Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Old Man of the Mountain

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

New England: White Mountains, N. H.

The Old Man of the Mountain

By John Townsend Trowbridge (1827–1916)

  • Profile Notch, Franconia
  • The “Profile” is formed by separate projections of the cliff, which, viewed from a particular point, assume the marvellous appearance of a colossal human face.

  • ALL round the lake the wet woods shake

    From drooping boughs their showers of pearl;

    From floating skiff to towering cliff

    The rising vapors part and curl.

    The west-wind stirs among the firs

    High up the mountain side emerging;

    The light illumes a thousand plumes

    Through billowy banners round them surging.

    A glory smites the craggy heights:

    And in a halo of the haze,

    Flushed with faint gold, far up, behold

    That mighty face, that stony gaze!

    In the wild sky upborne so high

    Above us perishable creatures,

    Confronting Time with those sublime,

    Impassive, adamantine features.

    Thou beaked and bald high front, miscalled

    The profile of a human face!

    No kin art thou, O Titan brow,

    To puny man’s ephemeral race.

    The groaning earth to thee gave birth,—

    Throes and convulsions of the planet;

    Lonely uprose, in grand repose,

    Those eighty feet of facial granite.

    Here long, while vast, slow ages passed,

    Thine eyes (if eyes be thine) beheld

    But solitudes of crags and woods,

    Where eagles screamed and panthers yelled.

    Before the fires of our pale sires

    In the first log-built cabin twinkled,

    Or redmen came for fish and game,

    That scalp was scarred, that face was wrinkled.

    We may not know how long ago

    That ancient countenance was young;

    Thy sovereign brow was seamed as now

    When Moses wrote and Homer sung.

    Empires and states it antedates,

    And wars, and arts, and crime, and glory;

    In that dim morn when man was born

    Thy head with centuries was hoary.

    Thou lonely one! nor frost, nor sun,

    Nor tempest leaves on thee its trace;

    The stormy years are but as tears

    That pass from thy unchanging face.

    With unconcern as grand and stern,

    Those features viewed, which now survey us,

    A green world rise from seas of ice,

    And order come from mud and chaos.

    Canst thou not tell what then befell?

    What forces moved, or fast or slow;

    How grew the hills; what heats, what chills,

    What strange, dim life, so long ago?

    High-visaged peak, wilt thou not speak?

    One word, for all our learnéd wrangle!

    What earthquakes shaped, what glaciers scraped,

    That nose, and gave the chin its angle?

    Our pygmy thought to thee is naught,

    Our petty questionings are vain;

    In its great trance thy countenance

    Knows not compassion nor disdain.

    With far-off hum we go and come,

    The gay, the grave, the busy-idle;

    And all things done to thee are one,

    Alike the burial and the bridal.

    Thy permanence, long ages hence,

    Will mock the pride of mortals still.

    Returning springs, with songs and wings

    And fragrance, shall these valleys fill;

    The free winds blow, fall rain or snow,

    The mountains brim their crystal beakers;

    Still come and go, still ebb and flow,

    The summer tides of pleasure-seekers:

    The dawns shall gild the peaks where build

    The eagles, many a future pair;

    The gray scud lag on wood and crag,

    Dissolving in the purple air;

    The sunlight gleam on lake and stream,

    Boughs wave, storms break, and still at even

    All glorious hues the world suffuse,

    Heaven mantle earth, earth melt in heaven!

    Nations shall pass like summer’s grass,

    And times unborn grow old and change;

    New governments and great events

    Shall rise, and science new and strange;

    Yet will thy gaze confront the days

    With its eternal calm and patience,

    The evening red still light thy head,

    Above thee burn the constellations.

    O silent speech, that well can teach

    The little worth of words or fame!

    I go my way, but thou wilt stay

    While future millions pass the same:

    But what is this I seem to miss?

    Those features fall into confusion!

    A further pace—where was that face?

    The veriest fugitive illusion!

    Gray eidolon! so quickly gone,

    When eyes that make thee onward move;

    Whose vast pretence of permanence

    A little progress can disprove!

    Like some huge wraith of human faith

    That to the mind takes form and measure;

    Grim monolith of creed or myth,

    Outlined against the eternal azure!

    O Titan, how dislimned art thou!

    A withered cliff is all we see;

    That giant nose, that grand repose,

    Have in a moment ceased to be;

    Or still depend on lines that blend,

    On merging shapes, and sight, and distance,

    And in the mind alone can find

    Imaginary brief existence!