Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant

THE CAMBRIDGE CHURCHYARD.

Our ancient church! its lowly tower,
Beneath the loftier spire,
Is shadow'd when the sunset hour
Clothes the tall shaft in fire;
It sinks beyond the distant eye,
Long ere the glittering vane,
High wheeling in the western sky,
Has faded o'er the plain.
Like sentinel and nun, they keep
Their vigil on the green;
One seems to guard, and one to weep,
The dead that lie between;
And both roll out, so full and near,
Their music's mingling waves,
They shake the grass, whose pennon'd spear
Leans on the narrow graves.
The stranger parts the flaunting weeds,
Whose seeds the winds have strown
So thick beneath the line he reads,
They shade the sculptured stone;
The child unveils his cluster'd brow,
And ponders for a while
The graven willow's pendent bough,
Or rudest cherub's smile.
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But what to them the dirge, the knell?
These were the mourner's share;
The sullen clang, whose heavy swell
Throbb'd through the beating air;
The rattling cord, the rolling stone,
The shelving sand that slid,
And, far beneath, with hollow tone,
Rung on the coffin's lid.
The slumberer's mound grows fresh and green,
Then slowly disappears;
The mosses creep, the gray stones lean,
Earth hides his date and years;
But long before the once-loved name
Is sunk or worn away,
No lip the silent dust may claim,
That press'd the breathing clay.
Go where the ancient pathway guides,
See where our sires laid down
Their smiling babes, their cherish'd brides,
The patriarchs of the town;
Hast thou a tear for buried love?
A sigh for transient power?
All that a century left above,
Go, read it in an hour!
The Indian's shaft, the Briton's ball,
The sabre's thirsting edge,
The hot shell, shattering in its fall,
The bayonet's rending wedge,
Here scatter'd death; yet seek the spot,
No trace thine eye can see,
No altar; and they need it not
Who leave their children free!
Look where the turbid rain-drops stand
In many a chiselled square,
The knightly crest, tim shield, the brand
Of honour'd names were there;
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Alas! for every tear is dried
Those blazon'd tablets knew,
Save when the icy marble's side
Drips with the evening dew.
Or gaze upon yon pillar'd stone,
The empty urn of pride;
There stands the goblet and the sun,
What need of more beside?
Where lives the memory of the dead,
Who made their tomb a toy?
Whose ashes press that nameless bed?
Go, ask the village boy!
Lean o'er the slender western wall,
Ye ever-roaming girls;
The breath that bids the blossom fall
May lift your floating curls,
To sweep the simple lines that tell
An exile's date and doom;
And sigh, for where his daughters dwell,
They wreathe the stranger's tomb.
And one amid these shades was born,
Beneath this turf who lies,
Once beaming as the summer's morn,
That closed her gentle eyes;
If sinless angels love as we,
Who stood thy grave beside,
Three seraph welcomes waited thee,
The daughter, sister, bride!
I wander'd to thy buried mound
When earth was hid, below
The level of the glaring ground,
Choked to its gates with snow,
And when with summer's flowery waves
The lake of verdure roll'd,
As if a sultan's white-robed slaves
Had scatter'd pearls and gold.
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Nay, the soft pinions of the air,
That lift this trembling tone,
Its breath of love may almost bear
To kiss thy funeral stone;
And, now thy smiles have pass'd away,
For all the joy they gave,
May sweetest dews and warmest ray
Lie on thine early grave!
When damps beneath, and storms above,
Have bow'd these fragile towers,
Still o'er the graves yon locust-grove
Shall swing its orient flowers;
And I would ask no mouldering bust,
If e'er this humble line,
Which breathed a sigh o'er others' dust,
Might call a tear on mine.