Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant


LONG swoln in drenching rain, seeds, germes, and buds
Start at the touch of vivifying beams.
Moved by their secret force, the vital lymph
Diffusive runs, and spreads o'er wood and field
A flood of verdure. Clothed, in one short week,
Is naked Nature in her full attire.
On the first morn, light as an open plain
Is all the woodland, filled with sunbeams, poured
Through the bare tops, on yellow leaves below,
With strong reflection: on the last, 'tis dark
With full-grown foliage, shading all within.
In one short week the orchard buds and blooms;
And now, when steep'd in dew or gentle showers,
It yields the purest sweetness to the breeze,
Or all the tranquil atmosphere perfumes.
E'en from the juicy leaves of sudden growth,
And the rank grass of steaming ground, the air,
Filled with a watery glimmering, receives
A grateful smell, exhaled by warming rays.
Each day are heard, and almost every hour,
New notes to swell the music of the groves.
And soon the latest of the feather'd train
At evening twilight come; the lonely snipe,
O'er marshy fields, high in the dusky air,
Invisible, but with faint, tremulous tones,
Hovering or playing o'er the listener's head;
And, in mid-air, the sportive night-hawk, seen
Flying a while at random, uttering oft
A cheerful cry, attended with a shake
Of level pinions, dark, but when upturned
Against the brightness of the western sky,
One white plume showing in the midst of each,
Then far down diving with loud hollow sound;
And, deep at first within the distant wood,
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The whip-poor-will, her name her only song.
She, soon as children from the noisy sport
Of hooping, laughing, talking with all tones,
To hear the echoes of the empty barn,
Are by her voice diverted and held mute,
Comes to the margin of the nearest grove;
And when the twilight, deepened into night,
Calls them within, close to the house she comes,
And on its dark side, haply on the step
Of unfrequented door, lighting unseen,
Breaks into strains articulate and clear,
The closing sometimes quickened as in sport.
Now, animate throughout, from morn to eve
All harmony, activity, and joy,
Is lovely Nature, as in her bless'd prime.
The robin to the garden or green yard,
Close to the door, repairs to build again
Within her wonted tree; and at her work
Seems doubly busy for her past delay.
Along the surface of the winding stream,
Pursuing every turn, gay swallows skim,
Or round the borders of the spacious lawn
Fly in repeated circles, rising o'er
Hillock and fence with motion serpentine,
Easy, and light. One snatches from the ground
A downy feather, and then upward springs,
Followed by others, but oft drops it soon,
In playful mood, or from too slight a hold,
When all at once dart at the falling prize.
The flippant blackbird, with light yellow crown,
Hangs fluttering in the air, and chatters thick
Till her breath fail, when, breaking off, she drops
On the next tree, and on its highest limb
Or some tall flag, and gently rocking, sits,
Her strain repeating. With sonorous notes
Of every tone, mixed in confusion sweet,
All chanted in the fulness of delight,
The forest rings: where, far around enclosed
With bushy sides, and covered high above
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With foliage thick, supported by bare trunks,
Like pillars rising to support a roof,
It seems a temple vast, the space within
Rings loud and clear with thrilling melody.
Apart, but near the choir, with voice distinct,
The merry mocking-bird together links
In one continued song their different notes,
Adding new life and sweetness to them all.
Hid under shrubs, the squirrel that in fields
Frequents the stony wall and briery fence,
Here chirps so shrill that human feet approach
Unheard till just upon him, when, with cries
Sudden and sharp, he darts to his retreat
Beneath the mossy hillock or aged tree;
But oft a moment after reappears,
First peeping out, then starting forth at once
With a courageous air, yet in his pranks
Keeping a watchful eye, nor venturing far
Till left unheeded. In rank pastures graze,
Singly and mutely, the contented herd;
And on the upland rough the peaceful sheep;
Regardless of the frolic lambs, that, close
Beside them, and before their faces prone,
With many an antic leap and butting feint,
Try to provoke them to unite in sport
Or grant a look, till tired of vain attempts;
When, gathering in one company apart,
All vigour and delight, away they run,
Straight to the utmost corner of the field,
The fence beside; then, wheeling, disappear
In some small sandy pit, then rise to view;
Or crowd together up the heap of earth
Around some upturned root of fallen tree,
And on its top a trembling moment stand,
Then to the distant flock at once return.
Exhilarated by the general joy,
And the fair prospect of a fruitful year,
The peasant, with light heart and nimble step,
His work pursues, as it were pastime sweet.
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With many a cheering word, his willing team,
For labour fresh, he hastens to the field
Ere morning lose its coolness; but at eve,
When loosened from the plough and homeward turn'd,
He follows slow and silent, stopping oft
To mark the daily growth of tender grain
And meadows of deep verdure, or to view
His scatter'd flock and herd, of their own will
Assembling for the night by various paths,
The old now freely sporting with the young,
Or labouring with uncouth attempts at sport.