Thursday, January 17, 2013

Down the Bayou

The Louisiana Bayou.

The cypress swamp around me wraps its spell,
With hushing sounds in moss-hung branches there,
Like congregations rustling down to prayer,
While Solitude, like some unsounded bell,
Hangs full of secrets that it cannot tell,
And leafy litanies on the humid air
Intone themselves, and on the tree-trunks bare
The scarlet lichen writes her rubrics well.
The cypress-knees take on them marvelous shapes
Of pygmy nuns, gnomes, goblins, witches, fays,
The vigorous vine the withered gum-tree drapes,
Across the oozy ground the rabbit plays,
The moccasin to jungle depths escapes,
And through the gloom the wild deer shyly gaze.


— Xariffa


A student of the sonnet, Mary Ashley Townsend (1832-1901) gained fame as a poet in New Orleans under the pen-name Xariffa. She published at least six volumes of poetry in her lifetime, including Poems (1870), Xariffa's Poems (1881), Down the Bayou, and Other Poems (1882), and Distaff and Spindle (1882). Xariffa was selected to write the official poem for the New Orleans World's Fair in 1884 and was also the first American invited to join the Liceo Hidalgo, a prestigious Mexican literary organization of the 19th century.