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

Southern States: Dismal Swamp, Va.

The Edge of the Swamp

By William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870)

’T IS a wild spot, and hath a gloomy look;

The bird sings never merrily in the trees,

And the young leaves seem blighted. A rank growth

Spreads poisonously round, with power to taint

With blistering dews the thoughtless hand that dares

To penetrate the covert. Cypresses

Crowd on the dank, wet earth; and, stretched at length,

The cayman—a fit dweller in such home—

Slumbers, half buried in the sedgy grass.

Beside the green ooze where he shelters him,

A whooping crane erects his skeleton form,

And shrieks in flight. Two summer ducks, aroused

To apprehension, as they hear his cry,

Dash up from the lagoon, with marvellous haste,

Following his guidance. Meetly taught by these,

And startled at our rapid, near approach,

The steel-jawed monster, from his grassy bed,

Crawls slowly to his slimy, green abode,

Which straight receives him. You behold him now,

His ridgy back uprising as he speeds,

In silence, to the centre of the stream,

Whence his head peers alone. A butterfly,

That, travelling all the day, has counted climes

Only by flowers, to rest himself awhile,

Lights on the monster’s brow. The surly mute

Straightway goes down, so suddenly that he,

The dandy of the summer flowers and woods,

Dips his light wings, and spoils his golden coat,

With the rank water of that turbid pond.

Wondering and vexed, the plumed citizen

Flies, with a hurried effort, to the shore,

Seeking his kindred flowers: but seeks in vain,—

Nothing of genial growth may there be seen,

Nothing of beautiful! Wild, ragged trees,

That look like felon spectres,—fetid shrubs,

That taint the gloomy atmosphere,—dusk shades,

That gather, half a cloud, and half a fiend

In aspect, lurking on the swamp’s wild edge,—

Gloom with their sternness and forbidding frowns

The general prospect. The sad butterfly,

Waving his lackered wings, darts quickly on,

And, by his free flight, counsels us to speed

For better lodgings, and a scene more sweet,

Than these drear borders offer us to-night.