The Edge of the Swamp

Written Text

'TIS a wild spot, and even in summer hours,

With wondrous wealth of beauty and a charm

For the sad fancy, hath the gloomiest look,

That awes with strange repulsion. There, the bird

Sings never merrily in the sombre trees,

That seem to have never known a term of youth,

Their young leaves all being blighted. A rank growth

Spreads venomously round, with power to taint;

And blistering dews await the thoughtless hand That rudely parts the thicket. Cypresses,

Each a great ghastly giant, eld and gray,

Stride o'er the dusk, dank tract,—with buttresses

Spread round, apart, not seeming to sustain,

Yet link'd by secret twines, that, underneath,

Blend with each arching trunk. Fantastic vines,

That swing like monstrous serpents in the sun,

Bind top to top, until the encircling trees

Group all in close embrace. Vast skeletons

Of forests, that have perish'd ages gone,

Moulder, in mighty masses, on the plain;

Now buried in some dark and mystic tarn,

Or sprawl'd above it, resting on great arms,

And making, for the opossum and the fox,

Bridges, that help them as they roam by night.

Alternate stream and lake, between the banks,

Glimmer in doubtful light: smooth, silent, dark,

They tell not what they harbor; but, beware!

Lest, rising to the tree on which you stand,

You sudden see the moccasin snake heave up

His yellow shining belly and flat head

Of burnish'd copper. Stretch'd at length, behold

Where yonder Cayman, in his natural home,

The mammoth lizard, all his armor on, Slumbers half-buried in the sedgy grass,

Beside the green ooze where he shelters him.

The place, so like the gloomiest realm of death,

Is yet the abode of thousand forms of life,—

The terrible, the beautiful, the strange,—

Wingéd and creeping creatures, such as make

The instinctive flesh with apprehension crawl,

When sudden we behold. Hark! at our voice

The whooping crane, gaunt fisher in these realms,

Erects his skeleton form and shrieks in flight,

On great white wings. A pair of summer ducks,

Most princely in their plumage, as they hear

His cry, with senses quickening all to fear,

Dash up from the lagoon with marvelous haste,

Following his guidance. See! aroused by these,

And startled by our progress o'er the stream,

The steel-jawed Cayman, from his grassy slope,

Slides silent to the slimy green abode,

Which is his province. You behold him now,

His bristling back uprising as he speeds

To safety, in the center of the lake,

Whence his head peers alone,—a shapeless knot,

That shows no sign of life; the hooded eye,

Nathless, being ever vigilant and sharp,

Measuring the victim. See! a butterfly,

That, travelling all the day, has counted climes

Only by flowers, to rest himself a while,

And, as a wanderer in a foreign land,

To pause and look around him ere he goes,

Lights on the monster's brow. The surly mute

Straightway goes down; so suddenly, that he,

The dandy of the summer flowers and woods,

Dips his light wings, and soils his golden coat,

With the rank waters of the turbid lake.

Wondering and vex'd, the pluméd citizen

Flies with an eager terror to the banks,

Seeking more genial natures,—but in vain.

Here are no gardens such as he desires,

No innocent flowers of beauty, no delights

Of sweetness free from taint. The genial growth

He loves, finds here no harbor. Fetid shrubs,

That scent the gloomy atmosphere, offend

His pure patrician fancies. On the trees,

That look like felon spectres, he beholds

No blossoming beauties; and for smiling heavens,

That flutter his wings with breezes of pure balm,

He nothing sees but sadness—aspects dread,

That gather frowning, cloud and fiend in one,

As if in combat, fiercely to defend

Their empire from the intrusive wing and beam.

The example of the butterfly be ours.

He spreads his lacquer'd wings above the trees,

And speeds with free flight, warning us to seek

For a more genial home, and couch more sweet

Than these drear borders offer us to-night. ……………….. “THE EDGE OF THE SWAMP” By William Gilmore Simms Read by Tom Turner Directed by Walter Evans Copyright Georgia Regents University 2013 All rights reserved