Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
THE TRAVELLER'S FATE.
UNDRAW yon curtain, look within that room,
Where all is splendour, yet where all is gloom:
Why weeps that mother? why, in pensive mood,
Group noiseless round, that little, lovely brood?
The battledore is still, lain by each book,
And the harp slumbers in its 'custom'd nook.
Who hath done this? what cold, unpitying foe,
Hath made his house the dwelling-place of wo?
'Tis he, the husband, father, lost in care,
O'er that sweet fellow in his cradle there:
The gallant bark that rides by yonder strand,
Bears him to-morrow from his native land.
Why turns he, half unwilling, from his home,
To tempt the ocean and the earth to roam?
Wealth he can boast, a miser's sigh would hush,
And health is laughing in that ruddy blush;Page 143
Friends spring to greet him, and he has no foe—
So honour'd and so bless'd, what bids him go?
His eye must see, his foot each spot must tread,
Where sleeps the dust of earth's recorded dead;
Where rise the monuments of ancient time,
Pillar and pyramid in age sublime:
The pagan's temple and the churchman's tower,
War's bloodiest plain, and Wisdom's greenest bower;
All that his wonder woke in schoolboy themes,
All that his fancy fired in youthful dreams:
Where Socrates once taught he thirsts to stray,
Where Homer poured his everlasting lay;
From Virgil's tomb he longs to pluck one flower.
By Avon's stream to live one moonlight hour;
To pause where England "garners up" her great,
And drop a patriot's tear to Milton's fate;
Fame's living masters, too, he must behold,
Whose deeds shall blazon with the best of old:
Nations compare, their laws and customs scan,
And read, wherever spread, the book of Man;
For these he goes, self-banish'd from his hearth,
And wrings the hearts of all he loves on earth.
Yet say, shall not new joy those hearts inspire,
When grouping round the future winter fire,
To hear the wonders of the world they burn,
And lose his absence in his glad return?
Return? alas! he shall return no more,
To bless his own sweet home, his own proud shore
Look once again: cold in his cabin now,
Death's finger-mark is on his pallid brow;
No wife stood by, her patient watch to keep,
To smile on him, then turn away to weep;
Kind woman's place rough mariners supplied,
And shared the wanderer's blessing when he died.
Wrapp'd in the raiment that it long must wear,
His body to the deck they slowly bear;
Even there the spirit that I sing is true,
The crew look on with sad but curious view;
The setting sun flings round his farewell rays,
O'er the broad ocean not a ripple plays;Page 144
How eloquent, how awful in its power,
The silent lecture of death's sabbath-hour:
One voice that silence breaks—the prayer is said,
And the last rite man pays to man is paid;
The plashing water marks his resting-place,
And fold him round in one long, cold embrace;
Bright bubbles for a moment sparkle o'er,
Then break, to be, like him, beheld no more;
Down, countless fathoms down, he sinks to sleep,
With all the nameless shapes that haunt the deep.