After touring The Breakers and oohing and aahing over the exteriors of the other mansions on Mansion Row (oh, excuse me, I mean the summer cottages!) my husband and I had one thing left on our "must see" list before we left Rhode Island and headed home. I've been to New England several times in the past few years and had never heard about it before, but WaterFire is considered Providence (and Rhode Island's) signature event, and is also listed as one of New England's "top ten attractions." We couldn't think of a better way to spend our last evening in Rhode Island than experiencing this unique combination of water, bonfires and music.
WaterFire centers on a series of 100 bonfires that blaze just above the surface of the three rivers that pass through the middle of downtown Providence. Barnaby Evans, a local artist, was commissioned to create the First Fire in 1994 in celebration of the tenth anniversary of First Night Providence, the city's New Year's Eve celebration. In 1996, he created Second Fire for the International Sculpture Conference, and it later became a permanent installation. The string of fires illuminates nearly two-thirds of a mile of urban public spaces and parks, and my husband and I eagerly joined the throng of residents and visitors gathered along the river, listening to the music and watching the performances. Black-clad performers in boats passed quietly before the flames and tended the fires from sunset to midnight.
Today's poem is a tad long, I know, but how could I resist it with such an appropriate title? Besides, who can possibly get bored reading such lovely lines likeDid land winds blow from jasmine flowers,Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills?Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers,And gold from Eldorado’s hills?
Before my drift-wood fire I sit,And see, with every waif I burn,Old dreams and fancies coloring it,And folly’s unlaid ghosts return.O ships of mine, whose swift keels cleftThe enchanted sea on which they sailed,Are these poor fragments only leftOf vain desires and hopes that failed?Did I not watch from them the lightOf sunset on my towers in Spain,And see, far off, uploom in sightThe Fortunate Isles I might not gain?Did sudden lift of fog revealArcadia’s vales of song and spring,And did I pass, with grazing keel,The rocks whereon the sirens sing?Have I not drifted hard uponThe unmapped regions lost to man,The cloud-pitched tents of Prester John,The palace domes of Kubla Khan?Did land winds blow from jasmine flowers,Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills?Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers,And gold from Eldorado’s hills?Alas! the gallant ships, that sailedOn blind Adventure’s errand sent,Howe’er they laid their courses, failedTo reach the haven of Content.And of my ventures, those aloneWhich Love had freighted, safely sped,Seeking a good beyond my own,By clear-eyed Duty piloted.O mariners, hoping still to meetThe luck Arabian voyagers met,And find in Bagdad’s moonlit street,Haroun al Raschid walking yet,Take with you, on your Sea of Dreams,The fair, fond fancies dear to youth.I turn from all that only seems,And seek the sober grounds of truth.What matter that it is not May,That birds have flown, and trees are bare,That darker grows the shortening day,And colder blows the wintry air!The wrecks of passion and desire,The castles I no more rebuild,May fitly feed my drift-wood fire,And warm the hands that age has chilled.Whatever perished with my ships,I only know the best remains;A song of praise is on my lipsFor losses which are now my gains.Heap high my hearth! No worth is lost;No wisdom with the folly dies.Burn on, poor shreds, your holocaustShall be my evening sacrifice!Far more than all I dared to dream,Unsought before my door I see;On wings of fire and steeds of steamThe world’s great wonders come to me,And holier signs, unmarked before,Of Love to seek and Power to save,—The righting of the wronged and poor,The man evolving from the slave;And life, no longer chance or fate,Safe in the gracious Fatherhood.I fold o’er-wearied hands and wait,In full assurance of the good.And well the waiting time must be,Though brief or long its granted days,If Faith and Hope and CharitySit by my evening hearth-fire’s blaze.And with them, friends whom Heaven has spared,Whose love my heart has comforted,And, sharing all my joys, has sharedMy tender memories of the dead,—Dear souls who left us lonely here,Bound on their last, long voyage, to whomWe, day by day, are drawing near,Where every bark has sailing room.I know the solemn monotoneOf waters calling unto me;I know from whence the airs have blownThat whisper of the Eternal Sea.As low my fires of drift-wood burn,I hear that sea’s deep sounds increase,And, fair in sunset light, discernIts mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.