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A poem for Halloween

A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp

Written at Norfolk, in Virginia

  • “They made her a grave, too cold and damp 
  • For a soul so warm and true; 
  • And she’s gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp, 
  • Where, all night long, by a fire-fly lamp, 
  • She paddles her white canoe.
  • “And her fire-fly lamp I soon shall see, 
  • And her paddle I soon shall hear; 
  • Long and loving our life shall be, 
  • And I’ll hide the maid in a cypress tree, 
  • When the footstep of death is near.”
  • Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds— 
  • His path was rugged and sore, 
  • Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds, 
  • Through many a fen where the serpent feeds, 
  • And man never trod before.
  • And when on the earth he sunk to sleep, 
  • If slumber his eyelids knew, 
  • He lay where the deadly vine doth weep 
  • Its venomous tear and nightly steep 
  • The flesh with blistering dew!
  • And near him the she-wolf stirr’d the brake, 
  • And the copper-snake breath’d in his ear, 
  • Till he starting cried, from his dream awake, 
  • “Oh! when shall I see the dusky Lake, 
  • And the white canoe of my dear?”
  • He saw the Lake, and a meteor bright 
  • Quick over its surface play’d— 
  • “Welcome,” he said, “my dear one’s light!” 
  • And the dim shore echoed for many a night 
  • The name of the death-cold maid.
  • Till he hollow’d a boat of the birchen bark, 
  • Which carried him off from shore; 
  • Far, far he follow’d the meteor spark, 
  • The wind was high and the clouds were dark, 
  • And the boat return’d no more.
  • But oft, from the Indian hunter’s camp, 
  • This lover and maid so true 
  • Are seen at the hour of midnight damp 
  • To cross the Lake by a fire-fly lamp, 
  • And paddle their white canoe!

Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was an Irish poet as well known for his songs and musical stage performances as he was for his verse. His best known lyrics—which serve equally well as poems in their own right—are “The Minstrel Boy” and “The Last Rose of Summer.” He is often referred to as the Irish Robert Burns—while Burns is often referred to as the Scottish Thomas Moore (no doubt a controversy often warmly discussed over a pint, a dram, and a peaty fire glowing in a tavern hearth). His work has been put to music by several composers, including Hector Berlioz, Charles Ives, and Benjamin Britten.

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