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Mary Ashley Townsend
“Down the Bayou”

WE drifted down the long lagoon,

My Love, my Summer Love and I,

Far out of sight of all the town.

The old Cathedral sinking down.

With spire and cross, from view below

The borders of St. John’s bayou.

As toward the ancient Spanish Fort,

With steady prow and helm a-port,

We drifted down, my Love and I.

Beneath an azure April sky.

My Love and I, my Love and I,

Just at the hour of noon.

Scene on Bayou St. John
August Norieri
Public domain photo available at Wikipedia

We drifted down, and drifted down,

My Love, my Summer Love and I,

Beyond the Creole part of town.

Its red-tiled roofs, its stucco walls,

Its belfries, with their sweet bell-calls;

The Bishop’s Palace, which enshrines

Such memories of the Ursulines;

Past balconies where maidens dreamed

Behind the shelter of cool vines;

Old Spanish Fort on Bayou St. John
GNU Free Documentation License
photo available at

Past open doors where parrots screamed;

Past courts where mingled shade and glare

FeU through pomegranate boughs, to where

The turbaned negress, drowsy grown,

Sat nodding in her ample chair;

Beyond the joyance and the stress,

Beyond the greater and the less,

Beyond the tiresome noonday town.

The parish prison’s cupolas.

The bridges, with their creaking draws,

And many a convent’s frown, —

We drifted on, my Love and I,

Beneath the semi-tropic sky.

While from the clock-towers in the town

Spake the meridian bells that said, —

’T was morn — ’t is noon —

Time flies — and soon

’T was morn — ’t is noon —

Time flies — and soon

Night follows noon.

Prepare! Beware!

Take care! Take care!

For soon — so soon —

Night follows noon, —

Dark night the noon, —

Noon! noon! noon! noon!

To right, to left, the tiller turned,

In all its gaud, our painted prow.

Bend after bend our light keel spurned.

For sinuously the bayou’s low

Dark waters ’neath the sunshine burned.

There, in that smiling southern noon,

As if some giant serpent, wound

Along the lush and mellow ground

To mark the path we chose to go;

When, in sweet hours remembered now,

The long lagoon we drifted down;

My Love, my Summer Love and I,

Far out of reach of all the town,

Beyond the Ridge of Metairie,

And all its marble villages

Thronged with their hosts of Deaf and Dumb,

Who, to the feet of Death have come

And laid their earthly burdens down!

We drifted slow, we drifted fast,

Bulrush and reed and blossom past,

My Love, my Summer Love and I.

As the chameleon pillages

Its tint from turf, or leaf, or stone,

Or flower it haps to rest upon,

So did our hearts, that joyous day,

From every beauty in our way

Some new fresh tinge of beauty take.

Some added gladness make our own

From things familiar yet unknown.

With scarce the lifting of an oar.

We lightly swept from shore to shore, —

The hither and the thither shore,

With scarce the lifting of an oar, —

While far beyond, in distance wrapped,

The city’s lines lay faintly mapped, —

Its antique courts, its levee’s throngs.

Its rattling floats, its boatmen’s songs,

Its lowly and its lofty roofs,

Its tramp of men, its beat of hoofs.

Its scenes of peace, its brief alarms.

Its narrow streets, its old Place d’Armes,

Whose tragic soil of long ago

Now sees the modern roses blow:

All these in one vast cloud were wound,

Of blurred and fainting sight and sound,

As on we swept, my Love and I,

Beneath the April sky together.

In all the bloomy April weather, —

My Love, my Summer Love and I,

In all the blue and amber weather.

We passed the marsh where pewits sung,

My Love, my Summer Love and I;

We passed the reeds and brakes among,

Beneath the smilax vines we swung;

We grasped at lilies whitely drooping

Mid the rank growth of grass and sedge.

Or bending toward the water’s edge,

As for their own reflection stooping.

Then talked we of the legend old.

Wherein Narcissus’ fate is told;

And turned from that to grander story

Of heroed past or modern glory,

Till the quaint town of New Orleans,

Its Spanish and its French demesnes,

Like some vague mirage of the mind.

In Memory’s cloudlands lay defined;

And back and backward seemed to creep

Commerce, with all her tangled tongues.

Till Silence smote her lusty lungs.

And Distance lulled Discord to sleep.

We drifted down, and drifted down,

My Love, my Summer Love and I.

The wild bee sought the shadowed flower.

