Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
ALFRED B. STREET.
A FOREST WALK.
"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;
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.
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AN AMERICAN FOREST SPRING.
Now fluttering breeze, now stormy blast,
Mild rain, then blustering snow:
Winter's stern, lettering cold is pass'd,
But sweet Spring! where are thou?
The white cloud floats mid smiling blue,
The broad bright sunshine's golden hue
Bathes the still frozen earth:
'Tis changed! above, black vapours roll:
We turn from our expected stroll,
And seek the blazing hearth.
Hark! that sweet carol! with delight
We leave the stifling room!
The little bluebird greets our sight,
Spring, glorious Spring has come!
The south wind's balm is in the air,
The melting snow-wreathes everywhere
Are leaping off in showers;
And Nature, in her brightening looks,
Tells that her flowers, and leaves, and brooks,
And birds will soon be ours.
A few soft, sunny days have shone,
The air has lost its chill,
A bright green tinge succeeds the brown
Upon the southern hill.
Off to the woods! a pleasant scene!
Here sprouts the fresh young wintergreen,
There swells a mossy mound;
Though in the hollows drifts are piled,
The wandering wind is sweet and mild,
And buds are bursting round.
Where its long rings uncurls the fern,
The violet, nestling low,
Casts back the white lid of its urn,
Its purple streaks to show:Page 277
Beautiful blossom! first to rise
And smile beneath Spring's wakening skies,
The courier of the band
Of coming flowers, what feelings sweet
Gush, as the silvery gem we meet
Upon its slender wand.
A sudden roar—a shade is cast—
We look up with a start,
And, sounding like a transient blast,
O'erhead the pigeons dart;
Scarce their blue glancing shapes the eye
Can trace, ere, dotted on the sky,
They wheel in distant flight.
A chirp! and swift the squirrel scours
Along the prostrate trunk, and cowers
Within its clefts from sight.
Amid the creeping vine, which spreads
Its thick and verdant wreath,
The scaurberry's downy spangle sheds
Its rich, delicious breath.
The bee-swarm murmurs by, and now
It clusters black on yonder bough:
The tobin's mottled breast
Glances that sunny spot across,
As round it seeks the twig and moss
To frame its summer nest.
Warmer is each successive sky,
More soft the breezes pass,
The maple's gems of crimson lie
Upon the thick green grass.
The dogwood sheds its clusters white,
The birch has dropp'd its tassels slight,
Cowslips are round the rill;
The thresher whistles in the glen,
Flutters around the warbling wren,
And swamps have voices shrill.
A simultaneous burst of leaves
Has clothed the forest now,
A single day's bright sunshine weaves
This vivid, gorgeous show.
Masses of shade are cast beneath,
The flowers are spread in varied wreath,
Night brings its soft, sweet moon;
Morn wakes in mist, and twilight gray
Weeps its bright dew, and smiling May
Melts into blooming June!