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.
A chief of the Indian Tribes, the Tuscaroras.
COOPER, whose name is with his country's woven,
First in her files, her PIONEER of mind,
A wanderer now in other climes, has proven
His love for the young land he left behind;
And throned her in the Senate Hall of Nations,
Robed like the deluge rainbow, heaven-wrought,
Magnificent as his own mind's creations,
And beautiful as its green world of thought.
And faithful to the Act of Congress, quoted
As law-authority—it passed nem. con.—
He writes that we are, as ourselves have voted,
The most enlighten'd people ever known.
That all our week is happy as a Sunday
In Paris, full of song, and dance, and laugh;
And that, from Orleans to the Bay of Fundy,
There's not a bailiff nor an epitaph
And, furthermore, in fifty years or sooner,
We shall export our poetry and wine;
And our brave fleet, eight frigates and a schooner,
Will sweep the seas from Zembla to the Line.
If he were with me, King of Tuscarora,
Gazing as I, upon thy portrait now,
In all its medall'd, fringed, and beaded glory,
Its eyes dark beauty, and its thoughtful brow—
Its brow, half martial and half diplomatic,
Its eye, upsoaring like an eagle's wings;
Well might he boast that we, the Democratic,
Outrival Europe—even in our kings.
For thou wert monarch born. Tradition's pages
Tell not the planting of thy parent tree,
But that the forest tribes have bent for ages,
To thee, and to thy sires, the subject knee.
Thy name is princely. Though no poet's magic
Could make RED JACKET grace an English rhyme,
Unless he had a genius for the tragic,
And introduced it in a pantomime;
Yet it is music in the language spoken
Of thine own land; and on her herald-roll,
As nobly fought for, and as proud a token
As CŒUR DE LION'S, of a warrior's soul.
Thy garb—though Austria's bosom-star would frighten
That medal pale, as diamonds the dark mine,
And George the Fourth wore, in the dance at Brighton,
A more becoming evening dress than thine;
Yet 'tis a brave one, scorning wind and weather,
And fitted for thy couch on field and flood,
As Rob Roy's tartans for the Highland heather,
Or forest green for England's Robin Hood.
Is strength a monarch's merit? (like a whaler's)
Thou art as tall, as sinewy, and as strong
As earth's first kings—the Argo's gallant sailors.
Heroes in history, and gods in song.
Is eloquence? Her spell is thine that reaches
The heart, and makes the wisest head its sport;
And there's one rare, strange virtue in thy speeches,
The secret of their mastery—they are short.
Is beauty? Thine has with thy youth departed,
But the love-legends of thy manhood's years,
And she who perish'd, young and broken-hearted,
Are—but I rhyme for smiles, and not for tears.
The monarch mind—the mystery of commanding,
The godlike power, the art Napoleon,
Of winning, fettering, moulding, wielding, banding
The hearts of millions till they move as one;
Thou hast it. At thy bidding men have crowded
The road to death as to a festival;
And minstrel minds, without a blush, have shrouded
With banner-folds of glory their dark pall.
Who will believe—not I—for in deceiving
Lies the dear charm of life's delightful dream;
I cannot spare the luxury of believing
That all things beautiful are what they seem.
Who will believe that, with a smile whose blessing
Would, like the patriarch's, sooth a dying hour;
With voice as low, as gentle, and caressing
As e'er won maiden's lip in moonlight bower;
With look, like patient Job's, eschewing evil;
With motions graceful as a bird's in air;
Thou art, in sober truth, the veriest devil
That e'er clinched fingers in a captive's hair?
That in thy veins there springs a poison fountain,
Deadlier than that which bathes the Upas-tree;
And in thy wrath, a nursing Cat o' Mountain
Is calm as her babe's sleep compared with thee?
And underneath that face like summer's ocean's,
Its lip as moveless, and its cheek as clear,
Slumbers a whirlwind of the heart's emotions,
Love, hatred, pride, hope, sorrow—all, save fear,
Love—for thy land, as if she were thy daughter,
Her pipes in peace, her tomahawk in wars;
Hatred—of missionaries and cold water;
Pride—in thy rifle trophies and thy scars;