Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant

CLOUDS.

YE clouds, who are the ornament of heaven,
Who give to it its gayest shadowings,
And its most awful glories; ye who roll
In the dark tempest, or at dewy evening
Hang low in tenderest beauty; ye who, ever
Changing your Protean aspects, now are gather'd,
Like fleecy piles, when the mid sun is brightest,
Even in the height of heaven, and there repose,
Solemnly calm, without a visible motion,
Hour after hour, looking upon the earth
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With a serenest smile: or ye who rather,
Heap'd in those sulphury masses, heavily
Jutting above their bases, like the smoke
Poured from a furnace or a roused volcano,
Stand on the dun horizon, threatening
Lightning and storm; who, lifted from the hills.
March onward to the zenith, ever darkening,
And heaving into more gigantic towers
And mountainous piles of blackness; who then roar
With the collected winds within your womb,
Or the far uttered thunders; who ascend
Swifter and swifter, till wide overhead
Your vanguards curl and toss upon the tempest
Like the stirred ocean on a reef of rocks
Just topping o'er its waves, while deep below
The pregnant mass of vapour and of flame
Rolls with an awful pomp, and grimly lowers,
Seeming to the struck eye of fear the car
Of an offended spirit, whose swart features
Glare through the sooty darkness, fired with vengeance,
And ready with uplifted hand to smite
And scourge a guilty nation; ye who lie,
After the storm is over, far away,
Crowning the drippling forests with the arch
Of beauty, such as lives alone in heaven,
Bright daughter of the sun, bending around
From mountain unto mountain like the wreath
Of victory, or like a banner telling
Of joy and gladness; ye who round the moon
Assemble, when she sits in the mid sky
In perfect brightness, and encircle her
With a fair wreath of all aërial dyes;
Ye who, thus hovering round her, shine like mountains
Whose tops are never darken'd, but remain,
Centuries and countless ages, reared for temples
Of purity and light; or ye who crowd
To hail the newborn day, and hang for him,
Above his ocean couch, a canopy
Of all inimitable hues and colours,
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Such as are only pencill'd by the hands
Of the unseen ministers of earth and air,
Seen only in the tinting of the clouds,
And the soft shadowing of plumes and flowers
Or ye who, following in his funeral train,
Light up your torches at his sepulchre,
And open on us through the clefted hills
Far glances into glittering worlds beyond
The twilight of the grave, where all is light,
Golden and glorious light, too full and high
For mortal eye to gaze on, stretching out
Brighter and ever brighter, till it spread,
Like one wide radiant ocean without bounds,
One infinite sea of glory: Thus, ye clouds,
And in innumerable other shapes
Of greatness or of beauty, ye attend us,
To give to the wide arch above us Life
And all its changes. Thus it is to us
A volume full of wisdom, but without ye
One awful uniformity had ever,
With too severe a majesty, oppress'd us.