Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
PASSAGE DOWN THE OHIO.
As down Ohio's ever ebbing tide,
Oarless and sailless, silently they glide,
How still the scene, how lifeless, yet how fair,
Was the lone land that met the strangers there!
No smiling villages or curling smoke
The busy haunts of busy men bespoke;
No solitary hut the banks along,
Sent forth blithe Labour's homely, rustic song;
No urchin gamboll'd on the smooth white sand,
Or hurl'd the skipping-stone with playful hand,Page 213
While playmate dog plunged in the clear blue wave,
And swam, in vain, the sinking prize to save.
Where now are seen, along the river side,
Young busy towns, in buxom painted pride,
And fleets of gliding boats with riches crown'd,
To distant Orleans or St. Louis bound,
Nothing appear'd but nature unsubdued,
One endless, noiseless woodland solitude,
Or boundless prairie, that aye seem'd to be
As level and as lifeless as the sea;
They seem'd to breathe in this wide world alone,
Heirs of the Earth—the land was all their own!
'Twas evening now: the hour of toil was o'er,
Yet still they durst not seek the fearful shore,
Lest watchful Indian crew should silent creep,
And spring upon and murder them in sleep;
So through the livelong night they held their way,
And 'twas a night might shame the fairest day;
So still, so bright, so tranquil was its reign,
They cared not though the day ne'er came again.
The moon high wheel'd the distant hills above,
Silver'd the fleecy foliage of the grove,
That as the wooing zephyrs on it fell,
Whisper'd it loved the gentle visit well:
That fair-faced orb alone to move appear'd,
That zephyr was the only sound they heard.
No deep-mouth'd hound the hunter's haunt betrayed,
No lights upon the shore or waters play'd,
No loud laugh broke upon the silent air,
To tell the wand'rers man was nestling there.
All, all was still, on gliding bark and shore,
As if the earth now slept to wake no more.