Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
THE NOTES OF THE BIRDS.
WELL do I love those various harmonies
That ring so gayly in Spring's budding woods,
And in the thickets, and green, quiet haunts,
And lonely copses of the Summer-time,
And in red Autumn's ancient solitudes.
If thou art pain'd with the world's noisy stir,
Or crazed with its mad tumults, and weigh'd down
With any of the ills of human life;
If thou art sick and weak, or mournest at the loss
Of brethren gone to that far-distant land
To which we all do pass, gentle and poor,
The gayest and the gravest, all alike,Page 268
Then turn into the peaceful woods, and hear
The thrilling music of the forest birds.
How rich the varied choir! The unquiet finch
Calls from the distant hollows, and the wren
Uttereth her sweet and mellow plaint at times,
And the thrush mourneth where the kalmia hangs
Its crimson-spotted cups, or chirps, half hid
Amid the lowly dogwood's snowy flowers,
And the blue jay flits by, from tree to tree,
And, spreading its rich pinions, fills the ear
With its shrill-sounding and unsteady cry.
With the sweet airs of Spring, the robin comes,
And in her simple song there seems to gush
A strain of sorrow when she visiteth
Her last year's wither'd nest. But when the gloom
Of the deep twilight falls, she takes her perch
Upon the red stemm'd hazel's slender twig,
That overhangs the brook, and suits her song
To the slow rivulet's inconstant chime.
In the last days of Autumn, when the corn
Lies sweet and yellow in the harvest field,
And the gay company of reapers bind
The bearded wheat in sheaves, then peals abroad
The blackbird's merry chant. I love to hear,
Bold plunderer, thy mellow burst of song
Float from thy watchplace on the mossy tree
Close at the cornfield edge.
There is much sweetness in thy fitful hymn,
Heard in the drowsy watches of the night.
Ofttimes, when all the village lights are out,
And the wide air is still, I hear thee chant
Thy hollow dirge, like some recluse who takes
His lodging in the wilderness of woods,
And lifts his anthem when the world is still:
And the dim, solemn night, that brings to man
And to the herds deep slumbers, and sweet dewsPage 269
To the red roses and the herbs, doth find
No eye, save thine, a watcher in her halls.
I hear thee oft at midnight, when the thrush
And the green, roving linnet are at rest,
And the blithe, twittering swallows have long ceased
Their noisy note, and folded up their wings.
Far up some brook's still course, whose current mines
The forest's blacken'd roots, and whose green marge
Is seldom visited by human foot,
The lonely heron sits, and harshly breaks
The Sabbath silence of the wilderness:
And you may find her by some reedy pool,
Or brooding gloomily on the time-stain'd rock,
Beside some misty and far-reaching lake.
Most awful is thy deep and heavy boom,
Gray watcher of the waters! Thou art king
Of the blue lake; and all the wing'd kind
Do fear the echo of thine angry cry.
How bright thy savage eye! Thou lookest down,
And seest the shining fishes as they glide;
And, poising thy gray wing, thy glossy beak
Swift as an arrow strikes its roving prey.
Ofttimes I see thee, through the curling mist,
Dart like a spectre of the night, and hear
Thy strange, bewildering call, like the wild scream
Of one whose life is perishing in the sea.
And now, wouldst thou, oh man! delight the ear
With earth's delicious sounds, or charm the eye
With beautiful creations? Then pass forth,
And find them mid those many-colour'd birds
That fill the glowing woods. The richest hues
Lie in their splendid plumage, and their tones
Are sweeter than the music of the lute,
Or the harp's melody, or the notes that gush
So thrillingly from Beauty's ruby lip.