“Wood & wave wed, man is remote.”

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment


As the word Abraham means the father of a great multitude of men so the word Mississippee means the father of a great multitude of waters. His tribes stream in from east & west, exceeding fruitful the lands they enrich. In this granary of a continent this basin of the Mississippee must not the  nations be greatly multiplied & blest?

Above the Falls of St: Anthony for the most part he winds evenly in between banks of flags or straight tracts of pine over marbley sands in waters so clear that the deepest fish have the visable flight of the bird. Undisturbed as the lowly life in its bosom feeds the lordly life on its shores, the coronetted elk & the deer, while in the watrey forms of some couched rock in the channel, furred over with moss, the furred bear on the marge seems to eye his amphibious brothers. Wood & wave wed, man is remote. This Unsung tune, the Golden Age of the billow.

By his Fall, though he Rise not again, the unhumbled river ennobles himself now deepens now purely expands, now first forms his character & begins that career whose majestic serenity if not overborne by fierce onsets of torrents shall end only with ocean.

Like a larger Susquehanah like a long-drawn bison herd he hurries on through the prairie, here & there expanding into archipelagoes cycladean in beauty, while fissured & verdant, a long China Wall, the bluffs sweep bluly away. Glad & content the sacred river glides on.

But at St: Louis the course of this dream is run. Down on it like a Pawnee from ambush foams the yellow-jacked Missouri. The calmness is gone, the grouped isles disappear, the shores are jagged & rent, the hue of the water is clayed, the before moderate current is rapid & vexed. The peace of the Upper River seems broken in the Lower, nor is it ever renewed.

The Missouri sends rather a hostile element than a filial flow. Longer, stronger than the father of waters like Jupiter he dethrones his sire & reigns in his stead. Under the benign name Mississippi it is in short the Missouri that now rolls to the Gulf, the Missouri that with the snows from his solitudes freezes the warmth of the genial zones, the Missouri that by open assault or artful sap sweeps away fruit & field grass-yard & barn, the Missouri that not a tributary but an invader [conjectural reading — alternates include “outlaw” and “murderer”] enters the sea, long disdaining to yield his white wave to the blue.

— Herman Melville, “The River” (Handwritten mss, assumed to be cast aside chapter of The Confidence-Man)

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