Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
COLUMBUS TO FERDINAND.
Columbus was a considerable number of years engaged in soliciting the court of Spain to fit him out, in order to discover a new continent, which he imagined to exist somewhere in the western parts of the ocean. During his negotiations, he is here supposed to address King Ferdinand in the following stanzas.
ILLUSTRIOUS monarch of Iberia's soil,
Too long I wait permission to depart;
Sick of delays, I beg thy listening ear—
Shine forth the patron and the prince of art.
While yet Columbus breathes the vital air,
Grant his request to pass the western main:
Reserve this glory for thy native soil,
And, what must please thee more, for thy own reign.
Of this huge globe, how small a part we know—
Does heaven their worlds to western suns deny?
How disproportion'd to the mighty deep
The lands that yet in human prospect lie!
Does Cynthia, when to western skies arrived,
Spend her moist beam upon the barren main,
And ne'er illume with midnight splendour, she,
The natives dancing on the lightsome green?
Should the vast circuit of the world contain
Such wastes of ocean and such scanty land?
'Tis reason's voice that bids me think not so;
I think more nobly of the Almighty hand.
Does yon fair lamp trace half the circle round
To light mere waves and monsters of the seas?
No; be there must, beyond the billowy waste,
Islands, and men, and animals, and trees.
An unremitting flame my breast inspires
To seek new lands amid the barren waves,
Where, failing low, the source of day descends,
And the blue sea his evening visage laves.
Hear, in his tragic lay, Cordova's sage:1
"The time may come, when numerous years are past,
When ocean will unloose the bands of things,
And an unbounded region rise at last;
And TYPHIS may disclose the mighty land,
Far, far away, where none have roved before;
Nor will the world's remotest region be
Gibraltar's rock, or THULE'S savage shore."
Fired at the theme, I languish to depart;
Supply the bark, and bid Columbus sail;
He fears no storms upon the untravell'd deep;
Reason shall steer, and skill disarm the gale.
Nor does he dread to miss the intended course,
Though far from land the reeling galley stray,
And skies above, and gulfy seas below,
Be the sole objects seen for many a day.
Think not that Nature has unveiled in vain
The mystic magnet to the mortal eye:
So late have we the guiding needle planned
Only to sail beneath our native sky?
Ere this was known, the ruling power of all
Formed for our use an ocean in the land,
Its breadth so small we could not wander long,
Nor long be absent from the neighbouring strand.
Short was the course, and guided by the stars,
But stars no more must point our daring way;
The Bear shall sink, and every guard be drowned,
And great Arcturus scarce escape the sea,
THE DYING INDIAN.—Tomo-Chequi.
"ON yonder lake I spread the sail no more!
Vigour, and youth, and active days are past;
Relentless demons urge me to that shore
On whose black forests all the dead are cast:
Ye solemn train, prepare the funeral song,
For I must go to shades below,
Where all is strange and all is new;
Companion to the airy throng!
What solitary streams,
In dull and dreary dreams,
All melancholy, must I rove along!
To what strange lands mustChequi take his way
Groves of the dead departed mortals trace;
No deer along those gloomy forests stray,
No huntsmen there take pleasure in the chase,Page 16
But all are empty, unsubstantial shades,
That ramble through those visionary glades;
No spongy fruits from verdant trees depend,
But sickly orchards there
Do fruits as sickly bear,
And apples a consumptive visage shew,
And withered hangs the hurtleberry blue.
Ah me! what mischiefs on the dead attend!
Wandering a stranger to the shores below,
Where shall I brook or real fountain find?
Lazy and sad deluding waters flow:
Such is the picture in my boding mind!
Fine tales, indeed, they tell
Of shades and purling rills,
Where our dead fathers dwell
Beyond the western hills;
But when did ghost return his state to show,
Or who can promise half the tale is true?
I too must be a fleeting ghost! no more;
None, none but shadows to those mansions go;
I leave my woods, I leave the Huron shore,
For emptier groves below!
