What rivers are these?
These interminable rivers great and small, ample and sufficient,
Exquisitely polished, silvery, now narrowing, now expanding,
The long thick river-stripes of the earth, flowing stately, rapid, swift-running,
And slow sluggish rivers, lonesome waters,
Where they flow, distant, over flats of silvery sands or through swamps,
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the rivers—
The water everywhere I travel in this country is the best part,
And there seems no end of it.
The river and bay are always a great attraction to me. It is a lively scene. At either tide, flood or ebb, the water is always rushing along as if in haste.
The river is often crowded with steamers, ships, and small craft—
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d,
Moving in different directions, some coming in from sea, others going out, with copious commerce.
On rivers boatmen safely moor’d at nightfall in their boats under shelter of high banks,
Some of the younger men dance to the sound of the banjo or fiddle, others sit on the gunwale smoking and talking.
I spend a portion of the day with the pilots of the ferry boats, ever plying over the river. Among the pilots are some of my particular friends—when I see them up in the pilot house I go up and sail to and fro several trips. I enjoy an hour or two’s sail of this kind very much indeed.
The water is my favorite recreation—I could spend two or three hours every day of my life here—lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, and never get tired.
(Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet haste with the hasting current.)
Life and travel and memory have offer’d and will preserve to me no deeper-cut incidents, panorama, or sights to cheer my soul, than my days and nights up and down this fascinating river.
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the sweet-tasting river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
As I floated idly down the twilight ebb.
On interior rivers by night, when the solid frost and ice fully set in, for miles north and south, river full of ice, ice, ice,
The broken ice in the river, passing along up or down with the flood-tide or ebb-tide,
Thick, marbly, glistening, mostly broken, but some immense cakes,
In the clear moonlight, the whole river is now spread with it as far as I can see.
The enormous masses of ice pass me and I pass them,
Strange, unearthly river fiends, with malignant faces,
Silvery, faintly glistening, bumping, trembling, sometimes hissing like a thousand snakes.
Wild and wide their arms are thrown,
As if to clutch in fatal embraces him who sails their realm upon.
The majestic and moving river towers into larger proportions than ever,
With frequent cascades and snow-white foam on the glistening breast of the stream,
The river tumbling green and white, far below,
Plunging with velocity down the rocks, tumbling with the roar of pouring cataracts,
Always strong, deep, hundreds of feet, sometimes thousands.
O, tireless waters!
Like death in this midnight hour you seem,
Life in your chill drops greedily burying;
How solemn! the river a trailing pall, which takes, but never again gives back,
Like time with a clutch remorseless, continual, that which you take is forever gone,
Like life’s quick dream, onward and onward ever hurrying.
Unlike time you begin and end,
Unlike life you’ve a pathway steady,
Unlike earth’s are your numberless graves ever undug, yet ever ready.
The canoe, a dim shadowy thing, moves across the black water,
Bearing a torch ablaze at the prow,
The river, which had seemed like a path of darkness and doubt, now sparkling,
The scene on the river heavenly, more beautiful and bright than you can conceive.
I loved well the stately and rapid river,
I saw plenteous waters,
Very clean and pure, of a sky-blue color,
Look’d at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the shape of my head in the sunlit water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
The play of light through shining and flowing waters,
The sheeny track of light in the water, dancing and rippling.
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there,
Tawny streaks and shades and spreading blue, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold.
I mark from on deck the strange landscape,
The constantly changing but ever beautiful panorama on both sides of the river,
The rich borders of rivers, with ranging hills on the dark high banks,
Ever with high, rocky hills for banks, green and gray, brown and blue rock,
Yellow jagged bank with white pebble stones.
O waters, I have fingered every shore with you,
I have run through what any river or strait of the globe has run through.
These lines are pencill’d on the edge of a woody bank,
Where the brook puts out of the roots of the old tree and flows to the meadow,
The spring under the willows pouring a sizeable stream,
With a glistening pond and creek seen through the trees.
O winding creeks and rivers and many a jocund brook,
The brooks running, sweet brooks of drinking water,
Many a herb-lined brook’s reticulations, all that is jocund and sparkling;
Turbulent-clear crystal mountain streams,
Darkly transparent waters, streams of amber and bronze brawling along, often over descents of rock,
Wayward rivulets down canyons from sources of perpetual snow,
The snows of inaccessible upper areas melting and the wild stream running down through the gorges continually.
How the water sports and sings!
I am sooth’d by its soft gurgle in one place—the inimitable soft sound-gurgles of it as I sit there hot afternoons—and the hoarser murmurs of its three-foot fall in another,
Gurgling, gurgling ceaselessly, the whole year through,
Surely it is alive! meaning, saying something, of course (if one could only translate it.)
Babble on, O brook, musically brawling with that utterance of thine!
As I haunt thee so often, thou knowest not me, (yet why be so certain? who can tell?)
But I will learn from thee, and dwell on thee—receive, copy, print from thee,
Hurrying with the swift current flowing, forever flowing,
That whirling current, laughing and buoyant, rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
Laughing with the cool waters.
Refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow,
I keep generally buoyant spirits, get in the sun and down to the river whenever I can.
I will go to the private untrimm’d bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
Now wading in a little, fearing not the wet.
NEXT: CREATURES OF THE WATERS