Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
To a rose, brought from near Alloway Kirk, in Ayreshire, in the autumn of 1822.
WILD ROSE of Alloway! my thanks:
Thou 'mindst me of that autumn noon
When first we met upon "the banks
And braes o' bonny Doon."
Like thine, beneath the thorn-tree's bough,
My sunny hour was glad and brief,
We've cross'd the winter sea, and thou
Art wither'd—flower and leaf.
And will not thy death-doom be mine—
The doom of all things wrought of clay—
And wither'd my life's leaf like thine,
Wild rose of Alloway?
Not so his memory, for whose sake
My bosom bore thee far and long,
His—who a humbler flower could make
Immortal as his song.
The memory of Burns—a name
That calls, when brimm'd her festal cup,
A nation's glory, and her shame,
In silent sadness up.
A nation's glory—be the rest
Forgot—she's canonized his mind;
And it is joy to speak the best
We may of human kind.
I've stood beside the cottage bed
Where the Bard-peasant first drew breath;
A straw-thatch'd roof above his head,
A straw-wrought couch beneath.
And I have stood beside the pile,
His monument—that tells to Heaven
The homage of earth's proudest isle
To that Bard-peasant given!
Bid thy thoughts hover o'er that spot,
Boy-Minstrel, in thy dreaming hour;
And know, however low his lot,
A Poet's pride and power.
The pride that lifted Burns from earth,
The power that gave a child of song
Ascendancy o'er rank and birth,
The rich, the brave, the strong;
And if despondency weigh down
Thy spirit's fluttering pinions then,
Despair—thy name is written on
The roll of common men.
There have been loftier themes than his,
And longer scrolls, and louder lyres,
And lays lit up with Poesy's
Purer and holier fires:
Yet read the names that know not death;
Few nobler ones than Burns are there;
And few have won a greener wreath
Than that which binds his hair.
His is that language of the heart,
In which the answering heart would speak,
Thought, word, that bids the warm tear start,
Or the smile light the cheek;
And his that music, to whose tone
The common pulse of man keeps time.
In cot or castle's mirth or moan,
In cold or sunny clime.
And who hath heard his song, nor knelt
Before its spell with willing knee,
And listen'd, and believed, and felt
The Poet's mastery.
O'er the mind's sea, in calm and storm,
O'er the heart's sunshine and its showers,
O'er Passion's moments, bright and warm,
O'er Reason's dark, cold hours;
On fields where brave men "die or do,"
In halls where rings the banquet's mirth,
Where mourners weep, where lovers woo,
From throne to cottage hearth;
What sweet tears dim the eyes unshed,
What wild vows falter on the tongue,
When "Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled,"
Or "Auld Lang Syne" is sung!
Pure hopes, that lift the soul above,
Come with his Cotter's hymn of praise,
And dreams of youth, and truth, and love,
With "Logan's" banks and braes.
And when he breathes his master-lay
Of Alloway's witch-haunted wall,
All passions in our frames of clay
Come thronging at his call.
Imagination's world of air,
And our own world, its gloom and glee,
Wit, pathos, poetry, are there,
And death's sublimity.
And Burns—though brief the race he ran,
Though rough and dark the path he trod—
Lived—died—in form and soul a Man,
The image of his God.
Through care, and pain, and want, and wo,
With wounds that only death could heal,
Tortures—the poor alone can know,
The proud alone can feel;
He kept his honesty and truth,
His independent tongue and pen,
And moved, in manhood and in youth,
Pride of his fellow-men.
Strong sense, deep feeling, passions strong,
A hate of tyrant and of knave,
A love of right, a scorn of wrong,
Of coward, and of slave;
A kind, true heart, a spirit high,
That could not fear and would not bow,
Were written in his manly eye,
And on his manly brow.
Praise to the bard! his words are driven,
Like flower-seeds by the far winds sown,
Where'er, beneath the sky of heaven,
The birds of fame have flown.
Praise to the man! a nation stood
Beside his coffin with wet eyes,
Her brave, her beautiful, her good,
As when a loved one dies.
And still, as on his funeral day,
Men stand his cold earth-couch around,
With the mute homage that we pay
To consecrated ground.
And consecrated ground it is,
The last, the hallow'd home of one
Who lives upon all memories,
Though with the buried gone.
Such graves as his are pilgrim-shrines,
Shrines to no code or creed confined—
The Delphian vales, the Palestines,
The Meccas of the mind.
Sages, with Wisdom's garland wreathed,
Crown'd kings, and mitred priests of power,
And warriors with their bright swords sheathed,
The mightiest of the hour;
And lowlier names, whose humble home
Is lit by Fortune's dimmer star,
Are there—o'er wave and mountain come,
From countries near and far;
Pilgrims, whose wandering feet have press'd
The Switzer's snow, the Arab's sand,
Or trod the piled leaves of the West,
My own green forest-land.
All ask the cottage of his birth,
Gaze on the scenes he loved and sung,
And gather feelings not of earth
His fields and streams among.
They linger by the Doon's low trees,
And pastoral Nith, and wooded Ayr,
And round thy sepulchres, Dumfries!
The Poet's tomb is there.