Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Lake of the Dismal Swamp

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

Southern States: Dismal Swamp, Va.

The Lake of the Dismal Swamp

By Thomas Moore (1779–1852)

  • They tell of a young man who lost his mind upon the death of a girl he loved, and who, suddenly disappearing from his friends, was never afterwards heard of. As he had frequently said, in his ravings, that the girl was not dead, but gone to the Dismal Swamp, it is supposed he had wandered into that dreary wilderness, and had died of hunger, or been lost in some of its dreadful morasses.

  • “THEY made her a grave, too cold and damp

    For a soul so warm and true:

    And she ’s gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp,

    Where, all night long, by a firefly lamp,

    She paddles her white canoe.

    “And her firefly lamp I soon shall see,

    And her paddle I soon shall hear;

    Long and loving our life shall be,

    And I ’ll hide the maid in a cypress-tree,

    When the footstep of Death is near.”

    Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds,—

    His path was rugged and sore,

    Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds,

    Through many a fen, where the serpent feeds,

    And man never trod before.

    And, when on the earth he sunk to sleep,

    If slumber his eyelids knew,

    He lay, where the deadly vine doth weep

    Its venomous tear and nightly steep

    The flesh with blistering dew!

    And near him the she-wolf stirred the brake,

    And the copper-snake breathed in his ear,

    Till he starting cried, from his dream awake,

    “Oh! when shall I see the dusky Lake,

    And the white canoe of my dear?”

    He saw the Lake, and a meteor bright

    Quick over its surface played,—

    “Welcome,” he said, “my dear-one’s light!”

    And the dim shore echoed, for many a night,

    The name of the death-cold maid.

    Till he hollowed a boat of the birchen bark,

    Which carried him off from shore;

    Far, far he followed the meteor spark,

    The wind was high and the clouds were dark,

    And the boat returned no more.

    But oft, from the Indian hunter’s camp

    This lover and maid so true

    Are seen at the hour of midnight damp

    To cross the Lake by a firefly lamp,

    And paddle their white canoe!