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

Western States: Plains, The

The Mirage

By John Brayshaw Kaye (1841–1909)

UPON a parched and arid waste,

Beneath the scorching summer sun,

Where nimble swifts each other chased

O’er gaping fissures, checked to run

Their countless millions meshy lines

In tangents, angles, arcs and sines,—

A field where Science, urged by Art,

With Nature for a counterpart,

Might with her pencil sketch and pore

O’er varied shapes forevermore,—

The weary travellers struggled on

Across that stretching sea of sand,

A famishing and thirsty band.

A land of streamlets to have won

Had been to them a paradise:

When, lo! ahead there seemed to rise,

Along the distant horizon,

A scene of sylvan loveliness,

To greet them in their sore distress;

A scene where winding rivulets,

All fringed with branching, shady trees,

Coursed smoothly o’er their sandy beds,

And glimmered far, like silvery threads;

Where fountains, with a thousand jets,

Flung out their crystal tapestries,

To form in many a glassy pool

In shady nooks, serene and cool.

And then a change, and lo! a lake,

All dotted o’er with verdant isles,

Before the vision peaceful smiles;

And not a ripple seems to break

The mirrored surface of its deep,

While sombre shadows o’er it creep,

Like spiritual argosies

Borne by an imperceptive breeze.

Upon the isles, that gently swell

Up from the water’s curving line,

Gleams many an airy citadel,

Where princes might in splendor dwell,

Or poets woo the mystic Nine.

Tall trees and clumps of shrubbery,

Supporting many a clinging vine

That hangs in rich festoonery,

Thus forming bowers where might recline

The Beauties of Mythology,

In keeping with their high degree.

Fresh as the breath of early Spring,

Seductive as the siren’s song,

The panorama moves along.

The wand of magic seems to fling

Its mystic beauties o’er the scene.

Oh, why must space still intervene?

Deceptive picture! pure and chaste

Damascus of the western waste!

Where—ah! it fades! it melts away!

Far o’er the desert, grim and gray,

Along the hazy horizon,

Tall mammoth shapes stalk stately on

Across the visionary range

And disappear; and then, more strange,

A band of mounted harlequins

In madcap antics scour the plain.

You look to see them once again,

But no! they ’re gone. No object wins

The searching eye; all ’s blank and bare:

No hint of beauty lingers where

The Mirage spread her canopy

And moved the soul to ecstasy.