Yet wet with morning’s dewy dower,

While here and there across the stream

A daring vine its frail bridge builded.

As fair, as fragile as some dream

Which Hope with hollow hand hath gilded.

Now here, now there, some fisher’s boat.

By trudging fisher towed, would float

Toward the town beyond our eyes;

The drowsy steersman in the sun,

Chanting meanwhile, in drowsy tone, —

Under the smiling April skies,

To which the earth smiled back replies, —

Beside his helm some barcarole.

Or, in the common patois known

To such as he before his day.

Sang out some gay chanson créole,

And held his bark upon its way.

Slowly along the old shell road

Some aged negro, ’neath his load

Of gathered moss and latanier

Went shuffling on his homeward way;

While purple, cool, beneath the blue

Of that hot noontide, bravely smiled,

With bright and iridescent hue,

Whole acres of the blue-flag flower,

The breathy Iris, sweet and wild.

That floral savage unsubdued,

The gypsy April’s gypsy child.

Now from some point of weedy shore

An Indian woman darts before

The light bow of our idle boat,

In which, like figures in a dream.

My Love, my Summer Love and I,

Adown the sluggish bayou float;

While she, in whose still face we see

Traits of a chieftain ancestry.

Paddles her pirogue down the stream

Swiftly, and with the flexile grace

Of some dusk Dian in the chase.

As nears our boat the tangled shore.

Where the wild mango weaves its boughs,

And early willows stoop their hair

To meet the sullen bayou’s kiss;

Where the luxuriant “creeper” throws

Its eager clasp round rough and fair

To climb toward the coining June;

Where the sly serpent’s sudden hiss

Startles sometimes the drowsy noon, —

There the rude hut, banana-thatched.

Stands with its ever open door;

Its yellow gourd hung up beside

The crippled crone who, half asleep.

In garments most grotesquely patched,

Grim watch and ward pretends to keep

Where there is naught to be denied.

The castled crayfish shows his tower,

Mud-built, half hidden in the weeds,

Above his deftly sunken well;

And there the truant, in his hour

Of idle aims and wanton needs.

Will come with bit of scarlet bait,

And, loitering long, will patient wait

To drag the hermit from his cell.

Beside the bank we smile to hear

The breezy gossip of the plain

Come lightly to the listening ear;

The rushes whisper to the cane.

The cane the spiked palmetto nears.

The grasses rustle as they tell,

Then runs the whisper back again,

As if the olden secret grew.

As secrets will, both old and new,

That “Midas, he hath asses’ ears.”

The white clouds drifted overhead,

As on we passed, my Love and I;

They sailed the sky like phantom ships

With phantom freight, — their port a dream,

Their course a careless idler’s theme.

Across the lush and lonesome marsh

The heron’s cry rose shrill and harsh;

O’er distant plains the cattle wound

For noonday rest on shadowed ground;

And now we talked, and now we read

The day-dream of some dreamer dead;

Or, trailing there our finger-tips

In lazy tides our frail bark under,

Of heroes spoke with awe and wonder.

Or poets named of some far day,

Who had bequeathed unto our time.

In pages quaint of dolorous rhyme,

A heritage of youthful loves.

Which round their lives had seemed to play

As summer lightning plays round warm

Night-skies to which it brings no harm.

Then flocks of golden butterflies

Fluttered our painted prow before.

Seeming to draw us shore from shore.

The Love Queen’s ribbon-guided doves.

Which, so the mythic legend proves,

Her chariot drew o’er roads of stars

Whereon her wheels have left no scars.

Were not more gorgeous in their dyes

Than our unharnessed butterflies;

As yellow as if all their wings

Were made of golden wedding-rings,

And silent as if each were made

Of sweet things lovers leave unsaid.

Still darkly winding on before,

For half a dozen miles or more,

Past leagues and leagues of lilied marsh,

The murky bayou swerved and slid,

Was lost, and found itself again.

And yet again was quickly hid

Among the grasses of the plain.

As gazed we o’er the sedgy swerves,

The wild and weedy water curves,

Towards sheets of shining canvas spread

High o’er the lilies blue and red.

So low the shores on either hand,

The sloops seemed sailing on the land.

Now here, now there, among the sedge,

As drifted on my Love and I,

Were groups of idling negro girls.

Half hid behind the swaying hedge

Of wild rice nodding in the breeze.

Barefooted by the bayou’s edge,

Just where the water swells and swirls.

