Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
Page  77

RICHARD H. DANA.

MURDER OF A SPANISH LADY BY A PIRATE.

A sound is in the Pyrenees!
Whirling and dark, comes roaring down
A tide, as of a thousand seas,
Sweeping both cowl and crown.
On field and vineyard thick and red it stood.
Spain's streets and palaces are full of blood;
And wrath and terror shake, the land;
The peaks shine clear in watchfire lights;
Soon comes the tread of that stout band—
Bold Arthur and his knights.
Awake ye, Merlin! Hear the shout from Spain!
The spell is broke! Arthur is come again!
Too late for thee, thou young, fair bride;
The lips are cold, the brow is pale,
That thou didst kiss in love and pride.
He cannot hear thy wail,
Whom thou didst lull with fondly murmur'd sound—
His couch is cold and lonely in the ground.
He fell for Spain—her Spain no more;
For he was gone who made it dear;
And she would seek some distant shore,
At rest from strife and fear,
And wait amid her sorrows till the day
His voice of love should call her thence away.
Lee feign'd him grieved, and bow'd him low.
'Twould joy his heart could he but aid
So good a lady in her wo,
He meekly, smoothly said.
With wealth and servants she is soon aboard,
And that white steed she rode beside her lord.
Page  78
The sun goes down upon the sea;
The shadows gather round her home.
"How like a pall are ye to me!
My home, how like a tomb!
Oh! blow, ye flowers of Spain, above his head:
Ye will not blow o'er me when I am dead."
And now the stars are burning bright;
Yet still she looks towards the shore,
Beyond the waters black in night.
"I ne'er shall see thee more!
Ye're many, waves, yet lonely seems your flow,
And I'm alone—scarce know I where I go."
Sleep, sleep, thou sad one, on the sea!
The wash of waters lulls thee now;
His arm no more will pillow thee,
Thy hand upon his brow.
He is not near, to hush thee or to save.
The ground is his, the sea must be thy grave.
The moon comes up, the night goes on.
Why in the shadow of the mast,
Stands that dark, thoughtful man alone?
Thy pledge, man; keep it fast!
Bethink thee of her youth and sorrows, Lee:
Helpless alone—and then her trust in thee!
When told the hardships thou hadst borne,
Her words were to thee like a charm.
With uncheer'd grief her heart is worn.
Thou wilt not do her harm!
He looks out on the sea that sleeps in light,
And growls an oath: "It is too still to-night!"
He sleeps; but dreams of massy gold,
And heaps of pearl. He stretch'd his hands.
He hears a voice: "Ill man, withhold."
A pale one near him stands:
Her breath comes deathly cold upon his cheek;
Her touch is cold. He wakes with piercing shriek.
Page  79
He wakes; but no relentings wake
Within his angry, restless soul.
"What, shall a dream Matt's purpose shake?
The gold will make all whole.
Thy merchant trade had nigh unmann'd thee, lad!
What, balk thy chance because a woman's sad?"
He cannot look on her mild eye—
Her patient words his spirit quell.
Within that evil heart there lie
The hates and fears of hell.
His speech is short; he wears a surly brow.
There's none will hear her shriek. What fear ye now?
The workings of the soul ye fear;
Ye fear the power that goodness hath;
Ye fear the Unseen One, ever near,
Walking his ocean path.
From out the silent void there comes a cry:
"Vengeance is mine! Lost man, thy doom is nigh!"
Nor dread of ever-during wo,
Nor the sea's awful solitude,
Can make thee, wretch, thy crime forego.
Then, bloody hand—to blood!
The scud is driving wildly over head;
The stars burn dim; the ocean moans its dead.
Moan for the living—moan our sins—
The wrath of man, more fierce than thine.
Hark! still thy waves! The work begins:
He makes the deadly sign.
The crew glide down like shadows. Eye and hand
Speak fearful meanings through that silent band.
They're gone. The helmsman stands alone,
And one leans idly o'er the bow.
Still as a tomb the ship keeps on;
Nor sound nor stirring now.
Page  80
Hush, hark! as from the centre of the deep,
Shrieks! fiendish yells! They stab them in their sleep.
The scream of rage, the groan, the strife,
The blow, the gasp, the horrid cry,
The panting, stifled prayer for life,
The dying's heaving sigh,
The murderer's curse, the dead man's fix'd, still glare,
And Fear's, and Death's cold sweat—they all are there!
On pale, dead men, on burning cheek,
On quick, fierce eyes, brows hot and damp,
On hands that with the warm blood reek,
Shines the dim cabin lamp.
Lee look'd. "They sleep so sound," he laughing said,
"They'll scarcely wake for mistress or for maid."
A crash! They've forced the door; and then
One long, long, shrill, and piercing scream
Comes thrilling through the growl of men.
'Tis hers! Oh God, redeem
From worse than death thy suffering, helpless child!
That dreadful cry again—sharp, sharp, and wild!
It ceased. With speed o' th' lightning's flash,
A loose-robed form, with streaming hair,
Shoots by. A leap! a quick, short splash!
'Tis gone! There's nothing there!
The waves have swept away the bubbling tide.
Bright-crested waves, how proudly on ye ride:
She's sleeping in her silent cave,
Nor hears the stern, loud roar above,
Or strife of man on land or wave.
Young thing! thy home of love
Thou soon hast reach'd! Fair, unpolluted thing,
They harm'd thee not! Was dying suffering?
Page  81
Oh, no! To live when joy was dead;
To go with one, lone, pining thought—
To mournful love thy being wed—
Feeling what death had wrought;
To live the child of wo, yet shed no tear,
Bear kindness, and yet share no joy nor fear;
To look on man, and deem it strange
That he on things of earth should brood,
When all its throng'd and busy range
To thee was solitude—
Oh, this was bitterness! Death came and press'd
Thy wearied lids, and brought thy sick heart rest.

