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

Western States: Prairies, The

The Prairie on Fire

By George Pope Morris (1802–1864)

THE SHADES of evening closed around

The boundless prairies of the west,

As, grouped in sadness on the ground,

A band of pilgrims leaned to rest:

Upon the tangled weeds were laid

The mother and her youngest born,

Who slept, while others watched and prayed,

And thus the weary night went on.

Thick darkness shrouded earth and sky,—

When on the whispering winds there came

The Teton’s shrill and thrilling cry,

And heaven was pierced with shafts of flame!

The sun seemed rising through the haze,

But with an aspect dread and dire:

The very air appeared to blaze!—

O God! the Prairie was on fire!

Around the centre of the plain

A belt of flame retreat denied,—

And, like a furnace, glowed the train

That walled them in on every side:

And onward rolled the torrent wild,—

Wreaths of dense smoke obscured the sky!

The mother knelt beside her child,

And all,—save one,—shrieked out, “We die!”

“Not so!” he cried.—“Help!—Clear the sedge!

Strip bare a circle to the land!”

That done, he hastened to its edge,

And grasped a rifle in his hand:

Dried weeds he held beside the pan,

Which kindled at a flash the mass!

“Now fire fight fire!” he said, as ran

The forkèd flames among the grass.

On three sides then the torrent flew,

But on the fourth no more it raved!

Then large and broad the circle grew,

And thus the pilgrim band was saved!

The flames receded far and wide,—

The mother had not prayed in vain:

God had the Teton’s arts defied!

His scythe of fire had swept the plain!