They watched the passing of our boat.

Some stood like caryatides

With arms upraised to burdened heads;

Some, idly grouped among the weeds,

With arms about their naked knees,

Or full length on the grasses cast,

Grew into pictures as we passed.

Our aimless course they idly noted.

Then out across the lowlands floated

Rude snatches of plantation songs,

In that sweet cadence which belongs

To their full-lipped, full-lungéd race.

We heard the rustle of the grass

They parted wide to see us pass;

Our boat so neared their resting-place.

We heard their murmurs of surprise.

And glanced into their shining eyes;

Then caught the rich, mellifluous strain

That fell and rose, and fell again;

And listened, listened, till the last

Clear note was mingled with the past.

We drifted on, and drifted on.

My Love, my Summer Love and I.

All youth seemed like an April land.

All life seemed like a morning sky.

Like the white fervor of a star

That burns in twilight skies afar.

Between the azure of the day.

And gates that shut the night away;

Bright as an Ophir jewel’s gleam

On some Egyptian’s swarthy hand.

About my heart one radiant dream

Shone with a glow intense, supreme.

Yet vague, withal, like some sweet sky

We trust for sunshine, nor know why’.

The reed birds chippered in the reeds.

As drifted on my Love and I;

The sleepy saurian by the bank

Slid from his sunny log, and sank

Beneath the dank, luxuriant weeds

That lay upon the bayou’s breast.

Like vernal argosies at rest.

Like some blind Homer of the wood, —

A king in beggared solitude, —

Upon the wide, palmettoed plain,

A giant cypress here and there

Stood in impoverished despair;

With leafless crown, with outstretched limbs,

With mien of woe, with voiceless hymns.

With mossy raiment, tattered, gray.

Waiting in dumb and sightless pain,

A model posing for Doré.

Aloft, on horizontal wing,

We saw the buzzard rock and swing;

That sturdy sailor of the air.

Whose agile pinions have a grace

That prouder plumes might proudly wear.

And claim it for a kinglier race.

From distant oak-groves, sweet and strong.

The voicy mocking-bird gave song, —

That plagiarist whose note is known

As every bird’s, j’et all his own.

As shuttles of the Persian looms

Catch all of Nature’s subtlest blooms,

Alike her bounty and her dole

To weave in one bewildering whole,

So has this subtile singer caught

AU sweetest songs, and deftly wrought

Them into one entrancing score

From his rejoicing heart to pour.

Remembering that song, that sky,

“My Love,” I say, “my Love and I” —

“My Summer Love” — yet know not why

We had been friends, we still were friends;

Where love begins and friendship ends.

To both was like some new strange shore

Which hesitating feet explore.

There had we met, surprised to meet

And glad to find surprise so sweet;

But not a word, nor sigh, nor token.

Nor tender word unconscious spoken,

Nor lingering clasp, nor sudden kiss.

Had shown Love born of Friendship’s broken,

Golden, glorious chrysalis.

Each well content with each to dream,

We drifted down that silent stream.

Searching the book of Nature fair.

To find each other’s picture there.

Lifting our eyes

To name the skies

Prophets of cloudless destinies,

As down and down the long lagoon

We swept that semi-tropic noon,

Each one as sure love lay below

The careless thoughts our lips might breathe,

Or lighter laughter might unfold,

As doth the earnest alchemist know

Beneath his trusted crucibles glow

Fires to transmute his dross to gold.

The wind was blowing from the south

When we had reached the bayou’s mouth.

My Love, my Summer Love and I.

It laden came with rare perfumes, —

With spice of bays, and orange blooms.

And mossy odors from the glooms

Of cypress swamps. Now and again.

Upon the fair Lake Pontchartrain,

White sails went nodding to the main;

And round about the painted hulls

Darted the sailing, swooping gulls.

Wailing and shrieking, as they flew

Unrestingly ’twixt blue and blue.

Like ghosts of drowned mariners

Eising from deep sea sepulchres.

To warn, with weird and woful lips,

Who go down to the sea in ships.

We moored our boat beside the moat

Beneath the old Fort’s crumbling wall.

No sudden drum gave warning sharp,

No martial order manned the Fort,

No watchful step the bastion smote.

No challenge from a sentry’s throat

Sent down to us its questioning call.

No gleam of bayonet met the eye,

No banner broadened ’gainst the sky,

No clash of grounded arms was heard,

No ringing cheer, no murmured word.

No feet of armies marching by.

