Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant

THE CASTLE OF IMAGINATION.

JUST in the centre of that wood was rear'd
Her castle, all of marble, smooth and white;
Above the thick young trees, its top appear'd
Among the naked trunks of towering height;
And here at morn and eve it glitter'd bright,
As often by the far-off traveller seen
In level sunbeams, or at dead of night,
When the low moon shot in her rays between
That wide-spread roof and floor of solid foliage green.
Through this wide interval the roving eye
From turrets proud might trace the waving line
Where meet the mountains green and azure sky,
And view the deep when sun-gilt billows shine;
Fair bounds to sight, that never thought confine,
But tempt it far beyond, till by the charm
Of some sweet wood-note or some whispering pine
Call'd home again, or by the soft alarm
Of Love's approaching step, and her encircling arm.
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Through this wide interval, the mountain side
Showed many a sylvan slope and rocky steep:
Here roaring torrents in dark forests hide;
There silver streamlets rush to view, and leap
Unheard from lofty cliffs to valleys deep:
Here rugged peaks look smooth in sunset glow,
Along the clear horizon's western sweep;
There from some eastern summit moonbeams flow
Along o'er level wood, far down to plains below.
Now stretch'd a blue, and now a golden zone
Round that horizon; now o'er mountains proud
Dim vapours rest, or bright ones move alone:
An ebon wall, a smooth portentous cloud,
First muttering low, anon with thunder loud,
Now rises quick, and brings a sweeping wind
O'er all that wood in waves before it bowed;
And now a rainbow, with its top behind
A spangled veil of leaves, seems heaven and earth to bind.
Above the canopy, so thick and green,
And spread so high o'er that enchanted vale,
Through scatter'd openings oft were glimpses seen
Of fleecy clouds, that, linked together, sail
In moonlight clear before the gentle gale:
Sometimes a shooting meteor draws a glance;
Sometimes a twinkling star, or planet pale,
Long holds the lighted eye, as in a trance;
And oft the milky-way gleams through the white expanse.
That castle's open windows, though half hid
With flowering vines, showed many a vision fair:
A face all bloom, or light young forms that thrid
Some maze within, or lonely ones that wear
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The garb of joy with sorrow's thoughtful air,
Oft caught the eye a moment: and the sound
Of low, sweet music often issued there,
And by its magic held the listener bound,
And seem'd to hold the winds and forests far around.
Within, the queen of all, in pomp or mirth,
While glad attendants at her glance unfold
Their shining wings, and fly through heaven and earth,
Oft took her throne of burning gems and gold,
Adorn'd with emblems that of empire told,
And rising in the midst of trophies bright,
That bring her memory from the days of old,
And help prolong her reign, and with the flight
Of every year increase the wonders of her might.
In all her dwelling, tales of wild romance,
Of terror, love, and mystery dark or gay,
Were scatter'd thick to catch the wandering glance,
And stop the dreamer on his unknown way;
There too was every sweet and lofty lay,
The sacred, classic, and romantic, sung
As that Enchantress moved in might or play;
And there was many a harp but newly strung,
Yet with its fearless notes the whole wide valley rung.
There, from all lands and ages of her fame,
Were marble forms, array'd in order due,
In groups and single, all of proudest name;
In them the high, the fair, and tender, grew
To life intense in love's impassion'd view,
And from each air and feature, bend and swell,
Each shapely neck, and lip, and forehead, threw
O'er each enamour'd sense so deep a spell,
The thoughts but with the past or bright ideal dwell.
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The walls around told all the pencil's power;
There proud creations of each mighty hand
Shone with their hues and lines as in the hour,
When the last touch was given at the command
Of the same genius that at first had plann'd,
Exulting in its great and glowing thought:
Bright scenes of peace and war, of sea and land,
Of love and glory, to new life were wrought,
From history, from fable, and from nature brought.
With these were others all divine, drawn all
From ground where oft, with signs and accents dread,
The lonely prophet doom'd to sudden fall
Proud kings and cities, and with gentle tread
Bore life's quick triumph to the humble dead,
And where strong angels flew to blast or save,
Where martyr'd hosts of old, and youthful bled,
And where their mighty Lord o'er land and wave
Spread life and peace till death, then spread them through the grave.
From these fix'd visions of the hallow'd eye,
Some kindling gleams of their ethereal glow,
Would ofttimes fall, as from the opening sky,
On eyes delighted, glancing to and fro,
Or fasten'd till their orbs dilated grow;
Then would the proudest seem with joy to learn
Truths they had feared or felt ashamed to know,
The skeptic would believe, the lost return;
And all the cold and low would seem to rise and burn.
Theirs was devotion kindled by the vast,
The beautiful, impassion'd, and refined;
And in the deep enchantment o'er them cast,
They look'd from earth, and soar'd above their kind
To the bless'd calm of an abstracted mind,
And its communion with things all its own,
Its forms sublime and lovely; as the blind,
Mid earthly scenes, forgotten, or unknown,
Live in ideal worlds, and wander there alone.
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Such were the lone enthusiasts, wont to dwell
With all whom that Enchantress held subdued,
As in the holiest circle of her spell,
Where meaner spirits never dare intrude,
They dwelt in calm and silent solitude,
Rapt in the love of all the high and sweet,
In thought, and art, and nature, and imbued
With its devotion to life's inmost seat,
As drawn from all the charms which in that valley meet.