Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant

THE PATRIARCHAL AGE.

OH! for those early days, when patriarchs dwelt
In pastoral tents, that rose beneath the palm,
When life was pure, and every bosom felt
Unwarp'd affection's sweetest, holiest balm,
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And like the silent scene around them, calm,
Years stole along in one unruffled flow;
Their hearts aye warbled with devotion's psalm,
And as they saw their buds around them blow,
Their keenly glistening eye revealed the grateful glow.
They sat at evening, when their gather'd flocks
Bleated and sported by the palm-crowned well,
The sun was glittering on the pointed rocks,
And long and wide the deepening shadows fell;
They sang their hymn, and in a choral swell
They raised their simple voices to the Power
Who smiled along the fair sky; they would dwell
Fondly and deeply on his praise; that hour
Was to them, as to flowers that droop and fade, the shower.
He warm'd them in the sunbeams, and they gazed
In wonder on that kindling fount of light;
And as, hung the on the glowing west, it blazed
In brighter glories, with a full delight
They pour'd their pealing anthem, and when night
Lifted her silver forehead, and the moon
Roll'd through the blue serenity, in bright
But softer radiance, they bless'd the boon
That gave those hours the charm without the fire of noon.
Spring of the living world, the dawn of nature,
When man walk'd forth the lord of all below,
Erect and godlike in his giant stature,
Before the tainted gales of vice 'gan blow:
His conscience spotless as the new-fallen snow,
Pure as the crystal spouting from the spring,
He aim'd no murderous dagger, drew no bow,
But at the soaring of the eagle's wing,
The gaunt wolf's stealthy step, the lion's ravening spring.
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With brutes alone he arm'd himself for war;
Free to the winds his long locks dancing flew,
And at his prowling enemy afar,
He shot his death-shaft from the nervy yew;
In morning's mist his shrill-voiced bugle blew,
And with the rising sun on tall rocks strode,
And, bounding through the gemm'd and sparkling, dew,
The rose of health, that in his full cheek glow'd,
Told of the pure fresh stream that there enkindling flow'd.
This was the age when mind was all on fire,
The days of inspiration when the soul,
Warm'd, heighten'd, lifted, burning with desire
For all the great and lovely, to the goal
Of man's essential glory rush'd; then stole
The sage his spark from heaven, the prophet spake
His deep-toned words of thunder, as when roll
The peals amid the clouds: words that would break
The spirit's leaden sleep, and all its terrors wake.