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A Mississippi Sonnet

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Floods along the Mississippi bring out the best in people who live along the river. Small differences are forgotten as the waters rise. Neighbors open homes and hearts to neighbors. Strangers appear and offer assistance. The more hopeless the situation, the more heroic the efforts.

For most flood fighters, the sandbag is the weapon of choice, but not always. During the great flood of 1888, when Illinois' first capitol, Kaskaskia, disappeared beneath the waves, Louis William Rodenberg fought back with a sonnet rather than a sandbag.

You can read his poem today, engraved on a bronze tablet on a bluff overlooking the former site of Kaskaskia, still defying the river. Here it is.

O Mississippi, monarch of the plain,

Despoiler old! we mourn your victim low.

Now stay the mighty minions of your train

That this poor vale may no more havoc know:

Bid not far mountains burst torrential spleen

Nor tempests wreak their lightning souls in woe.

For here, beneath your flood's dissembling sheen

A city lies, her walls and spires down-hurled;

No stone is left whereon some chisel keen

May tell her ravished fame unto the world.

And though your ruthless fury her defiled,

Now o'er her miry tomb your waves are pearled

With sunbeams, all too fair to be reviled

In dance ironic o'er her ruins piled.

By Louis William Rodenberg of Kaskaskia.

Take that, you nasty river!

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.