burns always in the furnace of God’s wrath!”

Thus to the baptized pagan’s cruel lie,

Lending new horror to that mournful cry,

The voyager listens, making no reply.

Dim burns the boat-lamp: shadows deepen round,

From giant trees with snake-like creepers wound,

And the black water glides without a sound.

But in the traveller’s heart a secret sense

Of nature plastic to benign intents,

And an eternal good in Providence,

Lifts to the starry calm of heaven his eyes;

And lo! rebuking all earth’s ominous cries,

The Cross of pardon lights the tropic skies!

“Father of all!” he urges his strong plea,

“Thou lovest all; thy erring child may be

Lost to himself, but never lost to Thee!

“All souls are Thine; the wings of morning bear

None from that Presence, which is everywhere,

Nor hell itself can hide, for Thou art there.

“Through sins of sense, perversities of will,

Through doubt and pain, through guilt and shame and ill,

Thy pitying eye is on Thy creature still.

“Wilt thou not make, Eternal Source and Goal!

In thy long years, life’s broken circle whole,

And change to praise the cry of a lost soul?”