Ye charming solitudes,
Ye tall ascending woods,
Ye glassy lakes and prattling streams,
Whose aspect still was sweet,
Whether the sun did greet,
Or the pale moon embraced you with her beams—
Adieu to all!
To all that charmed me where I strayed,
The winding stream, the dark, sequestered shade;
Adieu all triumphs here!
Adieu the mountain's lofty swell,
Adieu, thou little verdant hill,
And seas, and stars, and skies—farewell.
For some remoter sphere!
Perplexed with doubts, and tortured with despair,
Why so dejected at this hopeless sleep?
Nature at last these ruins may repair,
When fate's long dream is o'er, and she forgets to weep;
Some real world once more may be assign'd,
Some newborn mansion for the immortal mind!
Farewell, sweet lake; farewell, surrounding woods,
To other groves through midnight glooms, I stray,
Beyond the mountains and beyond the floods,
Beyond the Huron Bay!
Prepare the hollow tomb, and place me low,
My trusty bow and arrows by my side,
The cheerful bottle and the venison store;
For long the journey is that I must go,
Without a partner and without a guide."
He spoke, and bid the attending mourners weep,
Then closed his eyes, and sunk to endless sleep!
THE INDIAN BURYING-GROUND.
IN spite of all the learned have said,
I still my old opinion keep;
The posture that we give the dead,
Points out the soul's eternal sleep.
Not so the ancients of these lands:
The Indian, when from life released,
Again is seated with his friends,
And shares again the joyous feast.2
His imaged birds and painted bowl,
And venison for a journey dressed,
Bespeak the nature of the soul,
Activity, that knows no rest.
His bow for action ready bent,
And arrows with a head of stone,
Can only mean that life is spent,
And not the old ideas gone.
Thou, stranger, that shalt come this way,
No fraud upon the dead commit;
Observe the swelling turf, and say,
They do not lie, but here they sit.
Here still a lofty rock remains,
On which the curious eye may trace
(Now wasted half by wearing rains)
The fancies of a ruder race.
Here still an aged elm aspires,
Beneath whose far-projecting shade
(And which the shepherd still admires)
The children of the forest played!
There oft a restless Indian queen
(Pale Shebah, with her braided hair),
And many a barbarous form is seen,
To chide the man that lingers there.
By midnight moons, o'er moistening dews,
In habit for the chase arrayed,
The hunter still the deer pursues,
The hunter and the deer, a shade!
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STANZAS OCCASIONED BY LORD BELLAMONT'S, LADY HAY'S, AND OTHER SKELETONS BEING DUG UP IN FORT GEORGE (N.Y.), 1790.
To sleep in peace when life is fled,
Where shall our mouldering bones be laid;
What care can shun (I ask with tears)
The shovels of succeeding years!
Some have maintained, when life is gone,
This frame no longer is our own:
Hence doctors to our tombs repair,
And seize death's slumbering victims there.
Alas! what griefs must man endure!
Not even in forts he rests secure:
Time dims the splendours of a crown,
And brings the loftiest rampart down.
The breath, once gone, no art recalls!
Away we haste to vaulted walls:
Some future whim inverts the plain,
And stars behold our bones again.
Those teeth, dear girls—so much your care—
(With which no ivory can compare),
Like these (that once were Lady Hay's),
May serve the belles of future days.
Then take advice from yonder scull;
And, when the flames of life grow dull,
Leave not a tooth in either jaw,
Since dentists steal—and fear no law.
He that would court a sound repose,
To barren hills and deserts goes:
Where busy hands admit no sun,
Where he may doze till all is done.
Yet there, even there, though slily laid,
'Tis folly to defy the spade:
Posterity invades the hill,
And plants our relics where she will.
But oh! forbear the rising sigh!
All care is past with them that die:
Jove gave, when they to fate resign'd,
An opiate of the strongest kind: