American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

A Vast Extent of Brine

with 3 comments

I’m a big fan of the University of Michigan’s digital library, Making of America. MOA gives page images for some 10,000 nineteenth-century American books. The format is far from ideal — for online reading I prefer the Internet Archive — and the images are poorly formatted for printing (which may be due to Michigan’s proprietary interest in selling bound reprints), but the material itself is invaluable. I’ve spent many hours there browsing, finding incredible things. Incredibly useful, important, memorable, and delightful. Also: incredibly strange, amusing, dreadful, and dull.

The item below falls somewhere in the latter camp. To me, it’s dreadful amusing; to you, perhaps, dreadful dull.

Choice rhymes follow, with thumbnails that open onto larger views; click on the title page for a link to the complete text.


From George Van Waters, The Poetical Geography, Designed to Accompany Outline Maps or School Atlases; To Which Are Added the Rules of Arithmetic in Rhyme (1852):



The surface of the Earth, with all its tribes,
Of sea and land, Geography describes.

The Earth

This Earth is but a mighty ball profound,
Just five and twenty thousand miles around:
One fourth the surface of this globe is land;
Three fourths are water, as you understand.


Islands, upon all sides, the waves surround;
In rivers, lakes, and seas, and oceans found.



Mountains are high and elevated land,
That rises o’er the province, dark and grand.


Volcanoes, from their craters, vomit fire,
And smoke and lava, in a stream, most dire.


An Ocean is a vast extent of brine,
Or salt sea water, boundless and sublime.

Gulfs, or Bays

A Gulf or Bay, is when the waves expand
To wide extent, encroaching on the land.


Harbors or Havens

A Harbor or a Haven, is a port,
Where ships in safety, from the storm resort.

The Equator

A circle drawn around the earth, and greater
Than any parallel, is called the Equator.
The Equator is a fancied line, that folds
Around the earth, half way between the poles.
This circle’s called the Equinoctial Line,
For when the Solar orb doth o’er it shine,
The days and nights are equal, as the clocks,
And watches all proclaim the Equinox.



Tropics are circles that restrict the sun,
Which with the equator parallel doth run,
Just twenty-three and a half degrees they shine
Both North and South the Equatorial line.


Meridians run from Pole to Pole (’tis true),
Cutting the Equator, at right angles, through;
They’re used to reckon distance, east and west,
And of all other ways have proved the best.

Frigid Zones

The Frigid Zones include both land and sky,
Of parts which in the polar circles lie.



A Map’s a picture, of the whole or part,
Of the earth’s surface, to be learned by heart.
The top is North, while South points toward your breast;
The right hand’s East, the left hand’s always West.
More Maps than one, bound up for school or college,
Is called an Atlas, and contains much knowledge.


In Maine, Augusta, on the Ken-ne-beck,
Just 50 miles, if right I recollect;
There Hallowell, for granite we’ll remember,
And Bath for building ships of white oak timber.
Ban-gorʹ in lumber trades; as boards and plank,
And takes her place upon Pe-nob-scot’s bank,
O-ro-no, Frankfurt, Bucksport, and Castine (teen),
On the same banks, by the same glowing stream.
Portland by Casco Bay, chief town in Maine,
In fisheries and commerce holds her reign.



And Mexico, high on the table lands,
In the interior of the province stands,
Above the sea full seven thousand feet,
Adorned with temples rich and structures great.
Fair lakes are there, arrayed in evergreen;
High mountain peaks upon the south are seen:
There Popocatapetl smokes all below,
From its high summit, covered o’er with snow.
For her castle famed, from Mexico due east,
Is Veʹ-ra Cruz, three hundred miles, at least.
Southeast from Mexico, full eighty miles,
Famed for her churches, La Pu-e-bla smiles.
*Oa-xaʹ-ca, on this course, two hundred, stands,
Inhabited by numerous Indian bands;
While South, one, eighty, Ac-a-pulʹ-co keeps,   [180
For her harbor known by the Pacific deeps.
In the interior, Gua-na-xuaʹ-to shines,   [gwa-na-wha-ta
With Zac-a-teʹ-cas near the silver mines.
Que-reʹ-ta-ro, for beauty, has renown;   [ka-ra-ta-ro
As, for her pyramid, Cho-luʹ-la’s known.   [co-lu’-la
poetical-geography17And Mut-a-mo-ras, on the Ri-o Grande,   [re-o-grand
Just o’er the stream from Texas, takes her stand.
Re-sa-ca de-la Palmʹ-a’s bloody ground,
With Paʹ-lo Alʹ-to, north of this is found.
While west from here, twice eighty miles away,   [160
On San Fernando’s bank, is Monterey.  [mon-te-ra
From Monterey, southwest, behold Saltillo,
Near Bueʹ-na Visʹta’s battle field her pillow.
From Ma-a-moʹ-ras, south, Tampico smiles,
Along the coast two hundred eighty miles.
While west from here, San Louis Potosi,   [lue potosee ʹ
Upon Tam-piʹ-co river makes her stay.   [tam-pee-co

* Wa-haʹ-ca.

The Two Sicilies

Near Mount Vesuvius let Naples stay,
Long noted for the beauty of her Bay.
Pa-lerʹ-mo sits on Sicily’s fair isle,
And there Mes-si-na and Ca-taʹ-ni-a smile,
As Syracuse is known for ancient splendor,
The wine cup to Mar-saʹ-la we may tender.



Cabul, on Ka ʹ-ma tide, the Af-ghans greet,
Above the sea it stands six thousand feet.
Oe’r Caʹ-bul’s kingdom once Pesh-awerʹ reigned
The first in rule, e’er Cabul was enchained.
And Can-da-harʹ is by the dark Hel ʹ-mund,
The central point where Door-au-neesʹ abound.
Northwest of all, He-ratʹ, with Persia trades,
Where Hin ʹ-doo Koosh ʹ unfold their giant shades.


And in Dar-foorʹ, Cob-beʹ as monarch reigns,
Where laughs Tam-bul, above her fertile plains.



Fair Cai-ro and Ro-setʹ-ta standing where
Egyptian ruins cloud the middle air:
There Thebes and Alexandria lie unfurled,
The dim resemblance of an ancient world.


Mon-roʹ-via, in Liberia we see,
Where Afric’s sons are numbered with the free.


In Guinea stand Bi-afʹ-ra and Be-ninʹ,
There Abʹ-o-mey — a pagan rude is seen.
Coo-masʹ-sie, where Ashantee’s tribes abide,
And push their conquests round on every side.



Written by Ben Friedlander

November 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I always like the idea of poetry doing some real work in the world!


    November 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    • And don’t forget the other Making of America online library: the one at Cornell.

      Jonathan Morse

      November 14, 2009 at 3:42 pm

  2. Peter: I wish the rhymes for “British America” were worth copying out.

    Jonathan: Yes! And also the Library of Congress.

    Ben Friedlander

    November 14, 2009 at 10:48 pm

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