Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant


HEAR yon poetic pilgrim21 of the West
Chant Music's praise, and to her power attest;
Who now, in Florida's untrodden woods,
Bedecks, with vines of jessamine, her floods,
And flowery bridges o'er them loosely throws
Who hangs the canvass where Atala glows,
On the live oak, in floating drapery shrouded,
That like a mountain rises, lightly clouded:
Who, for the son of Outalissi, twines
Beneath the shade of ever-whispering pines
A funeral wreath, to bloom upon the moss
That Time already sprinkles on the cross
Raised o'er the grave where his young virgin sleeps,
And Superstition o'er her victim weeps;
Whom now the silence of the dead surrounds,
Among Scioto's monumental mounds;
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Save that, at times, the musing pilgrim hears
A crumbling oak fall with the weight of years,
To swell the mass that Time and Ruin throw
O'er chalky bones that mouldering lie below,
By virtues unembalm'd, unstain'd by crimes,
Lost in those towering tombs of other times;
For, where no bard has cherished Virtue's flame,
No ashes sleep in the warm sun of Fame.
With sacred lore this traveller beguiles
His weary way, while o'er him Fancy smiles.
Whether he kneels in venerable groves,
Or through the wide and green savanna roves,
His heart leaps lightly on each breeze, that bears
The faintest breath of Iduméa's airs.
Now he recalls the lamentable wail
That pierced the shades of Rama's palmy vale,
When Murder struck, throned on an infant's bier,
A note for Satan's and for Herod's ear.
Now on a bank, o'erhung with waving wood,
Whose falling leaves flit o'er Ohio's flood,
The pilgrim stands; and o'er his memory rushes
The mingled tide of tears and blood, that gushes
Along the valleys where his childhood stray'd,
And round the temples where his fathers pray'd
How fondly then, from all but Hope exiled,
To Zion's wo recurs Religion's child!
He sees the tear of Judah's captive daughters
Mingle, in silent flow, with Babel's waters;
While Salem's harp, by patriot pride unstrung,
Wrapp'd in the mist that o'er the river hung,
Felt but the breeze that wanton'd o'er the billow,
And the long, sweeping fingers of the willow.
And could not Music sooth the captive's wo?
But should that harp be strung for Judah's foe?
While thus the enthusiast roams along the stream
Balanced between a revery and a dream,
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Backward he springs; and, through his bounding heart,
The cold and curdling poison seems to dart.
For, in the leaves, beneath a quivering brake,
Spinning his death-note, lies a coiling snake,
Just in the act, with greenly venom'd fangs,
To strike the foot that heedless o'er him hangs.
Bloated with rage, on spiral folds he rides;
His rough scales shiver on his spreading sides;
Dusky and dim his glossy neck becomes,
And freezing poisons thicken on his gums;
His parch'd and hissing throat breathes hot and dry;
A spark of hell lies burning on his eye:
While, like a vapour, o'er his writhing rings,
Whirls his light tail, that threatens while it sings.
Soon as dumb Fear removes her icy fingers
From off the heart, where gazing wonder lingers,
The pilgrim, shrinking from a doubtful fight,
Aware of danger, too, in sudden flight,
From his soft flute throws Music's air around,
And meets his foe upon enchanted ground.
See! as the plaintive melody is flung,
The lightning flash fades on the serpent's tongue;
The uncoiling reptile o'er each shining fold
Throws changeful clouds of azure, green, and gold;
A softer lustre twinkles in his eye;
His neck is burnish'd with a glossier dye;
His slippery scales grow smoother to the sight,
And his relaxing circles roll in light.
Slowly the charm retires: with waving sides,
Along its track the graceful listener glides;
While Music throws her silver cloud around,
And bears her votary off in magic folds of sound