Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant


"Why should we crave a hallowed spot?
An altar is in each man's cot,
A church in every grove that spreads
Its living roof above our heads."

WORDSWORTH'S "God in Natur"
A LOVELY sky, a cloudless sun,
A wind that breathes of leaves and flowers,
O'er hill, through dale, my steps have won,
To the cool forest's shadowy bowers;
One of the paths all round that wind,
Traced by the browsing herds, I choose,
And sights and sounds of human kind,
In nature's lone recesses lose;
Page  274
The beech displays its marbled bark,
The spruce its green tent stretches wide,
While scowls the hemlock, grim and dark,
The maple's scallop'd dome beside:
All weave on high a verdant roof,
That keeps the very sun aloof,
Making a twilight soft and green,
Within the column'd, vaulted scene.
Sweet forest odours have their birth
From the clothed boughs and teeming earth;
Where pinecones dropp'd, leaves piled and dead,
Long tufts of grass, and stars of fern,
With many a wild flower's fairy urn,
A thick, elastic carpet spread;
Here, with its mossy pall, the trunk,
Resolving into soil, is sunk;
There, wrench'd but lately from its throne,
By some fierce whirlwind circling past,
Its huge roots mass'd with earth and stone,
One of the woodland kings is cast.
Above, the forest tops are bright
With the broad blaze of sunny light:
But now, a fitful airgust parts
The screening branches, and a glow
Of dazzling, startling radiance darts
Down the dark stems, and breaks below;
The mingled shadows off are roll'd,
The sylvan floor is bathed in gold:
Low sprouts and herbs, before unseen,
Display their shades of brown and green;
Tints brighten o'er the velvet moss,
Gleams twinkle on the laurel's gloss;
The robin, brooding in her nest,
Chirps as the quick ray strikes her breast,
And as my shadow prints the ground,
I see the rabbit upward bound,
With pointed ears an instant look,
Then scamper to the darkest nook,
Page  275
Where, with crouch'd limb and staring eye,
He watches while I saunter by.
A narrow vista, carpeted
With rich green grass, invites my tread;
Here showers the light in golden dots,
There sleeps the shade in ebon spots;
So blended, that the very air
Seems network as I enter there.
The partridge, whose deep-rolling drum
Afar has sounded on my ear,
Ceasing his beatings as I come,
Whirrs to the sheltering branches near;
The little milksnake glides away,
The brindled marmot dives from day;
And now, between the boughs, a space
Of the blue laughing sky I trace;
On each side shrinks the bowery shade;
Before me spreads an emerald glade;
The sunshine steeps its grass and moss,
That couch my footsteps as I cross;
Merrily hums the tawny bee,
The glittering humming-bird I see;
Floats the bright butterfly along,
The insect choir is loud in song:
A spot of light and life, it seems
A fairy haunt for fancy dreams.
Here stretch'd, the pleasant turf I press,
In luxury of idleness;
Sun-streaks, and glancing wings, and sky,
Spotted with cloud-shapes, charm my eye;
While murmuring grass, and waving trees,
Their leaf-harps sounding to the breeze,
And water-tones that tinkle near,
Blend their sweet music to my ear;
And by the changing shades alone,
The passage of the hours are known.