Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  To a Swan Flying at Midnight

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

Western States: Huron, the River, Mich.

To a Swan Flying at Midnight

By Louis Legrand Noble (1813–1882)

OH, what a still, bright night! It is the sleep

Of beauteous Nature in her bridal hall.

See, while the groves shadow the shining lake,

How the full moon does bathe their melting green!—

I hear the dew-drop twang upon the pool.

Hark, hark, what music! from the rampart hills,

How like a far-off bugle, sweet and clear,

It searches through the listening wilderness!—

A Swan,—I know it by the trumpet-tone:

Winging her pathless way in the cool heavens,

Piping her midnight melody, she comes.

Beautiful bird! upon the dusk, still world

Thou fallest like an angel,—like a lone

Sweet angel from some sphere of harmony.

Where art thou, where?—no speck upon the blue

My vision marks from whence thy music ranges.

And why this hour—this voiceless hour—is thine,

And thine alone, I cannot tell. Perchance,

While all is hush and silent but the heart,

E’en thou hast human sympathies for heaven,

And singest yonder in the holy deep

Because thou hast a pinion. If it be,

Oh for a wing, upon the aerial tide

To sail with thee a minstrel mariner!

When to a rarer height thou wheelest up,

Hast thou that awful thrill of an ascension,—

The lone, lost feeling in the vasty vault?

Oh for thine ear, to hear the ascending tones

Range the ethereal chambers!—then to feel

A harmony, while from the eternal depth

Steals naught but the pure starlight evermore!

And then to list the echoes, faint and mellow,

Far, far below, breathe from the hollow earth,

For thee, soft, sweet petition, to return.

And hither, haply, thou wilt shape thy neck;

And settle, like a silvery cloud, to rest,

If thy wild image, flaring in the abyss,

Startle thee not aloft. Lone aeronaut,

That catchest, on thine airy looking-out,

Glassing the hollow darkness, many a lake,

Lay, for the night, thy lily bosom here.

There is the deep unsounded for thy bath,

The shallow for the shaking of thy quills,

The dreamy cove, or cedar-wooded isle,

With galaxy of water-lilies, where,

Like mild Diana ’mong the quiet stars,

’Neath overbending branches thou wilt move,

Till early warblers shake the crystal shower,

And whistling pinions warn thee to thy voyage.

But where art thou?—lost,—spirited away

To bowers of light by thy own dying whispers?

Or does some billow of the ocean-air,

In its still roll around from zone to zone,

All breathless to the empyrean heave thee?

There is a panting in the zenith—hush!

The Swan—how strong her great wing times the silence!—

She passes over high and quietly.

Now peals the living clarion anew;

One vocal shower falls in and fills the vale.

What witchery in the wilderness it plays!—

Shrill snort the affrighted deer; across the lake

The loon, sole sentinel, screams loud alarm;—

The shy fox barks;—tingling in every vein

I feel the wild enchantment;—hark! they come,

The dulcet echoes from the distant hills,

Like fainter horns responsive; all the while,

From misty isles, soft-stealing symphonies.

Thou bright, swift river of the bark canoe,

Threading the prairie-ponds of Washtenung,

The day of romance wanes. Few summers more,

And the long night will pass away unwaked,

Save by the house-dog or the village bell;

And she, thy minstrel queen, her ermine dip

In lonelier waters.
Ah! thou wilt not stoop;

Old Huron, haply, glistens on thy sky.

The chasing moonbeams, glancing on thy plumes,

Reveal thee now, a little beating blot,

Into the pale Aurora fading.

Sinks gently back upon her flowery couch

The startled Night;—tinkle the damp wood-vaults

While slip the dew-pearls from her leafy curtains.

That last soft, whispering note, how spirit-like!

While vainly yet mine ear another waits,

A sad, sweet longing lingers in my heart.