Monday, December 14, 2015

From the Travel Notes of a Celebrated Novelist (1842)

Dawn Potter

At night our river-trail wound through a gorge, cold and pale,
Shining like a Highland pass under the gleam of a narrow moon.
So hemmed in we were by the hills all round that we saw no egress
Save through the path of shadow-ripples we ourselves had made,
Until a cliff seemed to open and our barge, like a witless Jonah,
Floated forward into gaping jaws that snapped shut upon us,
Closing out the moonlight, wrapping our new course in shade.

Dawn brought relief but also sorrow, for our roving eyes were loath
To rest upon the stumps that loomed like rough-hewn graves, stark
And chill among the greening corn. A thousand rotting branches
Clotted every swamp, steeped in every wet crevasse. We marked
Great wastes where settlers had been burning, and even, like an omen,
glimpsed a twisted, withered tree-king, arms reared high aloft, railing
at the slaughter of his thanes, laying curses on the blackened works of men.

[from Chestnut Ridge, a verse-history of southwestern Pennsylvania]


Anonymous said...

Wonderful lines, those last two especially. Wow. Who was the "famous novelist"?

Dawn Potter said...

The poem borrows language from Charles's Dickens published travel diary, "American Notes." I'm so glad you like it.