Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant



DEEP thoughts o'ershade my spirit while I gaze
Upon the blue depths of thy mighty breast:
Thy glassy face is bright with sunset rays,
And thy far-stretching waters are at rest,
Save the small wave that on thy margin plays,
Lifting to summer airs its flashing crest;
While the fleet hues across thy surface driven,
Mingle afar in the embrace of heaven.
Thy smile is glorious when the morning's spring
Gives half its glowing beauty to the deep;
When the dusk swallow dips his drooping wing,
And the gay winds that o'er thy bosom sweep,
Tribute from dewy woods and violets bring,
Thy restless billows in their gifts to steep.
Page  231
Thou'rt beautiful when evening moonbeams shine,
And the soft hour of night and stars is thine.
Thou hast thy tempests, too; the lightning's home
Is near thee, though unseen; thy peaceful shore,
When storms have lash'd these waters into foam,
Echoes full oft the pealing thunder's roar.
Thou hast dark trophies: the unhonour'd tomb
Of those now sought and wept on earth no more:
Full many a goodly form, the loved and brave,
Lies whelm'd and still beneath thy sullen wave.
The world was young with thee; this swelling flood
As proudly swell'd, as purely met the sky,
When sound of life roused not the ancient wood,
Save the wild eagle's scream, or panther's cry.
Here on this verdant bank the savage stood,
And shook his dart and battle-axe on high,
While hues of slaughter tinged thy billows blue,
As deeper and more close the conflict grew.
Here, too, at early morn, the hunter's song
Was heard from wooded isle and grassy glade;
And here at eve, these cluster'd bowers among,
The low, sweet carol of the Indian maid,
Chiding the slumbering breeze and shadows long,
That kept her lingering lover from the shade:
While, scarcely seen, thy willing waters o'er,
Sped the light bark that bore him to the shore.
Those scenes are past. The spirit of changing years
Has breathed on all around save thee alone.
More faintly the receding woodland hears
Thy voice, once full and joyous as its own.
Nations have gone from earth, nor trace appears
To tell their tale—forgotten or unknown.
Yet here, unchanged, untamed, thy waters lie,
Azure, and clear, and boundless as the sky.
Page  232


STAY, thou ambitious rill,
Ignoble offering of some fount impure!
Beneath the rugged hill,
Gloomy with shade, thou hadst thy birth obscure
With faint steps issuing slow,
In scanty waves among the rocks to flow.
Fling not abroad thy spray,
Nor fiercely lash the green turf at thy side!
What though indulgent May
With liquid snows hath swoln thy foaming tide?
August will follow soon,
To still thy boastings with his scorching noon.
Lo! calmly through the vale
The Po, the king of rivers, sweeps along;
Yet many a mighty sail
Bears on his breast—proud vessels, swift and strong
Nor from the meadow's side
'Neath summer's sun recedes his lessen'd tide.
Thou, threatening all around,
Dost foam and roar along thy troubled path;
In grandeur newly found,
Stunning the gazer with thy noisy wrath!
Yet, foolish stream! not one
Of all thy boasted glories is thine own.
The smile of yonder sky
Is brief, and change the fleeting seasons know;
On barren sands and dry,
Soon to their death thy brawling waves shall flow.
O'er thee, in summer's heat,
Shall pass the traveller with unmoisten'd feet.
Page  233


BIRD of the lone and joyless night,
Whence is thy sad and solemn lay?
Attendant on the pale moon's light,
Why shun the gairish blaze of day?
When darkness fills the dewy air,
Nor sounds the song of happier bird,
Alone, amid the silence there,
Thy wild and plaintive note is heard.
Thyself unseen, thy pensive moan
Pour'd in no living comrade's ear,
The forest's shaded depths alone
Thy mournful melody can hear.
Beside what still and secret spring,
In what dark wood the livelong day,
Sett'st thou with dusk and folded wing,
To while the hours of light away.
Sad minstrel! thou hast learn'd, like me,
That life's deceitful gleam is vain;
And well the lesson profits thee,
Who will not trust its charm again.
Thou, unbeguiled, thy plaint dost trill
To listening night, when mirth is o'er:
I, heedless of the warning, still
Believe, to be deceived once more.