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
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LOUD o'er thy savage child,
Oh God, the night-wind roar'd,
As, houseless, in the wild
He bow'd him and adored.
Thou saw'st him there,
As to the sky
He raised his eye
In fear and prayer.
Thine inspiration came!
And, grateful for thine aid,
An altar to thy name
He built beneath the shade,
The limbs of larch
That darken'd round,
He bent and bound
In many an arch;
Till in a sylvan fane
Went up the voice of prayer,
And music's simple strain
Arose in worship there.
The arching boughs,
The roof of leaves
That summer weaves,
O'erheard his vows.
Then beam'd a brighter day;
And Salem's holy height
And Greece in glory lay
Beneath the kindling light.
Thy temple rose
On Salem's hill,
While Grecian skill
Adorn'd thy foes.
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Along those rocky shores,
Along those olive plains,
Where pilgrim Genius pores
O'er Art's sublime remains,
Long colonnades
Of snowy white
Look'd forth in light
Through classic shades.
Forth from the quarry stone
The marble goddess sprung;
And, loosely round her thrown,
Her marble vesture hung;
And forth from cold
And sunless mines
Came silver shrines
And gods of gold.
The Star of Bethlehem burn'd
And, where the Stoic trod,
The altar was o'erturn'd,
Raised "to an unknown God."
And now there are
No idol fanes
On all the plains
Beneath that star.
To honour thee, dread Power!
Our strength and skill combine;
And temple, tomb, and tower
Attest these gifts divine.
A swelling dome
For pride they gild,
For peace they build
An humbler home.
By these our fathers' host
Was led to victory first,
When on our guardless coast
The cloud of battle burst,
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Through storm and spray,
By these controll'd,
Our navies hold
Their thundering way.
Great Source of every art!
Our homes, our pictured halls,
Our throng'd and busy mart,
That lifts its granite walls,
And shoots to heaven
Its glittering spires,
To catch the fires
Of morn and even;
These, and the breathing forms
The brush or chisel gives,
With this when marble warms,
With that when canvass lives;
These all combine
In countless ways
To swell thy praise,
For all are thine.


HIS falchion flash'd along the Nile;
His hosts he led through Alpine snows;
O'er Moscow's towers, that shook the while,
His eagle flag unroll'd—and froze.
Here sleeps he now alone: not one
Of all the kings whose crowns he gave,
Nor sire, nor brother, wife, nor son,
Hath ever seen or sought his grave.
Here sleeps he now alone: the star
That led him on from crown to crown
Hath sunk; the nations from afar
Gazed as it faded and went down.
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He sleeps alone: the mountain cloud
That night hangs round him, and the breath
Of morning scatters, is the shroud
That wraps his martial form in death.
High is his couch: the ocean flood
Far, far below by storms is curl'd,
As round him heaved, while high he stood,
A stormy and inconstant world.
Hark! Comes there from the Pyramids,
And from Siberia's wastes of snow,
And Europe's fields, a voice that bids
The world he awed to mourn him? No:
The only, the perpetual dirge
That's heard there is the seabird's cry,
The mournful murmur of the surge,
The cloud's deep voice, the wind's low sigh.


WHILE yet she lived, she walk'd alone
Among these shades. A voice divine
Whisper'd, "This spot shall be thine own;
Here shall thy wasting form recline,
Beneath the shadow of this pine."
"Thy will be done? the sufferer said.
This spot was hallow'd from that hour;
And, in her eyes, the evening's shade
And morning's dew this green spot made
More lovely than her bridal bower.
By the pale moon—herself more pale
And spirit-like—these walks she trod;
And, while no voice, from swell or vale,
Was heard, she knelt upon this sod
And gave her spirit back to God.
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That spirit, with an angel's wings,
Went up from the young mother's bed.
So, heavenward, soars the lark and sings;
She's lost to earth and earthly things;
But "weep not, for she is not dead,
She sleepeth!" Yea, she sleepeth here,
The first that in these grounds hath slept.
This grave, first water'd with the tear
That child or widow'd man hath wept,
Shall be by heavenly watchmen kept.
The babe that lay on her cold breast—
A rosebud dropp'd on drifted snow—
Its young hand in its father's press'd,
Shall learn that she, who first caress'd
Its infant cheek, now sleeps below.
And often shall he come alone,
When not a sound but evening's sigh
Is heard, and, bowing by the stone
That bears his mother's name, with none
But God and guardian angels nigh,
Shall say, "This was my mother's choice
For her own grave: oh, be it mine!
Even now, methinks, I hear her voice
Calling me hence, in the divine
And mournful whisper of this pine."


Two hundred years! two hundred years!
How much of human power and pride,
What glorious hopes, what gloomy fears,
Have sunk beneath their noiseless tide!
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The red man at his horrid rite,
Seen by the stars at night's cold noon,
His bark canoe, its track of light
Left on the wave beneath the moon;
His dance, his yell, his council-fire,
The altar where his victim lay,
His death-song, and his funeral pyre,
That still, strong tide hath borne away.
And that pale Pilgrim band is gone,
That on this shore with trembling trod,
Ready to faint, yet bearing on
The ark of freedom and of God.
And war—that since o'er ocean came,
And thunder'd loud from yonder hill,
And wrapp'd its foot in sheets of flame,
To blast that ark—its storm is still.
Chief, sachem, sage, bards, heroes, seers,
That live in story and in song,
Time, for the last two hundred years,
Has raised, and shown, and swept along.
'Tis like a dream when one awakes,
This vision of the scenes of old;
'Tis like the moon when morning breaks,
'Tis like a tale round watchfires told.
Then what are we? then what are we?
Yes, when two hundred years have roll'd
O'er our green graves, our names shall be
A morning dream, a tale that's told.
God of our fathers, in whose sight
The thousand years that sweep away
Man and the traces of his might
Are but the break and close of day,
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Grant us that love of truth sublime,
That love of goodness and of thee,
That makes thy children, in all time,
To share thine own eternity.