Down the silent Mississippi, with his saintly soul aflame,
Twice a hundred years are numbered since Marquette, rejoicing, came.
All the winter in his cabin high among the Huron snows,
Gaining lore of forest hunters, tracing maps by firelight glows,
Offering to the Blessed Virgin morn and evening vow and prayer
That his eyes might view the River flowing southward broad and fair--
Wondrous grace! upon its bosom, glad beneath the summer blue,
Rapt in visions, lost in praises, lo! he guides his light canoe!
Winding 'mid the wooded islands tangled deep with musky vines;
Flower-enchanted, past the prairies with their dim horizon lines;
By the fierce Missouri water, dark in gorge and cataract wiles,
Down from nameless regions rolling, restless, thrice a thousand miles;
Past Ohio, loveliest river, all its banks aflush with rose
While the red-bud tints the woodlands and the lavish laurel blows;
By the belts of odorous cedar, through the cypress-swamps below,
Till he greats its wider grandeur, knows the secret of its flow;
Fainting then from summer fervors, homeward turns in sacred awe,
Dying humbly 'mid the Hurons by the windy Mackinaw.
Then La Salle, impatient, fearless, took the Father's idle oar,
Longing for the larger splendor, listening for the ocean roar!
Under Bluffs that seek the beauty of the upper shores to win;
Past the Arkansas, slow-drifting with its mountain tribute in;
By the bend where sad De Soto, with his high Castialian pride,
Lulled forever and lamented, sleeps, a king, beneath the tide;
Through the forests, perfume-haunted, weird moss waving to and fro,
(There the cottonwood towers stately, and the tall magnolias blow!)
Past the bayous, still and sombre, where the alligator swims,
And at noonday, on the shor, the paroquet his plumage trims;
Gliding down by green savannas--ho! the wind blows cool and free!
Bright, beyond, the Gulf is gleaming--lo! the River finds the Sea!
Out of mystery, out of silence, now the mighty stream is won--
Rear the cross, O joyful Boatman! chant sweet hymns at set of sun!
Ah, La Salle, Marquette, De Soto! boatmen bold in song and story,
Lighting up the river romance there are later deeds of glory.
Lonely was the stream, the forest, as ye dropped, with measured calm,
Down to golden zones of summer through the fresh world's breeze and balm;--
But the Indian, silent gazing, half in welcome, half in fear;
On the grassy plains the bison, in the dewy glades the deer;
Not a sound to break the stillness save the song of woodland bird,
Or the panther's cry at evening from the cypress thickets heard;
Or the eagle's scream, as northward to his cooler lakes he flew,
Fainter ringing down the valley till he faded in the blue.
Twice a hundred years are numbered, and the red man roams no more
Through the green aisles of the forest--by the reedy, open shore;
With the startled deer and bison he has fled before the bands
That your fleet canoes have followed from the wondering father-lands.
Now a people build its borders; now the great fleets hasten down
With the sheaves of many a prairie, with the wealth of many a town;
Decks piled high from tropic harvest in the warmer realms below--
Rice and sugar from the cane-fields, and the cotton's downy snow;
Laden sea-craft inland sailing, rafts that find the current's fall,
Smoke of steamer, call of pilot, from the Gulf to high St. Paul;
And the thronged, exultant River is a nation's heart, whose hands
Far to eastward, far to westward, touch the shining ocean sands.
Will ye trust the strange recital--tale that only fiend should tell? When the nation's morn was fairest, black the night of Treason fell!
Traitors claiming all the Southland, and the River once so free,
Under forts and frowning ridges, rolling, alien, to the sea!
Freedom's banner madly trampled, and the motto flaunted high,
"On the Slave we found Dominion--who shall dare our right deny?"
God of Justice! how our rally rang through all the startled air!
Million-voiced, the North made answer, rising calm and strong from prayer!
Caught the rifle, clasped the sabre, put the pen, the ploughshare by--
Fathers, brothers, surging Southward when they heard the gathering cry,
Till, from green Dakota uplands to the rocky isles of Maine,
Every hamlet, every city, lent its bravest to the train;
Freedom's flag above them waving, freedom's songs triumphant sung,
Ne'er, I ween, to such an army, foe the gage of battle flung.
Then they saw the captive River, and from every port and bay
Summoned straight each armèd vessel that at anchor watching lay--
From Pacific; from the islands where the spice-winds softly blow;
Off the sultry Afric border; shores where Europe's olives grow.
All too few;--in hill-side pastures 'neath the axe the stout oaks reel,
Pines of Saginaw and Saco hewn for masts to meet the keel.
