Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
HANNAH F. GOULD.
THE PEBBLE AND THE ACORN.
"I AM a pebble! and yield to none!"
Were the swelling words of a tiny stone;
"Nor time nor seasons can alter me;
I am abiding, while ages flee.
The pelting hail and the drizzling rain
Have tried to soften me, long, in vain;
And the tender dew has sought to melt,
Or touch my heart, but it was not felt.
There's none that can tell about my birth,
For I'm as old as the big, round earth.
The children of men arise, and pass
Out of the world like the blades of grass;
And many a foot on me has trod,
That's gone from sight and under the sod!
I am a pebble! but who art thou,
Rattling along from the restless bough?"
The acorn was shock'd at this rude salute,
And lay for a moment abash'd and mute;
She never before had been so near
This gravelly ball, the mundane sphere;
And she felt for a time at a loss to know
How to answer a thing so coarse and low.
But to give reproof of a nobler sort
Than the angry look or the keen retort,
At length she said, in a gentle tone,
"Since it has happen'd that I am thrown
From the lighter element, where I grew,
Down to another so hard and new,
And beside a personage so august,
Abased, I will cover my head with dust,
And quickly retire from the sight of one
Whom time, nor season, nor storm, nor sun,
Nor the gentle dew, nor the grinding heel
Has ever subdued, or made to feel!"
And soon, in the earth, she sunk away
From the comfortless spot where the pebble lay.
But it was not long ere the soil was broke
By the peering head of an infant oak!
And, as it arose and its branches spread,
The pebble look'd up, and wondering said:
"A modest acorn! never to tell
What was enclosed in its simple shell;
That the pride of the forest was folded up
In the narrow space of its little cup!
And meekly to sink in the darksome earth,
Which proves that nothing could hide her worth!
And oh! how many will tread on me,
To come and admire the beautiful tree,
Whose head is towering towards the sky,
Above such a worthless thing as I!
Useless and vain, a cumberer here,
I have been idling from year to year.
But never, from this, shall a vaunting word
From the humbled pebble again be heard,Page 197
Till something without me or within,
Shall show the purpose for which I've been!"
The pebble its vow could not forget,
And it lies there wrapp'd in silence yet.
YE mighty waters, that have join'd your forces,
Roaring and dashing with this awful sound,
Here are ye mingled; but the distant sources
Whence ye have issued, where shall they be found?
Who may retrace the ways that ye have taken,
Ye streams and drops? who separate you all,
And find the many places ye've forsaken,
To come and rush together down the fall?
Through thousand, thousand paths have ye been roaming,
In earth and air, who now each other urge
To the last point! and then, so madly foaming,
Leap down at once from this stupendous verge.
Some in the lowering cloud a while were centred,
That in the stream beheld its sable face,
And melted into tears, that, falling, enter'd
With sister waters on the sudden race.
Others, to light that beam'd upon the fountain,
Have from the vitals of the rock been freed,
In silver threads, that, shining down the mountain,
Twined off among the verdure of the mead.
And many a flower that bow'd beside the river,
In opening beauty, ere the dew was dried,
Stirr'd by the breeze, has been an early giver
Of her pure offering to the rolling tide.
Thus from the veins, through earth's dark bosom pouring,
Many have flow'd in tributary streams;
Some, in the bow that bent, the sun adoring,
Have shone in colours borrow'd from his beams.
But He who holds the ocean in the hollow
Of his strong hand can separate you all!
His searching eye the secret way will follow,
Of every drop that hurries to the fall!
We are, like you, in mighty torrents mingled,
And speeding downward to one common home;
Yet there's an eye that every drop hath singled,
And mark'd the winding ways through which we come.
Those who have here adored the Sun of heaven,
And shown the world their brightness drawn from him,
Again before him, though their hues be seven,
Shall blend their beauty, never to grow dim.
I DREAM'D and 'twas a lovely, blessed dream,
That I again my native hills had found,
The mossy rocks, the valley, and the stream
That used to hold me captive to its sound.
I was a child again: I roam'd anew
About my early haunts, and saw the whole
That fades, with waking memory, from the view
Of this mysterious thing we call the soul.
A very child, again beside the brook,
I made my puny hand a cup to dip
Among the sparkling waters, where I took
Its hollow full and brought it to my lip.
