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Little Rivers; a book of essays in profitable idleness   By: (1852-1933)

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by Henry Van Dyke

"And suppose he takes nothing, yet he enjoyeth a delightful walk by pleasant Rivers, in sweet Pastures, amongst odoriferous Flowers, which gratifie his Senses, and delight his Mind; which Contentments induce many (who affect not Angling) to choose those places of pleasure for their summer Recreation and Health."

COL. ROBERT VENABLES, The Experienc'd Angler, 1662.


To one who wanders by my side As cheerfully as waters glide; Whose eyes are brown as woodland streams, And very fair and full of dreams; Whose heart is like a mountain spring, Whose thoughts like merry rivers sing: To her my little daughter Brooke I dedicate this little book.


I. Prelude

II. Little Rivers

III. A Leaf of Spearmint

IV. Ampersand

V. A Handful of Heather

VI. The Ristigouche from a Horse Yacht

VII. Alpenrosen and Goat's Milk

VIII. Au Large

IX. Trout Fishing in the Traun

X. At the sign of the Balsam Bough

XI. A Song after Sundown



When tulips bloom in Union Square, And timid breaths of vernal air Are wandering down the dusty town, Like children lost in Vanity Fair;

When every long, unlovely row Of westward houses stands aglow And leads the eyes toward sunset skies, Beyond the hills where green trees grow;

Then weary is the street parade, And weary books, and weary trade: I'm only wishing to go a fishing; For this the month of May was made.

I guess the pussy willows now Are creeping out on every bough Along the brook; and robins look For early worms behind the plough.

The thistle birds have changed their dun For yellow coats to match the sun; And in the same array of flame The Dandelion Show's begun.

The flocks of young anemones Are dancing round the budding trees: Who can help wishing to go a fishing In days as full of joy as these?

I think the meadow lark's clear sound Leaks upward slowly from the ground, While on the wing the bluebirds ring Their wedding bells to woods around:

The flirting chewink calls his dear Behind the bush; and very near, Where water flows, where green grass grows, Song sparrows gently sing, "Good cheer:"

And, best of all, through twilight's calm The hermit thrush repeats his psalm: How much I'm wishing to go a fishing In days so sweet with music's balm!

'Tis not a proud desire of mine; I ask for nothing superfine; No heavy weight, no salmon great, To break the record, or my line:

Only an idle little stream, Whose amber waters softly gleam, Where I may wade, through woodland shade, And cast the fly, and loaf, and dream:

Only a trout or two, to dart From foaming pools, and try my art: No more I'm wishing old fashioned fishing, And just a day on Nature's heart.



A river is the most human and companionable of all inanimate things. It has a life, a character, a voice of its own, and is as full of good fellowship as a sugar maple is of sap. It can talk in various tones, loud or low, and of many subjects, grave and gay. Under favourable circumstances it will even make a shift to sing, not in a fashion that can be reduced to notes and set down in black and white on a sheet of paper, but in a vague, refreshing manner, and to a wandering air that goes

"Over the hills and far away."

For real company and friendship, there is nothing outside of the animal kingdom that is comparable to a river.

I will admit that a very good case can be made out in favour of some other objects of natural affection. For example, a fair apology has been offered by those ambitious persons who have fallen in love with the sea... Continue reading book >>

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