Night and day the roaring forges shape the anchor, weld the chain,
Round the ball, and cast the cannon: O their glows shall not be vain!
Day and night the engines labor, hammers ring and shuttles fly,
Till the avenging fleet is fashioned, Southward set, with colors high.
Homeward come the eager war-ships, scattered wide in foreign seas;
Past the Indies, through the Gulf-way, all their canvas to the breeze!
Right across the sandy shallows, up the channel broad and deep--
Hark! their cannon's judgment thunder wakes the traitor city's sleep!
Moated Jackson, strong St. Philip! ye were weak and powerless then;
Low must crumble wall and bastien had ye thrice ten thousand men.
Ye may man your casements newly, hurl your shot like hellish rain--
Sweep your shells in fiery circles, strewing all your lines with slain.
O, such ships were never anchored off the Nile or Trafalgar--
See! they pass the boom, the fortress, steady, stormed from hull to spar!
O, such men were never marshaled on the deck for seige or slaughter--
Think how sank the bold Varuna, hero-freighted, 'neath the water!
Forts are silenced, fleets are vanquished, shot nor flame can bear them down;
Now, to God alone be glory! safe they come before the town.
O, the foe by tent and fireside learned full well what Treason means,
When the cannon, wrathful, deadly, lined the wharves of New Orleans;
When they heard the rapturous music, caught the crews' victorious cheer,
As again, on dome and fortress, rose the old flag, floating clear;
Saw the pale, bewildered army flee in terror and dismay:
Now, to God alone be glory, 'twas a proud and joyful day!
From St. Louis, down the River, nobly manned, the Gun-boats move;
Woe to fort and recreant city when they round their prows above!
Ah, what valor seized the islands! boasting Memphis gained again!
Wrapt the rebel ships in ruin, wave and flame our allies then!
Mile by mile the restless River from its tyrant rule they free,
Till the fleet that left the prairies hails the fleet that sailed from sea!
"Patience yet, O greeting sailors! mark! Port Hudson, Vicksburg, wait,
Grimly couched on savage highlands, sworn to guard the River-gate.
Call the soldiers from their campfires! man the guns! there's work to do
Ere this barred and gloomy water you may sail unchallenged through."
Then beneath the bluffs they anchored, while their armies in the rear
Made the prisoned traitors tremble, slowly, surely, drawing near.
How we waited for the tidings! "Will they never yield?" we cried;
"Must we hold them still beleaguered, hopeless, starving in their pride?"
Spring went fruitless down to summer; 'twas the Fourth day of July;
When, to swell the roar of cannon and the anthems pealing high,
Sudden flashed the words of triumph, lightning-borne from town to town,
"Haughty Vicksburg has surrendered! we have torn their colors down!"
And again, in clearest echo, ere the clamorous joy was still,
"We are masters of Port Hudson, and the River sail at will!"
So from Traitor's grasp forever was the Mississippi won;
Praise the Lord, O shouting People! round the world the glad news run!
* * * * *
By the wave or in the woodland slumber still, O Boatman bold!
Seaward down, through loyal levels, rolls the River as of old!
Rolls the River, swift, resistless, scorning bounds and forts and foes,
Undivided from the Passes to Itasca's lone repose.
Hark! a murmur of thanksgiving! all its waves in music flow--
Ransomed banks lean o'er to listen--joyous winds harmonious blow!
On its breast in grander plenty through the ages yet unborn,
Still shall float the teeming harvests--fairest cotton, golden corn;
Cities gleam and orchards blossom; woodmen open to the sun
Leagues of lowland, breadths of forest, where its tribute rivers run,
Till a free and happy people fill the valley rich and wide,
From the springs of great Missouri far to Alleghany's side;
While above them, all unclouded, done with war and envious jars,
Brighter through the circling ages shine the glorious Stripes and Stars!
Then amid the yellow wheat-fields as they reap in summer days;
Heap, when harvest-moons are shining, rustling sheaves of ripened maize;
Pluck the grapes from purple hill-sides when the vintage crowns the year;
Grind the cane and house the cotton that has cost no bondman dear;
Choose untrammelled, righteous rulers, fit the country's name to bear;
Hear the bells from bluff and prairie through the hush of Sabbath air;
Shall they tell the thrilling story of the twice-won River o'er,
And the Boatman and the Soldier honored be forevermore--
In the nation's song and record, freighted prose and wingèd rhyme,
Light canoe and warship gliding, hallowed, down the stream of time!