Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Watkins Glen at the Head of Seneca Lake

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

Middle States: Watkins Glen, N. Y.

The Watkins Glen at the Head of Seneca Lake

By Alfred Billings Street (1811–1881)

SWEET music steals with fragrancy of flowers,

The melody of waters, and the breath

Of perfumed June within me! Memory

Hath startled her tranced empire, and around

A vision spreads. Have we not seen the mist

Mantling the form of Nature? in its depths

All her fair features mingle, shrub and tree

And flashing waterfall and skyward crag,

In one weird, wavering tumult; but a glance

Of sunshine cleaves the chaos, and behold

The glorious picture. That dark spectre reared

Aloft hath brightened to a stately pine

That shifting gleam to a far cataract;

And yon black mass to a near grotto curled

In the rock-strata. The gray precipice

Plunges the eye below until it sinks

Into blank gloom; or rears it till the edge

Of slanting tree and hanging shelf breaks up

The sky-roof into streaks of fretted blue

And dancing spangles; clearer still the scene,

And now show darkling gorge and ragged rift,

And shelving path and jutting gallery,

And dashing, tumbling foam and showering spray,

Ledges of clutching roots, and sheer, brown rock

With dangling threads of rootlets, hung like fringe,

Where not the clinging foot of moss or fern

Spots its stern, savage wildness.
Hark! from out

The wizard realm, a loud, tumultuous sound!

Yet tuned into sweet harmony as tunes

Nature her varied voices! murmurings deep

Of winds in minstrel-pines, so soft, so deep,

They sway the soul as their lithe limbs are swayed,

And rumble soft of far-off waterfalls!

It is thy image in the heart, new-born,

Glen of the Hills! and lo, before me now

It stands in all its vividness of life!

A path of stars, that path of summer hours,

I passed with thee, the morn of sunny June

When Nature, bright with Spring’s fresh miracle

Crowning her forehead, smiled in harmony

Of blue and green and gold; no cloud to stain,

No woe to mar, all cloudless as the heavens!


And now the path begins that shall disclose

Thee in thy loveliness and stateliness!

Thy galleries clambering like the clambering goat;

Thy hanging platforms like great eagle-nests

Seen through the trees; thy bridges leading o’er

The dizzy chasms; thy soaring, beetling crags

Frowning like Titans at their solitude

Destroyed; thy sunken pathways through the rocks;

Thy shelves, thy ledges, and thy towering pines;

Thy streaks of sky-roof, and thy parent stream

With its long chain of headlong cataracts,

And pools and windings!
See, in front, the rock

Spouts silver; the first vision of thy stream,

Glen Brook. We mount the clinging gallery,

And lo, Glen Alpha! vestibule sublime

To the vast fane. How like to opening youth

With life before us! Hope in living light

Shines in our front, and objects rise around

Anchored on lofty platforms, row on row,

Until they mingle with the loftiest blue

Of expectation; pleasure’s plumy ferns

And mosses blent with flowers of present bliss,

Too frail even for the morrow, charm the eye.

We pause to breathe the clear inspiring air,

And revel in the very consciousness

Of life that brims the heart and fills the veins.

How like the tangle of the plans and pains

And joys and interests our stern manhood shows,

That wild-tossed spot, well named The Labyrinth!

Now let us step behind the diamond curve

Of this swift leap of foam! the glittering roof,

The Cavern Cascade shapes above the mouth

Of this The Grotto. Voices of the plunge

Fill all the ear, and the rapt sight is whelmed

In dropping jewelry, as when June sends

Her gentle shower to sparkle in the sun.

What contrast to yon gorge where once the wind

Crushed down great trees and hurled as in wild sport

Fragments of crag, its fierce clutch tore from out

The strata, till its grand and fearful tread,

Gorge of the Whirlwind! made this leafy nook

A savage wreck.


Now Mystic Gorge, with chalices of rock

Cut by the whirling boulder! list that strain,

Where Sylvan Rapids tune their little lute!

A mingled minstrelsy of purl and dash,

Warble and gurgle, like the braided song

Of robin, wren, and bobolink. A broad

White burst of dazzling day! Thy mighty urn,

O Glen Cathedral! where the soaring rocks

Prop the high heavens as Atlas props his mount.

