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

Western States: Plains, The

The Plains

By Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)

(From Californian)

I LOOK along the valley’s edge,

Where swings the white road like a swell

Of surf, along a sea of sedge

And black and brittle chaparral,

And enters like an iron wedge

Drove in the mountain dun and brown,

As if to split the hills in twain.

Two clouds of dust roll o’er the plain,

And men ride up and men ride down

And hot men halt, and curse and shout,

And coming coursers plunge and neigh.

The clouds of dust are rolled in one,—

And horses, horsemen, where are they?

Lo! through a rift of cloud and dun,

Of desolation and of rout,

I see some long white daggers flash,

I hear the sharp hot pistols crash,

And curses loud in mad despair

Are blended with a plaintive prayer

That struggles through the dust and air.

The cloud is lifting like a veil:

The frantic curse, the plaintive wail

Have died away; nor sound nor word

Along the dusty plain is heard

Save sounding of yon courser’s feet,

Who flies so fearfully and fleet,

With gory girth and broken rein,

Across the hot and trackless plain.

Behold him, as he trembling flies,

Look back with red and bursting eyes

To where his gory master lies.

The cloud is lifting like a veil,

But underneath its drifting sail

I see a loose and black capote

In careless heed far fly and float

So vulture-like above a steed

Of perfect mould and passing speed.

Here lies a man of giant mould,

His mighty right arm, perfect bare

Save but its sable coat of hair,

Is clutching in its iron clasp

A clump of sage, as if to hold

The earth from slipping from his grasp;

While, stealing from his brow, a stain

Of purple blood and gory brain

Yields to the parched lips of the plain,

Swift to resolve to dust again.

Lo! friend and foe blend here and there

With dusty lips and trailing hair:

Some with a cold and sullen stare,

Some with their red hands clasped in prayer.

Here lies a youth, whose fair face is

Still holy from a mother’s kiss,

With brow as white as alabaster,

Save a tell-tale powder-stain

Of a deed and a disaster

That will never come again,

With their perils and their pain.

The tinkle of bells on the bended hills,

The hum of bees in the orange trees,

And the lowly call of the beaded rills

Are heard in the land as I look again

Over the peaceful battle-plain.

Murderous man from the field has fled,

Fled in fear from the face of his dead.

He battled, he bled, he ruled a day,—

And peaceful Nature resumes her sway.

And the sward where yonder corses lie,

When the verdant season shall come again,

Shall greener grow than it grew before;

Shall again in sun-clime glory vie

With the gayest green in the tropic scene,

Taking its freshness back once more

From them that despoiled it yesterday.