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

New England: Merrimac, the River

The Merrimac

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

STREAM of my fathers! sweetly still

The sunset rays thy valley fill;

Poured slantwise down the long defile,

Wave, wood, and spire beneath them smile.

I see the winding Powow fold

The green hill in its belt of gold,

And following down its wavy line,

Its sparkling waters blend with thine.

There ’s not a tree upon thy side,

Nor rock, which thy returning tide

As yet hath left abrupt and stark

Above thy evening water-mark;

No calm cove with its rocky hem,

No isle whose emerald swells begem

Thy broad, smooth current; not a sail

Bowed to the freshening ocean gale;

No small boat with its busy oars,

Nor gray wall sloping to thy shores;

Nor farm-house with its maple shade,

Or rigid poplar colonnade,

But lies distinct and full in sight,

Beneath this gush of sunset light.

Centuries ago, that harbor-bar,

Stretching its length of foam afar,

And Salisbury’s beach of shining sand,

And yonder island’s wave-smoothed strand,

Saw the adventurer’s tiny sail,

Flit, stooping from the eastern gale;

And o’er these woods and waters broke

The cheer from Britain’s hearts of oak,

As brightly on the voyager’s eye,

Weary of forest, sea, and sky,

Breaking the dull continuous wood,

The Merrimac rolled down his flood;

Mingling that clear pellucid brook,

Which channels vast Agiochook,

When spring-time’s sun and shower unlock

The frozen fountains of the rock,

And more abundant waters given

From that pure lake, “The Smile of Heaven,”

Tributes from vale and mountain-side,—

With ocean’s dark, eternal tide!

On yonder rocky cape, which braves

The stormy challenge of the waves,

Midst tangled vine and dwarfish wood,

The hardy Anglo-Saxon stood,

Planting upon the topmost crag

The staff of England’s battle-flag;

And, while from out its heavy fold

Saint George’s crimson cross unrolled,

Midst roll of drum and trumpet blare,

And weapons brandishing in air,

He gave to that lone promontory

The sweetest name in all his story;

Of her, the flower of Islam’s daughters,

Whose harems look on Stamboul’s waters,—

Who, when the chance of war had bound

The Moslem chain his limbs around,

Wreathed o’er with silk that iron chain,

Soothed with her smiles his hours of pain,

And fondly to her youthful slave

A dearer gift than freedom gave.

But look!—the yellow light no more

Streams down on wave and verdant shore;

And clearly on the calm air swells

The twilight voice of distant bells.

From Ocean’s bosom, white and thin,

The mists come slowly rolling in;

Hills, woods, the river’s rocky rim,

Amidst the sea-like vapor swim,

While yonder lonely coast-light, set

Within its wave-washed minaret,

Half quenched, a beamless star and pale,

Shines dimly through its cloudy veil!

Home of my fathers!—I have stood

Where Hudson rolled his lordly flood:

Seen sunrise rest and sunset fade

Along his frowning Palisade;

Looked down the Appalachian peak

On Juniata’s silver streak;

Have seen along his valley gleam

The Mohawk’s softly winding stream;

The level light of sunset shine

Through broad Potomac’s hem of pine;

And autumn’s rainbow-tinted banner

Hang lightly o’er the Susquehanna;

Yet wheresoe’er his step might be,

Thy wandering child looked back to thee!

Heard in his dreams thy river’s sound

Of murmuring on its pebbly bound,

The unforgotten swell and roar

Of waves on thy familiar shore;

And saw, amidst the curtained gloom

And quiet of his lonely room,

Thy sunset scenes before him pass;

As, in Agrippa’s magic glass,

The loved and lost arose to view,

Remembered groves in greenness grew,

Bathed still in childhood’s morning dew,

Along whose bowers of beauty swept

Whatever Memory’s mourners wept,

Sweet faces, which the charnel kept,

Young, gentle eyes, which long had slept;

And while the gazer leaned to trace,

More near, some dear familiar face,

He wept to find the vision flown,—

A phantom and a dream alone!