We drove to the river to see if the shad were rising
Down vistas the painters once flooded with Claudian gold:
The uncompleted spring was still dividing
Shadow-pied acres between the sun and cloud.

As the heat flushed through, you could feel the power of summer
Waiting to overtake the spring only half-begun:
‘Where are the fishers?’ we asked a woman there,
‘You’ll see them,’ she said, ‘once the shad are beginning to run.’

They were not running today here, and the lines
Casting infrequently out from coverts along the shore,
Were merely the first and desultory signs
Of what must turn fever and fervor as more and more

Shad thronged the channels—shad that once filled the fords
In such abundance, you could not ride through
Without treading on them. They have outlasted the herds
Of buffalo, the pigeon flocks that even the painters knew

Only by hearsay, for their retrospective gold
Was painting a loss already. We turned to climb
Out of the valley: Van Winkle’s mountains showed
Heaped massively up along the horizon line:

As the hills rose around us we began to see—
Only a few at first, then flare on flare
The blossoms that blew from the shadbush, tree on tree,
Whitening the crests in the currents of the air:

The shadblow that comes when the fish are coming
—Spring brings a yearly proof the legend is true—
Told plainly that plenitude could not be long
In reaching the valley to foison the river anew.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 6 Number 4, on page 46
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