And oh! that cooling draught I still can taste,
And feel it in the spirit and the flesh:
'Tis like a fount, that in the desert waste
Leaps out, the weary pilgrim to refresh.
The spice of other days was borne along,
From shrub and forest, on the balmy breeze;
I heard my warbling wild-bird's tender song
Come sweet and thrilling through the rustling trees.
All was restored, as in the sunny day
When I believed my little rural ground
The centre of the world, whose limits lay
Just where the bright horizon hemm'd it round.
And she—who was my sister then, but now
What she may be the pure immortals know,
Who round the throne of the Eternal bow,
And bathe in glory, veil'd from all below—
Yes, she was there; who, with her riper years,
Once walk'd, the guardian of my infant feet;
Drew from my hand the thorn, wiped off my tears,
And brought fresh flowers to deck our grassy seat.
I saw her cheek with life's warm current flush'd;
Clung to the fingers that I used to hold;
Heard the loved voice that is for ever hush'd,
And felt the form that long ago was cold.
All I have been and known, in all the years
Since I was sporting in that cherish'd spot,
My hopes, my joys, my wishes, and my tears,
As only dreamings, were alike forgot.
'Twas this that made my dream so bless'd and bright,
And me the careless thing that I was then:
Yet, Time, I would not now reverse thy flight,
And risk the running of my race again.
The fairest joys that struck their roots in earth,
I would not rear again to bloom and fade!
I've had them once in their ideal worth;
Their height I've measured, and their substance weigh'd.
Nor those who sleep in peace would I awake,
To have their hearts with time's delusions fill'd;
The seal that God has set I would not break,
Nor call the voice to lips that he has still'd.
And yet I love my dream: 'twas very sweet
To be among my native hills again;
Where my light heart was borne by infant feet,
The careless, blissful creature I was then!
THE CHILD ON THE BEACH.
MARY, a beautiful, artless child,
Came down on the beach to me,
Where I sat, and a pensive hour beguiled
By watching the restless sea.
I never had seen her face before,
And mine was to her unknown;
But we each rejoiced on that peaceful shore
The other to meet alone.
Her cheek was the rose's opening bud,
Her brow of an ivory white;
Her eyes were bright, as the stars that stud
The sky of a cloudless night.
To reach my side as she gayly sped,
With the step of a bounding fawn,
The pebbles scarce moved beneath her tread
Ere the little light foot was gone.
With the love of a holier world than this,
Her innocent heart seem'd warm;
While the glad young spirit look'd out with bliss
From its shrine in her sylph-like form.
Her soul seem'd spreading the scene to span,
That open'd before her view,
And longing for power to look the plan
Of the universe fairly through.
She climb'd and stood on the rocky steep,
Like a bird that would mount and fly
Far over the waves, where the broad, blue deep
Roll'd up to the bending sky.
She placed her lips to the spiral shell,
And breathed through every fold;
She look'd for the depth of its pearly cell,
As a miser would look for gold.
Her small white fingers were spread to toss
The foam, as it reach'd the strand:
She ran them along in the purple moss,
And over the sparkling sand.
The green sea-egg, by its tenant left,
And form'd to an ocean cup,
She held by its sides, of their spears bereft,
To fill, as the waves roll'd up.
But the hour went round, and she knew the space
Her mother's soft word assign'd;
While she seem'd to look with a saddening face
On all she must leave behind.
She search'd mid the pebbles, and finding one
Smooth, clear, and of amber dye,
She held it up to the morning sun,
And over her own mild eye.
Then, "Here," said she, "I will give you this,
That you may remember me!"
And she seal'd her gift with a parting kiss,
And fled from beside the sea.
Mary, thy token is by me yet.
To me 'tis a dearer gem
Than ever was brought from the mine, or set
In the loftiest diadem.
It carries me back to the far-off deep,
And places me on the shore,
Where the beauteous child, who bade me keep
Her pebble, I meet once more.
And all that is lovely, pure, and bright,
In a soul that is young, and free
From the stain of guile, and the deadly blight
Of sorrow, I find in thee.
I wonder if ever thy tender heart
In memory meets me there,
Where thy soft, quick sigh, as we had to part,
Was caught by the ocean air.