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II the up-stream men When Major Henry1 went Up river at the head of Ashley’s band,2 Already there were robins in the land. Home-keeping men were following the plows And through the smoke-thin3 greenery of boughs The scattering wild-fire of the fruit bloom ran. Behold them starting northward, if you can. Dawn flares across the Mississippi’s tide; A tumult runs along the waterside Where, scenting an event, St. Louis throngs. Above the buzzling4 voices soar the songs Of waiting boatmen—lilting5 chansonettes6 Whereof the meaning laughs, the music frets, Nigh weeping that such gladness can not stay. In turn, the herded horses snort and neigh Like panic bugles. Up the gangplanks poured, Go streams of trappers, rushing goods aboard The snub-built keelboats, squat with seeming sloth— Baled three-point7 blankets, blue and scarlet cloth, Rum, powder, flour, guns, gauderies8 and lead. And all about, goodbyes are being said. Gauche9 girls with rainy April in their gaze Cling to their beardless heroes, count the days Between this parting and the wedding morn, Unwitting how unhuman Fate may scorn The youngling dream. For O how many a lad Would see the face of Danger, and go mad With her weird vixen10 beauty; aye, forget This girl’s face, yearning upward now and wet, Half woman’s with the first vague guess at woe! And now commands are bellowed, boat horns blow Haughtily in the dawn; the tumult swells. The tow-crews, shouldering the long cordelles11 Slack from the mastheads, lean upon the sag. The keelboats answer lazily and drag Their blunt prows slowly in the gilded12 tide. A steersman sings, and up the riverside The gay contagious ditty spreads and runs Above the shouts, the uproar of the guns, The nickering of horses. So, they say, Went forth a hundred singing men that day; And girlish April went ahead of them. The music of her trailing garment’s hem Seemed scarce a league13 ahead. A little speed Might yet almost surprise her in the deed Of sorcery;14 for, ever as they strove, A gray-green smudge in every poplar grove Proclaimed the recent kindling. Aye, it seemed That bird and bush and tree had only dreamed Of song and leaf and blossom, till they heard The young men’s feet; when tree and bush and bird Unleashed the whole conspiracy of awe! Pale green was every slough15 about the Kaw;16 About the Platte, pale green was every slough; And still the pale green lingered at the Sioux, 7 The Up-Stream Men So close they trailed the marching of the South. But when they reached the Niobrara’s mouth The witchery of spring had taken flight And, like a girl grown woman over night, Young summer glowed. And now the river rose, Gigantic from a feast of northern snows, And mightily the snub prows felt the tide; But with the loud, sail-filling South allied, The tow-crews battled gaily day by day; And seldom lulled the struggle on the way But some light jest availed to fling along The panting lines the laughter of the strong, For joy sleeps lightly in the hero’s mood. And when the sky-wide prairie solitude Was darkened round them, and the camp was set Secure for well-earned sleep that came not yet, What stories shaped for marvel or for mirth!— Tales fit to strain the supper-tightened girth, Looped yarns, wherein the veteran spinners vied To color with a lie more glorified Some thread that had veracity enough, Spun straightway out of life’s own precious stuff That each had scutched and heckled in the raw.17 Then thinner grew each subsequent guffaw While drowsily the story went the rounds And o’er the velvet dark the summer sounds Prevailed in weird crescendo more and more, Until the story-teller with a snore Gave over to a dream a tale half told. 8 the song of three friends And now the horse-guards, while the night grows old, With intermittent singing buffet18 sleep That surges subtly down the starry deep On waves of odor from the manless miles Of summer-haunted prairie. Now, at whiles, The kiote’s mordant19 clamor cleaves the drowse. The horses stamp and blow; about the prows Dark waters chug and gurgle; as with looms20 Bugs weave a drone; a beaver’s diving booms, Whereat bluffs grumble in their sable cowls.21 The devil laughter of the prairie owls...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781496207388
Related ISBN
9781496206374
MARC Record
OCLC
1039702821
Pages
726
Launched on MUSE
2018-06-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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