Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant


CENTRE of light and energy! thy way
Is through the unknown void; thou hast thy throne,
Morning, and evening, and at noon of day,
Far in the blue, untended and alone:
Ere the first-waken'd airs of earth had blown,
On thou didst march, triumphant in thy light;
Then thou didst send thy glance, which still hath flown
Wide through the never-ending worlds of night,
And yet thy full orb burns with flash as keen and bright.
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We call thee Lord of Day, and thou dost give
To Earth the fire that animates her crust,
And wakens all the forms that move and live,
From the fine viewless mould which lurks in dust,
To him who looks to Heaven, and on his bust
Bears stamp'd the seal of God, who gathers there
Lines of deep thought, high feeling, daring trust
In his own centred powers, who aims to share
In all his soul can frame of wide, and great, and fair.
Thy path is high in Heaven; we cannot gaze
On the intense of light that girds thy car;
There is a crown of glory in thy rays,
Which bears thy pure divinity afar,
To mingle with the equal light of star,
For thou, so vast to us, art in the whole
One of the sparks of night that fire the air,
And as around thy centre planets roll,
So thou too hast thy path around the central soul.
I am no fond idolater to thee,
One of the countless multitude, who burn,
As lamps, around the one Eternity,
In whose contending forces systems turn
Their circles round that seat of life, the urn
Where all must sleep, if matter ever dies:
Sight fails me here, but fancy can discern
With the wide glance of her all-seeing eyes,
Where, in the heart of worlds the ruling Spirit lies.
And thou, too, hast thy world, and unto thee
We are as nothing; thou goest forth alone,
And movest through the wide aërial sea,
Glad as a conqueror resting on his throne
From a new victory, where he late had shown
Wider his power to nations; so thy light
Comes with new pomp, as if thy strength had grown,
With each revolving day, or thou at night
Had lit again thy fires, and thus renew'd thy might.
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Age o'er thee has no power: thou bringst the same
Light to renew the morning, as when first,
If not eternal, thou, with front of flame,
On the dark face of earth in glory burst,
And warm'd the seas, and in their bosom nursed
The earliest things of life, the worm and shell;
Till through the sinking ocean mountains pierced,
And then came forth the land whereon we dwell,
Rear'd like a magic fane above the watery swell.
And there thy searching heat awoke the seeds
Of all that gives a charm to earth, and lends
An energy to nature; all that feeds
On the rich mould, and then in bearing bends
Its fruits again to earth, wherein it blends
The last and first of life; of all who bear
Their forms in motion, where the spirit tends
Instinctive, in their common good to share,
Which lies in things that breathe, or late were living there.
They live in thee: without thee all were dead
And dark, no beam had lighted on the waste,
But one eternal night around had spread
Funereal gloom, and coldly thus defaced
This Eden, which thy fairy hand had graced
With such uncounted beauty; all that blows
In the fresh air of Spring, and, growing, braced
Its form to manhood, when it stands and glows
In the full-temper'd beam, that gladdens as it goes.
Thou lookest on the Earth, and then it smiles;
Thy light is hid, and all things droop and mourn;
Laughs the wide sea around her budding isles,
When through their heaven thy changing car is borne;
Thou wheel'st away thy flight, the woods are shorn
Of all their waving locks, and storms awake;
All, that was once so beautiful, is torn
By the wild winds which plough the lonely lake,
And in their maddening rush the crested mountains
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The earth lies buried in a shroud of snow;
Life lingers, and would die, but thy return
Gives to their gladden'd hearts an overflow
Of all the power that brooded in the urn
Of their chill'd frames, and then they proudly spurn
All bands that would confine, and give to air
Hues, fragrance, shapes of beauty, till they burn,
When on a dewy morn thou dartest there
Rich waves of gold to wreath with fairer light the fair.
The vales are thine; and when the touch of Spring
Thrills them, and gives them gladness, in thy light
They glitter, as the glancing swallow's wing
Dashes the water in his winding flight,
And leaves behind a wave that crinkles bright,
And widens outward to the pebbled shore—
The vales are thine: and when they wake from night,
The dews that bend the grass tips, twinkling o'er
Their soft and oozy beds, look upward and adore.
The hills are thine: they catch thy newest beam,
And gladden in thy parting, where the wood
Flames out in every leaf, and drinks the stream
That flows from out thy fulness, as a flood
Bursts from an unknown land, and rolls the food
Of nations in its waters; so thy rays
Flow and give brighter tints, than ever bud,
When a clear sheet of ice reflects a blaze
Of many twinkling gems, as every gloss'd bough plays.
Thine are the mountains, where they purely lift
Snows that have never wasted in a sky
Which hath no stain; below the storm may drift
Its darkness, and the thunder-gust roar by;
Aloft in thy eternal smile they lie,
Dazzling but cold; thy farewell glance looks there
And when below thy hues of beauty die,
Girt round them as a rosy belt, they bear
Into the high dark vault a brow that still is fair.
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The clouds are thine, and all their magic hues
Are pencill'd by thee; when thou bendest low,
Or comest in thy strength, thy hand imbues
Their waving fold with such a perfect glow
Of all pure tints, the fairy pictures throw
Shame on the proudest art; the tender stain
Hung round the verge of Heaven, that has a bow
Girds the wide world, and in their blended chain
All tints to the deep gold that flashes in thy train:
These are thy trophies, and thou bendst thy arch,
The sign of triumph, in a seven-fold twine,
Where the spent storm is hasting on its march,
And there the glories of thy light combine,
And form with perfect curve a lifted line,
Striding the earth and air; man looks and tells
How Peace and Mercy in its beauty shine,
And how the heavenly messenger impels
Her glad wings on the path, that thus in ether swells.
The ocean is thy vassal: thou dost sway
His waves to thy dominion, and they go
Where thou in Heaven dost guide them on their way,
Rising and falling in eternal flow;
Thou lookest on the waters, and they glow;
They take them wings, and spring aloft in air,
And change to clouds, and then, dissolving, throw
Their treasures back to earth, and, rushing, tear
The mountain and the vale, as proudly on they bear.
I too have been upon thy rolling breast,
Widest of waters! I have seen thee lie
Calm, as an infant pillow'd in its rest
On a fond mother's bosom, when the sky,
Not smoother, gave the deep its azure die,
Till a new Heaven was arch'd and glass'd below;
And then the clouds, that, gay in sunset, fly,
Cast on it such a stain, it kindled so,
As in the cheek of youth the living roses grow.
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I too have seen thee on thy surging path,
When the night tempest met thee: thou didst dash
Thy white arms high in Heaven, as if in wrath
Threatening the angry sky; thy waves did lash
The labouring vessel, and with deadening crash
Rush madly forth to scourge its groaning sides;
Onward thy billows came to meet and clash
In a wild warfare, till the lifted tides
Mingled their yesty tops, where the dark storm-cloud rides.
In thee, first light, the bounding ocean smiles,
When the quick winds uprear it in a swell,
That rolls in glittering green around the isles,
Where ever-springing fruits and blossoms dwell:
Oh! with a joy no gifted tongue can tell,
I hurry o'er the waters, when the sail
Swells tensely, and the light keel glances well
Over the curling billow, and the gale
Comes off from spicy groves to tell its winning tale.
The soul is thine: of old thou wert the power:
Who gave the poet life, and I in thee
Feel my heart gladden at the holy hour
When thou art sinking in the silent sea;
Or when I climb the height, and wander free
In thy meridian glory, for the air
Sparkles and burns in thy intensity,
I feel thy light within me, and I share
In the full glow of soul thy spirit kindles there.