Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
NATHANIEL P. WILLIS.
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 streamPage 88
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.
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.
"L'onda del mar divisa
Bagna la valle e l'monte,
Mormora sempre e geme
Fin che non torna al mar."
THE Spring is here, the delicate-footed May,
With its slight fingers full of leaves and flowers
And with it comes a thirst to be away,
Wasting in wood-paths its voluptuous hours:
A feeling that is like a sense of wings,
Restless to soar above these perishing things.
We pass out from the city's feverish hum,
To find refreshment in the silent woods;
And Nature, that is beautiful and dumb,
Like a cool sleep upon the pulses broods:
Yet even there a restless thought will steal,
To teach the indolent heart it still must feel.
Strange, that the audible stillness of the noon,
The waters tripping with their silver feet,
The turning to the light leaves in June,
And the light whisper as their edges meet:
Strange, that they fill not, with their tranquil tone,
The spirit, walking in their midst alone.
"A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye,
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky."
I HAVE found violets. April hath come on,
And the cool winds feel softer, and the rain
Falls in the beaded drops of summer time.
You may hear birds at morning, and at eve
The tame dove lingers till the twilight falls,
Cooing upon the caves, and drawing in
His beautiful bright neck, and, from the hills,
A murmur like the hoarseness of the sea
Tells the release of waters, and the earth
Sends up a pleasant smell, and the dry leaves
Are lifted by the grass; and so I know
That Nature, with her delicate ear, hath heard
The dropping of the velvet foot of Spring.
Take of my violets! I found them where
The liquid South stole o'er them, on a bank
That leaned to running water. There's to me
A daintiness about these early flowers
That touches me like poetry. They blow
With such a simple loveliness among
The common herbs of pasture, and breathe out
Their lives so unobtrusively, like hearts
Whose beatings are too gentle for the world.
I love to go in the capricious days
Of April and hunt violets; when the rain
Is in the blue cups trembling, and they nod
So gracefully to the kisses of the wind.
It may be deem'd too idle, but the young
Read nature like the manuscript of heaven,
And call the flowers its poetry. Go out!
Ye spirits of habitual unrest,
And read it when the "fever of the world"
Hath made your hearts impatient, and, if lifePage 91
Hath yet one spring unpoisoned, it will be
Like a beguiling music to its flow,
And you will no more wonder that I love
To hunt for violets in the April time.
THE BELFRY PIGEON.
ON the cross beam under the Old South bell
The nest of a pigeon is builded well.
In summer and winter that bird is there,
Out and in with the morning air:
I love to see him track the street,
With his wary eye and active feet;
And I often watch him as he springs,
Circling the steeple with easy wings,
Till across the dial his shade has passed,
And the belfry edge is gained at last.
'Tis a bird I love, with its brooding note,
And the trembling throb in its mottled throat;
There's a human look in its swelling breast,
And the gentle curve of its lowly crest;
And I often stop with the fear I feel—
He runs so close to the rapid wheel.
Whatever is rung on that noisy bell—
Chime of the hour or funeral knell—
The dove in the belfry must hear it well.
When the tongue swings out to the midnight moon—
When the sexton cheerly rings for noon—
When the clock strikes clear at morning light—
When the child is waked with "nine at night"—
When the chimes play soft in the Sabbath air,
Filling the spirit with tones of prayer—
Whatever tale in the bell is heard,
He broods on his folded feet unstirred,Page 92
Or rising half in his rounded nest,
He takes the time to smooth his breast,
Then drops again with filmed eyes,
And sleeps as the last vibration dies.
Sweet bird! I would that I could be
A hermit in the crowd like thee!
With wings to fly to wood and glen,
Thy lot, like mine, is cast with men;
And daily, with unwilling feet,
I tread, like thee, the crowded street;
But, unlike me, when day is o'er,
Thou canst dismiss the world and soar,
Or, at a half-felt wish for rest,
Canst smooth thy feathers on thy breast,
And drop, forgetful, to thy nest.
I would that in such wings of gold
I could my weary heart upfold;
I would I could look down unmoved
(Unloving as I am unloved),
And while the world throngs on beneath,
Smooth down my cares and calmly breathe;
And never sad with others' sadness,
And never glad with others' gladness
Listen, unstirred, to knell or chime,
And, lapp'd in quiet, bide my time.