The Illinois River

258 total words    

1 minutes of reading

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge and LaSalle Rail Bridge over the Illinois River, by Joseph Norton and Ronald Frazier

This pewter remnant within a golden prairie,

this glacial legacy, this child of primeval rivers,

now become the River of Man, faithful

and fecund servant of the Illinois

who named it and of the voyageurs who claimed it

as their own.

Flowing from the Kankakee

and the Des Plaines, cutting sandstone rock

at Utica, inspiring myths and vistas, widening

into the Peoria, skirting Spunky Bottoms,

this River, itself replenished by prairie waters —

the Fox, the Vermilion, the Mackinaw, the Sangamon, the Spoon —

embraced by its ancient father, the Mississippi,

this River carries with it into the sea the memory

of sycamore, of cottonwood, and of oak savannahs,

and of the false aster fragile upon its banks,

and of the great blue heron, the snowy egret,

and of the eagle, and of the cormorant, the duck, the tern,

and the evanescent warbler marking the spring and fall,

and of the mussel, the muskrat, the beaver, the otter,

and of the turtle, and the sturgeon , patriarch of the life it harbors.

And the current of the River of Man carries the memory

of the lights of cities, barges, long-legged houses

reflecting from waters now channelized, diverted, bridged,

leveed, dammed, made useful for transportation,

for industrialization, for agriculture, for play,

for the sport of man and for the waste which man engenders,

the sediment, the silt, and life-dissolving solvents,

the lessons of the future of man upon its banks,

and the River flows into the sea, past

cities, oaks, and prairies and the most fragile of flowers.

  • James Ballowe

    James Ballowe is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Bradley University. Since retiring from university teaching and administration, Jim has written a biography of Joy Morton and a monograph history of the Morton Arboretum.
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