From moat and scarp and counterscarp,

From parapet to sally-port,

All lay untenanted and mute.

One grim, invisible sentinel.

Silence, gave to us sad salute,

Then died, as there our footsteps fell.

We climbed the ramparts, hand in hand.

My Love, my Summer Love and I.

There had the dumb, industrious moss

Woven its tapestries across

The ancient brickwork, with a touch

Like Love, which, loving, giveth much.

There, undisturbed, the lichen’s slow.

Gray finger all the walls along

Had writ, in untranslated song,

Its history of the fair, low land.

Its courtly dames, its maidens fair,

Its men, brave, proud, and debonair,

Its romance and its chivalry.

As known a hundred years ago.

Softly the fragrant southern breeze

From o’er the Mexic Gulf blew on.

Stirring the blossomed orange-trees,

And leafless groves of the pecan.

O’er crumbling paths we laughing went,

My Love, my Summer Love and I,

Or o’er the hidden trenches bent.

And lingered with a vague content

On bastion and on battlement.

There were the cannon, blear and black,

Directed toward no foeman’s track;

Swart battle’s puny infants swung

In the rude cradle of a time

When dreams were dwarfs, invention young.

And science, with its white, sublime,

Eternal face, yet scarcely free

From swaddles of its infancy.

With deep throats void of even a threat,

Prone on the grass-grown parapet

In mute impotency they lay.

Up to the rigid mouth of one

A clambering rose its way had spun:

Freighting the air with sweet increase

Of fragrance, lavished near and far,

It clung there, like a kiss of Peace

On the barbaric lips of War.

With reverent hands we touched the strange,

Mute relics, that so sternly spake

Of strides that make the nations quake

With awe before the march of change.

To what might be, from what had been,

Our thoughts o’er luminous courses swept,

Till every boundary they o’erleapt

That marks the untried and unseen.

Then Doubt from her chill cloisters crept.

Surrendering unto Progress there

The rusting keys of all the realms

Dominioned by the dwarf. Despair;

And, wondering, conquered, awed, and dumb.

She gazed toward the Yet to Come.

Like one some gladness overwhelms.

Till, in the joy with which ’tis rife

Is drowned all dread of chancing grief,

I laughed, I dreamed, that sunny day.

And bound in one full fragrant sheaf

The goldenest harvests of my life.

And now, whene’er an April sky

Bends o’er me like some vast blue bell;

When piping birds are in the reeds,

And earth is fed on last year’s seeds;

When newly is the live-oak’s tent

With tender green and gray besprent;

When wailing gulls are on the lake,

And woods are fair for April’s sake;

When grassy plains their secrets tell,

And lilies with white wonder look

At other lilies by the brook;

When thrills the wild rice in the wind.

And cries the heron shrill and harsh

Along the lush and lonely marsh;

When in the grove the mocker sings,

And earth seems full of new-made things,

And Nature to all youth is kind, —

Once more, as in a vision, seem

To rise before me lake and stream;

Once more a semi-tropic noon,

A boat upon a long lagoon;

Two figures there, as in a dream.

Come, strangely dear and strangely nigh,

To touch me, and to pass me by.

And, as they pass, once more I seem

To see, beneath the April sky.

In all the blue and silver weather.

My Love, my Summer Love and I,

Drift down the long lagoon together!


  1. Cupola. A small, most-often dome-like, structure on top of a building. Often used to provide a lookout or to admit light and air, it usually crowns a larger roof or dome.
  2. Place d’Armes. Jackson Square.
  3. Narcissus. In Greek mythology was a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He fell in love with his own reflection.
  4. Demesnes. Estates.
  5. Chanson créole. Creole song.
  6. Latanier. Palmetto. Spanish moss was used to stuff mattresses, and palmetto to make hats and fans, etc.
  7. Dian. Diana (Latin) or Artemis (Greek), goddess of the hunt.
  8. Love Queen’s ribbon-guided doves. Venus (Latin) or Aphrodite (Greek), was often represented by the dove.
  9. Saurian. Alligator.
  10. Doré. Gustave Doré (1832-1883), artist famous for his illustrations of Paradise Lost.

Text Prepared By


Townsend, Mary Ashley.Down the Bayou: and Other Poems". J.R. Osgood and Company, 1882. Internew Archive. 16 Nov. 2009. Web. 8 May 2013. <https:// archive.org/ details/ downbayou otherpo00 town>.

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