A Florida Ghost

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A Florida Ghost  (1877) 
by Sidney Lanier
Sidney Lanier composed this poem in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania in 1877. This is one of his Dialect Poems, which were composed in various dialects of the rural 19th-century American South. Lanier had suffered from tuberculosis since the mid-1860s, which likely inspired this subject of consumption (tuberculosis) and sanitariums.

Down mildest shores of milk-white sand,
      By cape and fair Floridian bay,
Twixt billowy pines—a surf asleep on land—
            And the great Gulf at play,

Past far-off palms that filmed to nought,
      Or in and out the cunning keys
That laced the land like fragile patterns wrought
            To edge old broideries,

The sail sighed on all day for joy,
      The prow each pouting wave did leave
All smile and song, with sheen and ripple coy,
            Till the dusk diver Eve

Brought up from out the brimming East
      The oval moon, a perfect pearl.
In that large lustre all our haste surceased,
            The sail seemed fain to furl,

The silent steersman landward turned,
      And ship and shore set breast to breast.
Under a palm wherethrough a planet burned
            We ate, and sank to rest.

But soon from sleep’s dear death (it seemed)
      I rose and strolled along the sea
Down silver distances that faintly gleamed
            On to infinity.

Till suddenly I paused, for lo!
      A shape (from whence I ne’er divined)
Appeared before me, pacing to and fro,
            With head far down inclined.

      ‘A wraith’ (I thought) ‘that walks the shore
To solve some old perplexity.’
            Full heavy hung the draggled gown he wore;
  His hair flew all awry.

He waited not (as ghosts oft use)
      To be ‘dearheaven’d!’ and ‘oh’d!’
But briskly said: “Good-evenin’; what’s the news?
            Consumption? After boa’d?

“Or mebbe you’re intendin’ of
      Investments? Orange-plantin’? Pine?
Hotel? or Sanitarium? What above
            This yea’th can be your line?

“Speakin’ of sanitariums, now,
      Jest look ’ee here, my friend:
I know a little story,—well, I swow,
            Wait till you hear the end!

“Some year or more ago, I s’pose,
      I roamed from Maine to Floridy,
And,—see where them Palmettos grows?
            I bought that little key,

“Cal’latin’ for to build right off
      A c’lossal sanitarium:
Big surf! Gulf breeze! Jest death upon a cough!
            —I run it high, to hum!

“Well, sir, I went to work in style:
      Bought me a steamboat, loaded it
With my hotel (pyazers more’n a mile!)
            Already framed and fit,

“Insured ’em, fetched ’em safe around,
      Put up my buildin’, moored my boat,
Com-plete! then went to bed and slept as sound
            As if I’d paid a note.

“Now on that very night a squall,
      Cum up from some’eres—some bad place!
An’ blowed an’ tore an’ reared an’ pitched an’ all,
            —I had to run a race

“Right out o’ bed from that hotel
      An’ git to yonder risin’ ground,
For, ’twixt the sea that riz and rain that fell,
            I pooty nigh was drowned!

“An’ thar I stood till mornin’ cum,
      Right on yon little knoll of sand,
Frequently wishin’ I had stayed to hum
            Fur from this tarnal land.

“When mornin’ cum, I took a good
      Long look, and—well, sir, sure’s I’m me
That boat laid right whar that hotel had stood,
            And hit sailed out to sea!

“No: I’ll not keep you: good-bye, friend.
      Don’t think about it much,—preehaps
Your brain might git see-sawin’, end for end,
            Like them asylum chaps,

“For here I walk, forevermore,
      A-tryin’ to make it gee,
How one same wind could blow my ship to shore
            And my hotel to sea!”

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.