Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant

THE PAST.

THOU unrelenting Past!
Strong are the barriers round thy dark domain,
And fetters, sure and fast,
Hold all that enter thy unbreathing reign.
Far in thy realm withdrawn
Old empires sit in sullenness and gloom,
And glorious ages gone
Lie deep within the shadow of thy womb.
Childhood, with all its mirth,
Youth, manhood, age, that draws us to the ground,
And last, man's life on earth,
Glide to thy dim dominions, and are bound.
Thou hast my better years,
Thou hast my earlier friends—the good—the kind,
Yielded to thee with tears—
The venerable form—the exalted mind.
My spirit yearns to bring
The lost ones back: yearns with desire intense,
And struggles hard to wring
The bolts apart, and pluck thy captives thence.
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In vain: thy gates deny
All passage save to those who hence depart;
Nor to the streaming eye
Thou giv'st them back, nor to the broken heart.
In thy abysses hide
Beauty and excellence unknown: to thee
Earth's wonder and her pride
Are gather'd, as the waters to the sea;
Labours of good to man,
Unpublish'd charity, unbroken faith:
Love, that midst grief began,
And grew with years, and falter'd not in death.
Full many a mighty name
Lurks in thy depths, unutter'd, unrevered;
With thee are silent fame,
Forgotten arts, and wisdom disappear'd.
Thine for a space are they:
Yet shalt thou yield thy treasures up at last;
Thy gates shall yet give way,
Thy bolts shall fall, inexorable Past!
All that of good and fair
Has gone into thy womb from earliest time,
Shall then come forth, to wear
The glory and the beauty of its prime.
They have not perish'd—no!
Kind words, remember'd voices once so sweet,
Smiles, radiant long ago,
And features, the great soul's apparent seat,
All shall come back; each tie
Of pure affection shall be knit again;
Alone shall Evil die,
And Sorrow dwell a prisoner in thy reign.
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And then shall I behold
Him, by whose kind paternal side I sprung,
And her who, still and cold,
Fills the next grave—the beautiful and young.