Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
Page 117Page 122Page 124Page 125
SPRING IN NEW-ENGLAND.
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,Page 118
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 abovePage 119
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.Page 120
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.
THE sultry summer past, September comes,
Soft twilight of the slow-declining year.
All mildness, soothing loneliness, and peace;
The fading season ere the falling come,
More sober than the buxom blooming May,
And therefore less the favourite of the world,
But dearest month of all to pensive minds.
'Tis now far spent; and the meridian sun,
Most sweetly smiling with attempered beams,
Sheds gently down a mild and grateful warmth.
Beneath its yellow lustre groves and woods,
Checker'd by one night's frost with various hues,
While yet no wind has swept a leaf away,
Shine doubly rich. It were a sad delight
Down the smooth stream to glide, and see it tinged
Upon each brink with all the gorgeous hues,
The yellow, red, or purple of the trees
That singly, or in tufts, or forests thick
Adorn the shores; to see, perhaps, the side
Of some high mount reflected far below
With its bright colours, intermix'd with spots
Of darker green. Yes, it were sweetly sad
To wander in the open fields, and hear,Page 121
E'en at this hour, the noonday hardly past,
The lulling insects of the summer's night;
To hear, where lately buzzing swarms were heard,
A lonely bee long roving here and there
To find a single flower, but all in vain;
Then rising quick and with a louder hum,
In widening circles round and round his head,
Straight by the listener flying clear away,
As if to bid the fields a last adieu;
To hear within the woodland's sunny side,
Late fall of music, nothing save perhaps
The sound of nutshells by the squirrel dropp'd
From some tall beech fast falling through the leaves.
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.
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 wearPage 123
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.
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.
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.
ROSSEAU AND COWPER.
ROSSEAU could weep—yes, with a heart of stone
The impious sophist could recline beside
The pure and peaceful lake, and muse alone
On all its loveliness at even tide:
On its small running waves in purple dyed
Beneath bright clouds or all the glowing sky,
On the white sails that o'er its bosom glide,
And on surrounding mountains wild and high,
Till tears unbidden gush'd from his enchanted eye.
But his were not the tears of feeling fine
Of grief or love; at fancy's flash they flow'd,
Like burning drops from some proud lonely pine
By lightning fired; his heart with passion glow'd
Till it consumed his life, and yet he show'd
A chilling coldness both to friend and foe,
As Etna, with its centre an abode
Of wasting fire, chills with the icy snow
Of all its desert brow the living world below.
Was he but justly wretched from his crimes?
Then why was Cowper's anguish oft as keen,
With all the heaven-born virtue that sublimes
Genius and feeling, and to things unseenPage 126
Lifts the pure heart through clouds that roll between
The earth and skies, to darken human hope?
Or wherefore did those clouds thus intervene
To render vain faith's lifted telescope,
And leave him in thick gloom his weary way to grope?
He too could give himself to musing deep,
By the calm lake at evening he could stand,
Lonely and sad, to see the moonlight sleep
On all its breast by not an insect fanned,
And hear low voices on the far-off strand,
Or through the still and dewy atmosphere
The pipe's soft tones waked by some gentle hand,
From fronting shore and woody island near
In echoes quick return'd more mellow and more clear.
And he could cherish wild and mournful dreams,
In the pine grove, when low the full moon fair
Shot under lofty tops her level beams,
Stretching the shades of trunks erect and bare,
In stripes drawn parallel with order rare,
As of some temple vast or colonnade,
While on green turf made smooth without his care
He wander'd o'er its stripes of light and shade,
And heard the dying day-breeze all the boughs pervade.
'Twas thus in nature's bloom and solitude
He nursed his grief till nothing could assuage;
'Twas thus his tender spirit was subdued,
Till in life's toils it could no more engage;
And his had been a useless pilgrimage,
Had he been gifted with no sacred power,
To send his thoughts to every future age;
But he is gone where grief will not devour,
Where beauty will not fade, and skies will never lower.
THE CURE OF MELANCHOLY.
AND thou to whom long worshipp'd nature lends
No strength to fly from grief or bear its weight,
Stop not to rail at foes or fickle friends,
Nor set the world at naught, nor spurn at fate;
None seek thy misery, none thy being hate;
Break from thy former self, thy life begin;
Do thou the good thy thoughts oft meditate,
And thou shalt feel the good man's peace within,
And at thy dying day his wreath of glory win.
With deeds of virtue to embalm his name,
He dies in triumph or serene delight;
Weaker and weaker grows his mortal frame
At every breath, but in immortal might
His spirit grows, preparing for its flight:
The world recedes and fades like clouds of even,
But heaven comes nearer fast, and grows more bright,
All intervening mists far off are driven;
The world will vanish soon, and all will soon be heaven.
Wouldst thou from sorrow find a sweet relief?
Or is thy heart oppress'd with woes untold?
Balm wouldst thou gather for corroding grief?
Pour blessings round thee like a shower of gold:
'Tis when the rose is wrapp'd in many a fold
Close to its heart, the worm is wasting there
Its life and beauty; not, when all unrolled,
Leaf after leaf its bosom rich and fair
Breathes freely its perfumes throughout the ambient air.
Wake thou that sleepest in enchanted bowers,
Lest these lost years should haunt thee on the night
When death is waiting for thy number'd hours
To take their swift and everlasting flight;Page 128
Wake ere the earthborn charm unnerve thee quite,
And be thy thoughts to work divine address'd;
Do something—do it soon—with all thy might;
An angel's wing would droop if long at rest,
And God himself inactive were no longer bless'd.
Some high or humble enterprise of good
Contemplate till it shall possess thy mind,
Become thy study, pastime, rest, and food,
And kindle in thy heart a flame refined;
Pray Heaven for firmness thy whole soul to bind
To this thy purpose—to begin, pursue,
With thoughts all fix'd and feelings purely kind,
Strength to complete, and with delight review,
And grace to give the praise where all is ever due.