It seems the chamber of the Glen’s great King,

The Genius Loci. Mosses hang the walls

With curtained emerald, and the printless floor

Smooth as yon pool! Above, the broadened roof

Is wrought of God’s own brow of beaming blue,

Save where the slanting pine one wrinkle plants.

What maelstrom of whirled boulders fashioned thee,

Cathedral of the rock! what thundering scoop,

What sweeping swing? Thy same slight arm, O rill,

That penetrated softly yon dark cleft,

And parted with its light and gradual touch

This little pathway, like the touch of Time

That wears the blossom and the mountain down.

Gaze round! what contrast rich of brights and darks,

Close shade and cheery sun,—a fretwork dance

Of breezy leaves,—mosaic of quick tints,—

A dazzling interchange of black and gold.

The sparks of sunshine sprinkled on the leaves

Glitter like stars; upon the sunny grass

Each tree has dropped its shadow as the Turk

At noontide drops his carpet. Edges of light

Lace the thick evergreens and yon slight spray

Of the black-walnut, fringed with oval leaves,

Seems as if melting into fluid gold.

Pool of the Nymphs at moonlight, do you see

The naiads plunge within thy silver balm

And float like glittering pearls, until the scene

Is full of merriest mirth and sweetest song?

Art thou a mirror to the rich red dawn,

And doth the evening star in thy clear depth

Drop its grand diamond? Thou too, Glen of the Pools!

Thy rocky goblets look as if their draughts

Had oft shone for the Genii of the spot,

Feasting together in the summer heats,

What time the breeze lay lifeless on the leaf

Of even the aspen, and the very thread

Of gossamer drooped downward, and save close

To the unending plunge of falling foam,

Not one soft, downy, airy atom stirred.

Thou ownest, too, the epitome of charms

Of all the Glen in this thy Matchless Scene;

The grace, the grandeur, the wild loveliness,

And stern magnificence of waterfall;

Dark chasm, smooth pool, tall tree, and foamy flash

Of rapids; foliage fresh and green as heart

Of childhood; curls of feathery ferns which gave

To the Greek temple the acanthus leaf,

And mosses plump as formed Titania’s floor

At elfin dances. So did Zeuxis blend

In his bright Helen all the varied charms

Of Athens, till the canvas flashed with tints

That live in dawns and sunsets, gems and flowers,

And smile at Time. But hark, that organ-voice,

And see yon cataract bursting into view,

Careering down its threefold terraces!

Toward it, along the ledges of our path

Grazing the cliff, a lace-work of quick drops—

A shivered rill—falls down in diamond gauze

Between us and the scene; the lush green moss

Grows greener here; the fern shows richer curve,

And every grass blade wears more vivid hue.

But now we pause beside the towering rock

Where the rich bastion, crystalline half-moon

Of this,—the Glen’s crown-gem,—the Rainbow Fall

Curves from the beetling crag. Behind the sheet!

What delicate balm of coolness, flitting airs,

As from invisible fairy fans! We bathe

In the soft bliss, and, glancing through the veil,

That wondrous opal of the sun and rain,

The first-born of the deluge, bends its bow,

Melting and brightening, dancing, quivering there,

Young as when first it filled the wondering eye

Of Noah, kindled the niched Ark, and crowned

Grand Ararat with diadem of the sun.


And yet, O Stream, though gentle in thy smile

Of Summer, woe, when Winter bursts his chain

And lets thee loose, with all thy frantic wrath

Upon thee! when the weight of melted snows

Is wreaked on thy full breast, and scourging rains

Have roused thy heart to direst frenzy; lo!

With roar of splintering thunders, thou dost break

Down from thy sources; and with tawny mane,

Wild tossing, and with foamy fangs that tear,

Fierce dost thou hurl thy fearful length along,

Drowning the fairy waterfalls, the pools

Brimming, till even their dimpling whirls are lost

In gushes, stripping from the raw rough banks

The mantling mosses; rolling onward rocks

Like pebbles, and huge trunks of jagged trees

Like straws; and tugging at the tough old roots

Of pines until they shake with awful dread.

On rush thy waters, while the tortured Glen

Roars to thy roar and trembles at thy speed,

Until, with headlong plunge, at last thy surge

Slumbers in quiet in the quiet Lake.