Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant

THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST.

IT was a green spot in the wilderness,
Touch'd by the river Jordan. The dark pine
Never had dropp'd its tassels on the moss
Tufting the leaning bank, nor on the grass
Of the broad circle stretching evenly
To the straight larches, had a heavier foot
Than the wild heron's trodden. Softly in
Through a long aisle of willows, dim and cool,
Stole the clear waters with their muffled feet,
And hushing as they spread into the light,
Circled the edges of the pebbled tank
Slowly, then rippled through the woods away.
Hither had come th' apostle of the wild,
Winding the river's course. 'Twas near the flush
Of eve, and, with a multitude around,
Who from the cities had come out to hear,
He stood breast high amid the running stream,
Baptizing as the Spirit gave him power.
His simple raiment was of camel's hair,
A leathern girdle close about his loins,
His beard unshorn, and his daily meat
The locust and wild honey of the wood;
But like the face of Moses on the mount
Shone his rapt countenance, and in his eye
Burn'd the mild fire of love, as he spoke
The ear lean'd to him, and persuasion swift
To the chain'd spirit of the listener stole.
Silent upon the green and sloping bank
The people sat, and while the leaves were shook
With the birds dropping early to their nests,
And the gray eve came on, within their hearts
They mused if he were Christ. The rippling stream
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Still turn'd its silver courses from his breast
As he divined their thought. "I but baptize,"
He said, "with water; but there cometh One
The latchet of whose shoes I may not dare
Even to unloose. He will baptize with fire
And with the Holy Ghost." And lo! while yet
The words were on his lips, he raised his eyes,
And on the bank stood Jesus. He had laid
His raiment off, and with his loins alone
Girt with a mantle, and his perfect limbs,
In their angelic slightness, meek and bare,
He waited to go in. But John forbade,
And hurried to his feet and stay'd him there,
And said, "Nay, Master! I have need of thine,
Not thou of mine!" And Jesus, with a smile
Of heavenly sadness, met his earnest looks,
And answered, "Suffer it to be so now;
For thus it doth become me to fulfil
All righteousness." And, leaning to the stream,
He took around him the apostle's arm,
And drew him gently to the midst.
The wood
Was thick with the dim twilight as they came
Up from the water. With his clasp'd hands
Laid on his breast, th' apostle silently
Followed his Master's steps; when lo! a light,
Bright as the tenfold glory of the sun,
Yet lambent as the softly burning stars,
Enveloped them, and from the heavens away
Parted the dim blue ether like a veil;
And as a voice, fearful exceedingly,
Broke from the midst, "THIS IS MY MUCH-LOVED SON,
IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED," a snow-white dove,
Floating upon its wings, descended through,
And, shedding a swift music from its plumes,
Circled and flutter'd to the Saviour's breast.