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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Emma Lazarus (1849–1887)

The South

NIGHT; and beneath star-blazoned summer skies

Behold the spirit of the musky South,—

A creole, with still-burning, languid eyes,

Voluptuous limbs and incense-breathing mouth:

Swathed in spun gauze is she,

From fibres of her own anana tree.

Within these sumptuous woods she lies at ease,

By rich night-breezes, dewy cool, caressed:

’Twixt cypresses and slim palmetto-trees,

Like to the golden oriole’s hanging nest,

Her airy hammock swings,

And through the dark her mocking-bird yet sings.

How beautiful she is! A tulip-wreath

Twines round her shadowy, free-floating hair:

Young, weary, passionate, and sad as death,

Dark visions haunt for her the vacant air,

While movelessly she lies

With lithe, lax, folded hands and heavy eyes.

Full well knows she how wide and fair extend

Her groves bright-flowered, her tangled everglades,

Majestic streams that indolently wend

Through lush savanna or dense forest shades,

Where the brown buzzard flies

To broad bayous ’neath hazy-golden skies.

Hers is the savage splendor of the swamp,

With pomp of scarlet and of purple bloom;

Where blow warm, furtive breezes faint and damp,

Strange insects whir, and stalking bitterns boom—

Where from stale waters dead

Oft looms the great-jawed alligator’s head.

Her wealth, her beauty, and the blight on these,

Of all she is aware: luxuriant woods,

Fresh, living, sunlit, in her dream she sees;

And ever midst those verdant solitudes

The soldier’s wooden cross,

O’ergrown by creeping tendrils and rank moss.

Was hers a dream of empire? was it sin?

And is it well that all was borne in vain?

She knows no more than one who slow doth win,

After fierce fever, conscious life again,

Too tired, too weak, too sad,

By the new light to be or stirred or glad.

From rich sea-islands fringing her green shore,

From broad plantations where swart freemen bend

Bronzed backs in willing labor, from her store

Of golden fruit, from stream, from town, ascend

Life-currents of pure health:

Her aims shall be subserved with boundless wealth.

Yet now how listless and how still she lies,

Like some half-savage, dusky Indian queen,

Rocked in her hammock ’neath her native skies,

With the pathetic, passive, broken mien

Of one who, sorely proved,

Great-souled, hath suffered much and much hath loved!

But look! along the wide-branched dewy glade

Glimmers the dawn: the light palmetto-trees

And cypresses reissue from the shade,

And she hath wakened. Through clear air she sees

The pledge, the brightening ray,

And leaps from dreams to hail the coming day.