THE HUSBAND'S AND WIFE'S GRAVE.

HUSBAND and wife! No converse now ye hold,
As once ye did in your young days of love,
On its alarms, its anxious hours, delays,
Its silent meditations, its glad hopes,
Its fears, impatience, quiet sympathies;
Nor do ye speak of joy assured, and bliss
Full, certain, and possess'd. Domestic cares
Call you not now together. Earnest talk
On what your children may be, moves you not.
Ye lie in silence, and an awful silence;
'Tis not like that in which ye rested once
Most happy—silence eloquent, when heart
With heart held speech, and your mysterious frames,
Harmonious, sensitive, at every beat
Touch'd the soft notes of love.
Stillness profound,
Insensible, unheeding, folds you round;
And darkness, as a stone, has seal'd you in.
Away from all the living, here ye rest:
In all the nearness of the narrow tomb,
Yet feel ye not each other's presence now
Dread fellowship! together, yet alone.
Page  82
Is this thy prison-house, thy grave, then, Love?
And doth death cancel the great bond that holds
Commingling spirits? Are thoughts that know no bounds,
But, self-inspired, rise upward, searching out
The eternal Mind—the Father of all thought—
Are they become mere tenants of a tomb?
Dwellers in darkness, who th' illuminate realms
Of uncreated light have visited and lived?
Lived in the dreadful splendour of that throne,
Which One, with gentle hand the veil of flesh
Lifting, that hung 'twixt man and it, reveal'd
In glory? throne, before which even now
Our souls, moved by prophetic power, bow down
Rejoicing, yet at their own natures awed?
Souls that Thee know by a mysterious sense,
Thou awful, unseen presence—are they quenched,
Or burn they on, hid from our mortal eyes
By that bright day which ends not, as the sun
His robe of light flings round the glittering stars?
And with our frames do perish all our loves?
Do those that took their root and put forth buds,
And their soft leaves unfolded in the warmth
Of mutual hearts, grow up and live in beauty,
Then fade and fall, like fair unconscious flowers?
Are thoughts and passions that to the tongue give speech,
And make it send forth winning harmonies,
That to the cheek do give its living glow,
And vision in the eye the soul intense
With that for which there is no utterance—
Are these the body's accidents? no more?
To live in it, and when that dies, go out
Like the burnt taper's flame?
Oh, listen, man!
A voice within us speaks that startling word,
"Man, thou shalt never die!" Celestial voices
Hymn it unto our souls: according harps,
Page  83
By angel fingers touch'd when the mild stars
Of morning sang together, sound forth still
The song of our great immortality:
Thick clustering orbs, and this our fair domain,
The tall, dark mountains, and the deep-toned seas
Join in this solemn, universal song.
Oh, listen, ye, our spirits; drink it in
From all the air! 'Tis in the gentle moonlight;
'Tis floating midst day's setting glories; Night,
Wrapped in her sable robe, with silent step
Comes to our bed and breathes it in our ears:
Night, and the dawn, bright day, and thoughtful eve,
All time, all bounds, the limitless expanse,
As one vast mystic instrument, are touch'd
By an unseen, living Hand, and conscious chords
Quiver with joy in this great jubilee.
The dying hear it; and as sounds of earth
Grow dull and distant, wake their passing souls
To mingle in this heavenly harmony.
Why is it that I linger round this tomb?
What holds it? Dust that cumber'd those I mourn.
They shook it off, and laid aside earth's robes,
And put on those of light. They're gone to dwell
In love—their God's and angels'. Mutual love,
That bound them here, no longer needs a speech
For full communion; nor sensations strong,
Within the breast, their prison, strive in vain
To be set free, and meet their kind in joy.
Changed to celestials, thoughts that rise in each,
By natures new, impart themselves, though silent.
Each quick'ning sense, each throb of holy love.
Affections sanctified, and the full glow
Of being, which expand and gladden one,
By union all mysterious, thrill and live
In both immortal frames: Sensation all,
And thought, pervading, mingling sense and thought!
Ye pair'd, yet one! wrapped in a consciousness
Twofold, yet single—this is love, this life!
Page  84
Why call we, then, the square-built monument,
The upright column, and the low-laid slab,
Tokens of death, memorials of decay?
Stand in this solemn, still assembly, man,
And learn thy proper nature; for thou see'st,
In these shaped stones and letter'd tables, figures
Of life: More are they to thy soul than those
Which he who talk'd on Sinai's mount with God
Brought to the old Judeans—types are these,
Of thine eternity.
I thank thee, Father,
That at this simple grave, on which the dawn
Is breaking, emblem of that day which hath
No close, Thou kindly unto my dark mind
Hast sent a sacred light, and that away
From this green hillock, whither I had come
In sorrow, Thou art leading me in joy

