Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The River Columbia

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

Western States: Columbia, the River, Wash. Ter.

The River Columbia

By William Gibson (1826–1887)

OREGON midnight with a round moon. Mellow

On savage steeps sublime a stillness argent

Along the lone Columbia; every billow

Where the moon’s slumber breathes a smoothèd pillow;

As calm the caves in rock-columnar shadows,

Blacker for fir and hemlock. Islands, meadows,

Wave in the low winds, all the alluvial margent

Fragrant with fringe of Cottonwood and willow.

A lovelier witchery than hers of Endor,

Than Samuel’s form a phantom more tremendous;

For, vague in shroud-like mantle, misty white,

Looms hoar Saint Helen’s with a ghostly splendor:

The apparition of some mount stupendous

Belonging to a world pre-Adamite!

Look; use that one sense only; naught to listen

Hast thou in the sweet calm. Superbly flowing

By piny banks basaltiform, romantic,

Lo! the smoke-purple river amethystine;

While the sun rises a discoloring mist in

With lustre like a full-blown rose gigantic.

High up in whiter light three snow-peaks glisten.

A reflex, like a levelled obelisk,

Lies pointing to the sun’s purpureal disk;

Like rubies lucid through the thin wave glowing

Along: ’t is magical: her treasures shine,

At flow of morning’s oriental fountains,

Revealed by some Enchantress of the Mine

To Genii of the Stream and of the Mountains!

Rolled up the huge gorge long a billowy roar

Has shaken the mountain firs with storms of sound;

But now the Cascades, as the bluff ye round,

Burst forth like a magnificent meteor,

Grand the white turbulence, the foamy smother,

And beautiful the blue-green stream behind,

Made less crystálline by nor wave nor wind,

As if—the one contiguous to the other—

The calm slept dead and the storm surged on ocean.

Careers, like scud before a hurricane,

The vast foam,—the great mountains whirl,—your brain

Reels with the rushing parallactic motion.

Look up, where flows the river gentliest,

There is a charm of peace—lo! all again is rest!

Proud Bird, with no compeer and no companion,

From where snow-summits highest are and hoarest

To where the slow swell lifts the ocean-kelp,

The river rolled in cataract through the cañon

Or seaward floating wrecks of vast fir forest,

High o’er the raven’s croak, the sea-gull’s yelp,

Bald Eagle of the Oregon, thou soarest!

And thou that here thy tides and billows pourest,

Calm and as strong as Heaven, sublime Pacific,

Here where the freighted inland waters launch—

Where’er the bird screams or the salt air pipes,

Ocean and Eagle, ye are Freedom’s types;

When all her broad domain is beatific,

And her uncrimsoned conquering bears the olive branch!