Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
THE LIGHT OF STARS.
THE night is come, but not too soon;
And sinking silently,
All silently, the little moon
Drops down behind the sky.
There is no light in earth or heaven
But the cold light of stars;
And the first watch of night is given
To the red planet Mars.
Is it the tender star of love?
The star of love and dreams?
Oh no! from that blue tent above,
A hero's armour gleams.
And earnest thoughts within me rise,
When I behold afar,
Suspended in the evening skies,
The shield of that red star.
Oh star of strength! I see thee stand
And smile upon my pain;
Thou beckonest with thy mailed hand,
And I am strong again.
Within my breast there is no light
But the cold light of stars:
I give the first watch of the night
To the red planet Mars.
The star of the unconquer'd will,
He rises in my breast,
Serene, and resolute, and still,
And calm, and self-possess'd.
And thou, too, whosoe'er thou art,
That readest this brief psalm,
As one by one thy hopes depart,
Be resolute and calm.
FOOTSTEPS OF ANGELS.
WHEN the hours of Day are number'd,
And the voices of the Night
Wake the better soul that slumber'd,
To a holy, calm delight;
Ere the evening lamps are lighted,
And, like phantoms grim and tall,
Shadows from the fitful firelight
Dance upon the parlour wall;
Then the forms of the departed
Enter at the open door;
The beloved ones, the true-hearted,
Come to visit me once more;
He, the young and strong, who cherish'd
Noble longings for the strife,
By the roadside fell and perish'd,
Weary with the march of life!
They, the holy ones and weakly,
Who the cross of suffering bore,
Folded their pale hands so meekly,
Spake with us on earth no more!
And with them the Being Beauteous,
Who unto my youth was given,
More than all things else to love me,
And is now a saint in heaven.
With a slow and noiseless footstep
Comes that messenger divine,
Takes the vacant chair beside me,
Lays her gentle hand in mine.
And she sits and gazes at me
With those deep and tender eyes,
Like the stars, so still and saint-like,
Looking downward from the skies.
Utter'd not, yet comprehended,
Is the spirit's voiceless prayer,
Soft rebukes, in blessings ended,
Breathing from her lips of air.
THE SPIRIT OF POETRY.
THERE is a quiet spirit in these woods,
That dwells where'er the south wind blows;
Where, underneath the white-thorn, in the glade,
The wild flowers bloom, or, kissing the soft air,
The leaves above their sunny palms outspread.
With what a tender and impassion'd voice
It fills the nice and delicate ear of thought,
When the fast-ushering star of morning comes
O'er-riding the gray hills with golden scarf;
Or when the cowl'd and dusky-sandaled Eve,
In mourning weeds, from out the western gate,
Departs with silent pace! That spirit moves
In the green valley, where the silver brook,
From its full laver, pours the white cascade;
And, babbling low amid the tangled woods,
Slips down through moss-grown stones with endless laughter.
And frequent, on the everlasting hills,
Its feet go forth, when it doth wrap itself
In all the dark embroidery of the storm,
And shouts the stern, strong wind. And here, amid
The silent majesty of these deep woods,
Its presence shall uplift thy thoughts from earth,
As to the sunshine, and the pure bright air,
Their tops the green trees lift. Hence gifted bards
Have ever loved the calm and quiet shades.
For them there was an eloquent voice in all
The sylvan pomp of woods, the golden sun,
The flowers, the leaves, the river on its way,
Blue skies, and silver clouds, and gentle winds;
The swelling upland, where the sidelong sun
Aslant the wooded slope at evening goes;
Groves, through whose broken roof the sky looks in;
Mountain, and shatter'd cliff, and sunny vale,
The distant lake, fountains, and mighty trees,
In many a lazy syllable, repeating
Their old poetical legends to the wind.
And this is the sweet spirit that doth fill
The world; and, in these wayward days of youth,
My busy fancy oft imbodies it,
As the bright image of the light and beauty
That dwell in nature, of the heavenly forms
We worship in our dreams, and the soft hues
That stain the wild-bird's wing, and flush the clouds
When the sun sets. Within her eye
The heaven of April, with its changing light,
And when it wears the blue of May, is hung,
And on her lip the rich red rose. Her hair
Is like the summer tresses of the trees,
When twilight makes them brown, and on her cheek
Blushes the richness of an autumn sky,
With ever-shifting beauty. Then her breath,
It is so like the gentle air of Spring,
As, from the morning's dewy flowers, it comes
Full of their fragrance, that it is a joy
To have it round us, and her silver voice
Is the rich music of a summer bird,
Heard in the still night, with its passionate cadence.