Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
Page 263Page 265
THE VISION OF LIBERTY.
THE evening heavens were calm and bright;
No dimness rested on the glittering light,
That sparkled from that wilderness of worlds on high;
Those distant suns burn'd on in quiet ray;
The placid planets held their modest way;
And silence reign'd profound o'er earth, and sea, and sky.
Oh what an hour for lofty thought!
My spirit burn'd within; I caught
A holy inspiration from the hour.
Around me man and nature slept;
Alone my solemn watch I kept,
Till morning dawn'd, and sleep resumed her power.
A vision pass'd upon my soul.
I still was gazing up to heaven,
As in the early hours of even;
I still beheld the planets roll,
And all those countless sons of light
Flame from the broad blue arch, and guide the moonless night.
When lo, upon the plain,
Just where it skirts the swelling main,
A massive castle, far and high,
In towering grandeur broke upon my eye.
Proud in its strength and years, the pond'rous pile
Flung up its time-defying towers;
Its lofty gates seem'd scornfully to smile
At vain assault of human powers,
And threats and arms deride.
Its gorgeous carvings of heraldic pride
In giant masses graced the walls above,
And dungeons yawn'd below.
Yet ivy there and moss their garlands wove,
Grave, silent chroniclers of time's protracted flow.
Bursting on my steadfast gaze,
See, within, a sudden blaze!Page 264
So small at first, the zephyr's slightest swell,
That scarcely stirs the pine-tree top,
Nor makes the wither'd leaf to drop,
The feeble fluttering of that flame would quell.
But soon it spread—
Waving, rushing, fierce, and red—
From wall to wall, from tower to tower,
Raging with resistless power;
Till every fervent pillar glow'd,
And every stone seem'd burning coal,
Instinct with living heat, that flow'd
Like streaming radiance from the kindled pole.
Beautiful, fearful, grand,
Silent as death, I saw the fabric stand.
At length a crackling sound began;
From side to side, throughout the pile it ran;
And louder yet and louder grew,
Till now in rattling thunder-peals it grew;
Huge shiver'd fragments from the pillars broke,
Like fiery sparkles from the anvil's stroke
The shatter'd walls were rent and riven,
And piecemeal driven
Like blazing comets through the troubled sky.
'Tis done; what centuries had rear'd,
In quick explosion disappear'd,
Nor even its ruins met my wondering eye.
But in their place—
Bright with more than human grace,
Robed in more than mortal seeming,
Radiant glory in her face,
And eyes with heaven's own brightness beaming—
Rose a fair majestic form,
As the mild rainbow from the storm.
I mark'd her smile, I knew her eye;
And when, with gesture of command,
She waved aloft the cap-crown'd wand,
My slumbers fled mid shouts of "Liberty!"
Read ye the dream? and know ye not
How truly it unlock'd the world of fate?
Went not the flame from this illustrious spot,
And spreads it not, and burns in every state?
And when their old and cumbrous walls,
Fill'd with this spirit, glow intense,
Vainly they rear'd their impotent defence:
The fabric falls!
That fervent energy must spread,
Till despotism's towers be overthrown;
And in their stead,
Liberty stands alone!