Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
THIE SOLDIER'S VISIT TO HIS FAMILY.
AND there the stranger stays: beneath that oak,
Whose shatter'd majesty hath felt the stroke
Of heaven's own thunder—yet it proudly heaves,
A giant sceptre wreathed with blasted leaves—
As though it dared the elements, and stood
The guardian of that cot, the monarch of that wood
Beneath its venerable vault he stands:
And one might think, who saw his outstretch'd hands
That something more than soldiers e'er may feel,
Had touch'd him with its holy, calm appeal:
That yonder wave—the heaven—the earth—the air
Had call'd upon his spirit for her prayer.
His eye goes dimly o'er the midnight scene;
The oak—the cot—the wood—the faded green—
The moon—the sky—the distant moving light—
All! all are gathering on his dampen'd sight.
His warrior helm and plume, his fresh-dyed blade,
Beneath a window on the turf are laid:
The panes are ruddy through the clambering vines
And blushing leaves, that Summer intertwines
In warmer tints than e'er luxuriant Spring,
O'er flower-imbosom'd roof led wandering.Page 247
His pulses quicken: for a rude old door
Is open'd by the wind: he sees the floor,
Strew'd with white sand, on which he used to trace
His boyhood's battles, and assign a place
To charging hosts, and give the Indian yell,
And shout to hear his hoary grandsire tell
How he had fought with savages, whose breath
He felt upon his cheek like mildew till his death.
Hark! that sweet song, how full of tenderness!
Oh! who would breathe in this voluptuous press
Of lulling thoughts! so soothing and so low,
Like singing fountains in their faintest flow:
It is as if some holy, lovely thing,
Within our very hearts were murmuring.
The soldier listens, and his arms are press'd
In thankfulness, and trembling on his breast:
Now, on the very window where he stands
Are seen a clambering infant's rosy hands:
And now—ah Heaven! blessings on that smile!
Stay, soldier, stay! oh linger yet a while!
An airy vision now appears, with eyes
As tender as the blue of weeping skies:
Yet sunny in their radiance, as that blue
When sunset glitters on its falling dew:
With form—all joy and dance—as bright and free
As youthful nymph of mountain liberty,
Or naked angels dream'd by poesy:
A blooming infant to her heart is press'd,
And ah! a mother's song is lulling it to rest.
A single bound! our chief is standing by,
Trembling from head to foot with ecstasy;
"Bless thee!" at length he murmur'd, "bless thee, love!
My wife! my boy!" Their eyes are raised above.
His soldlier's tread of sounding strength is gone,
A choking transport drowns his manly tone.
He sees the closing of that mild blue eye,
His bosom echoes to a faint low cry:
His glorious boy springs freshly from his sleep;
Shakes his thin sun-curls, while his eyebeams leapPage 248
As half in fear, along the stranger's dress,
Then, half advancing, yields to his caress:
Then peers beneath his locks, and seeks his eye
With the clear look of radiant infancy,
The cherub smile of love, the azure of the sky.
The stranger now is kneeling by the side
Of that young mother, watching for the tide
Of her returning life: it comes: a glow
Goes faintly, slowly o'er her cheek and brow:
A rising of the gauze that lightly shrouds
A snowy breast, like twilight's melting clouds,
In nature's pure, still eloquence, betrays
The feelings of the heart that reels beneath his gaze