DAYBREAK.

"The Pilgrim they laid in a large upper chamber, whose window opened towards the sun rising: the name of the chamber was Peace; where he slept till break of day, and then he awoke and sang."

The Pilgrim's Progress.
Now, brighter than the host that all night long,
In fiery armour, up the heavens high
Stood watch, thou comest to wait the morning's song,
Thou comest to tell me day again is nigh.
Star of the dawning, cheerful is thine eye,
And yet in the broad day it must grow dim.
Thou seem'st to look on me, as asking why
My mourning eyes with silent tears do swim;
Thou bid'st me turn to God, and seek my rest in Him.
"Canst thou grow sad," thou say'st, "as earth grows bright?
And sigh, when little birds begin discourse
In quick, low voices, ere the streaming light
Pours on their nests, as sprung from day's fresh source?
Page  85
With creatures innocent thou must perforce
A sharer be, if that thine heart be pure.
And holy hour like this, save sharp remorse,
Of ills and pains of life must be the cure,
And breathe in kindred calm, and teach thee to endure."
I feel its calm. But there's a sombrous hue
Along that eastern cloud of deep, dull red;
Nor glitters yet the cold and heavy dew;
And all the woods and hilltops stand outspread
With dusky lights, which warmth nor comfort shed.
Still—save the bird that scarcely lifts its song—
The vast world seems the tomb of all the dead—
The silent city emptied of its throng,
And ended, all alike, grief, mirth, love, hate, and wrong.
But wrong, and hate, and love, and grief, and mirth
Will quicken soon; and hard, hot toil and strife,
With headlong purpose, shake this sleeping earth
With discord strange, and all that man calls life.
With thousand scatter'd beauties nature's rife;
And airs, and woods, and streams breathe harmonies:
Man weds not these, but taketh art to wife;
Nor binds his heart with soft and kindly ties:
He, feverish, blinded, lives, and, feverish, sated, dies.
And 'tis because man useth so amiss
Her dearest blessings, Nature seemeth sad;
Else why should she in such fresh hour as this
Not lift the veil, in revelation glad,
From her fair face? It is that man is mad!
Then chide me not, clear star, that I repine
When Nature grieves: nor deem this heart is bad.
Thou look'st towards earth; but yet the heavens are thine,
While I to earth am bound: When will the heavens be mine?
Page  86
If man would but his finer nature learn,
And not in life fantastic lose the sense
Of simpler things; could Nature's features stern
Teach him be thoughtful; then, with soul intense,
I should not yearn for God to take me hence,
But bear my lot, albeit in spirit bow'd,
Remembering humbly why it is, and whence:
But when I see cold man, of reason proud,
My solitude is sad—I'm lonely in the crowd.
But not for this alone, the silent tear
Steals to mine eyes, while looking on the morn,
Nor for this solemn hour: fresh life is near;
But all my joys! they died when newly born.
Thousands will wake to joy; while I, forlorn,
And,like the stricken dear, with sickly eye,
Shall see them pass. Breathe calm—my spirit's torn;
Ye holy thoughts, lift up my soul on high!
Ye hopes of things unseen, the far-off world bring nigh.
And when I grieve, oh rather let it be
That I, whom Nature taught to sit with her
On her proud mountains, by her rolling sea;
Who, when the winds are up, with mighty stir
Of woods and waters, feel the quick'ning spur
To my strong spirit; who, as mine own child,
Do love the flower, and in the ragged bur
A beauty see: that I this mother mild
Should leave, and go with care, and passions fierce and wild!
How suddenly that straight and glittering shaft
Shot 'thwart the earth! In crown of living fire
Up comes the Day! As if they conscious quaff'd
The sunny flood, hill, forest, city, spire
Laugh in the wakening light. Go, vain Desire!
The dusky lights have gone; go thou thy way!
And pining Discontent, like them, expire!
Be call'd my chamber, PEACE, when ends the day;
And let me with the dawn, like PILGRIM, sing and pray!