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

Neva, the River

The Neva

By Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)

I WALK, as in a dream,

Beside the sweeping stream,

Wrapped in the summer midnight’s amber haze;

Serene the temples stand,

And sleep, on either hand,

The palace-fronts along the granite quays.

Where golden domes, remote,

Above the sea-mist float,

The river-arms, dividing, hurry forth;

And Peter’s forest-spire,

A slender lance of fire,

Still sparkles back the splendor of the North.

The pillared angel soars

Above the silent shores;

Dark from his rock the horseman hangs in air:

And down the watery line

The exiled Sphinxes pine

For Karnak’s morning in the mellow glare.

I hear, amid the hush,

The restless current’s rush,

The Neva murmuring through his crystal zone:

A voice portentous, deep,

To charm a monarch’s sleep

With dreams of power resistless as his own.

Strong from the stormy Lake,

Pure from the springs that break

In Valdaï vales the forest’s mossy floor,

Greener than beryl-stone

From fir-woods vast and lone,

In one full stream the braided currents pour.

“Build up your granite piles

Around my trembling isles,”

I hear the River’s scornful Genius say:

“Raise for eternal time

Your palaces sublime,

And flash your golden turrets in the day!

“But in my waters cold

A mystery I hold,—

Of empires and of dynasties the fate:

I bend my haughty will,

Unchanged, unconquered still,

And smile to note your triumph: mine can wait.

“Your fetters I allow,

As a strong man may bow

His sportive neck to meet a child’s command,

And curb the conscious power

That in one awful hour

Could whelm your halls and temples where they stand.

“When infant Rurik first

His Norseland mother nursed,

My willing flood the future chieftain bore:

To Alexander’s fame

I lent my ancient name,

What time my waves ran red with Pagan gore.

“Then Peter came. I laughed

To feel his little craft

Borne on my bosom round the marshy isles:

His daring dream to aid,

My chafing floods I laid,

And saw my shores transfixed with arrowy piles.

“I wait the far-off day

When other dreams shall sway

The House of Empire builded by my side,—

Dreams that already soar

From yonder palace-door,

And cast their wavering colors on my tide,—

“Dreams where white temples rise

Below the purple skies,

By waters blue, which winter never frets,—

Where trees of dusky green

From terraced gardens lean,

And shoot on high the reedy minarets.

“Shadows of mountain-peaks

Vex my unshadowed creeks;

Dark woods o’erhang my silvery birchen bowers;

And islands, bald and high,

Break my clear round of sky,

And ghostly odors blow from distant flowers.

“Then, ere the cold winds chase

These visions from my face,

I see the starry phantom of a crown,

Beside whose blazing gold

This cheating pomp is cold,

A moment hover, as the veil drops down.

“Build on! That day shall see

My streams forever free.

Swift as the wind, and silent as the snow,

The frost shall split each wall:

Your domes shall crack and fall:

My bolts of ice shall strike your barriers low!”

On palace, temple, spire,

The morn’s descending fire

In thousand sparkles o’er the city fell:

Life’s rising murmur drowned

The Neva where he wound

Between his isles: he keeps his secret well.