Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
THE WESTERN EMIGRANT.
AN ax rang sharply mid those forest shades
Which from creation towards the skies had tower'd
In unshorn beauty. There, with vigorous arm,
Wrought a bold emigrant, and by his side
His little son, with question and response,
Beguiled the toil.
"Boy, thou hast never seen
Such glorious trees. Hark, when their giant trunks
Fall, how the firm earth groans. Rememberest thou
The mighty river, on whose breast we sail'd,
So many days, on towards the setting sun?
Our own Connecticut, compared to that,
Was but a creeping stream."
"Father, the brook
That by our door went singing, where I launch'd
My tiny boat, with my young playmates round
When school was o'er, is dearer far to me
Than all these bold, broad waters. To my eye
They are as strangers. And those little trees
My mother nurtured in the garden bound
Of our first home, from whence the fragrant peach
Hung in its ripening gold, were fairer, sure,
Than this dark forest, shutting out the day."
"What, ho! my little girl," and with light step
A fairy creature hasted towards her sire,
And, setting down the basket that contain'dPage 193
His noon repast, look'd upward to his face
With sweet, confiding smile.
"See, dearest, see,
That bright-wing'd paroquet, and hear the song
Of yon gay redbird, echoing through the trees,
Making rich music. Didst thou ever hear,
In far New-England, such a mellow tone?"
"I had a robin that did take the crumbs
Each night and morning, and his chirping voice
Did make me joyful as I went to tend
My snowdrops. I was always laughing then
In that first home. I should be happier now,
Methinks, if I could find among these dells
The same fresh violets."
Slow night drew on,
And round the rude hut of the emigrant
The wrathful spirit of the rising storm
Spake bitter things. His weary children slept,
And he, with head declined, sat listening long
To the swoln waters of the Illinois,
Dashing against their shores.
Starting, he spake:
"Wife! did I see thee brush away a tear?
'Twas even so. Thy heart was with the halls
Of thy nativity. Their sparkling lights,
Carpets, and sofas, and admiring guests,
Befit thee better than these rugged walls
Of shapeless logs, and this lone, hermit home."
"No, no. All was so still around, methought
Upon mine ear that echoed hymn did steal,
Which, mid the church where erst we paid our vows,
So tuneful peal'd. But tenderly thy voice
Dissolved the illusion."
And the gentle smile
Lighting her brow, the fond caress that sooth'd
Her waking infant, reassured his soul
That, wheresoe'er our best affections dwell,Page 194
And strike a healthful root, is happiness.
Content and placid to his rest he sank;
But dreams, those wild magicians, that do play
Such pranks when reason slumbers, tireless wrought
Their will with him.
Up rose the thronging mart
Of his own native city; roof and spire,
All glittering bright, in fancy's frostwork ray.
The steed his boyhood nurtured proudly neigh'd;
The favourite dog came frisking round his feet,
With shrill and joyous bark; familiar doors
Flew open; greeting hands with his were link'd
In friendship's grasp; he heard the keen debate
From congregated haunts, where mind with mind
Doth blend and brighten; and till morning roved
Mid the loved scenery of his native land.