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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Longfellow's Madison Poem


In 1876, a Centennial Exhibition was organized in Philadelphia to celebrate the nation's first century. Wisconsin's participation was spearheaded by Mrs. J.G. Thorpe of Madison, whose son had married a daughter of the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She persuaded Longfellow to write an original poem expressly for the occasion. It was called "The Four Lakes of Madison" and this is its text:

Four limpid lakes,--four Naiades
Or sylvan deities are these,
In flowing robes of azure dressed;
Four lovely handmaids, that uphold
Their shining mirrors, rimmed with gold,
To the fair city in the West.

By day the coursers of the sun
Drink of these waters as they run
Their swift diurnal round on high;
By night the constellations glow
Far down the hollow deeps below,
And glimmer in another sky.

Fair lakes, serene and full of light,
Fair town, arrayed in robes of white,
How visionary ye appear!
All like a floating landscape seems
In cloud-land or the land of dreams,
Bathed in a golden atmosphere!

The poem was published in Longfellow's book, In the Harbor, in 1882; the original handwritten manuscript is in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives.

[Source: Wisconsin State Journal, July 9, 2008]
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