Night on the Ocklawaha

IN the red light that from our deck-fire shines,
Inflexible the plumed palmettos stand;
While, at their feet, the supplicating vines
Stretch now wild arms, and now a flower-filled hand.
The gaunt oak broods, with air of wrong and loss,
Yet regal still, among its strangled leaves;
Caught in the web the livid, murderous moss —
Once small, sly parasite, now tyrant — weaves.
The shapes that peopled slimy log and limb,
And filled with uncouth interest all the day, —
The basking alligators, sprawling grim,
Turtles and cranes,—have slipped and sailed away:
Only some splash among the bayous still,
Or strange, harsh cry that startles through the night,
Suggests their lurking presence, as we thrill
With nameless apprehension and affright!
Our boat glides on. . . . The pine-knots’ dying glare
On stream and shore a fitful radiance flings ;
The soft, malarious, poison-scented air
Drowses each sense with fanning vampire wings. . . .
When, crashing through th’ insidious spell so bland,
A wild strain breaks, swells, sinks, and dies away ;
’T is from the boatmen, — a barbaric band ! —
Keeping, with poles, the fangèd shores at bay.
Less, like a hymn it sounds, as, half dismayed,
The black choir, through the gloom, we dimly trace,
Than some weird invocation, fitly made,
To the malignant spirits of the place!
C. E. S.