Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant



'TWAS then, one eve, when o'er the imperial lake
And all its cities, glittering in their pomp,
The lord of glory threw his parting smiles,
In Tlatelolco's palace, in her bower,
Papantzin lay reclined; sister of him
At whose name monarchs trembled. Yielding there
To musings various, o'er her senses crept
Or sleep or kindred death.
It seemed she stood
In an illimitable plain, that stretched
Its desert continuity around,
Upon the o'erwearied sight; in contrast strange
With that rich vale, where only she had dwelt,
Whose everlasting mountains, girdling it,
As in a chalice held a kingdom's wealth;
Their summits freezing, where the eagle tired,
But found no resting-place. Papantzin looked
On endless barrenness, and walked perplexed
Through the dull haze, along the boundless heath,
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Like some lone ghost in Mictlan's cheerless gloom
Debarred from light and glory.
Wandering thus,
She came where a great sullen river poured
Its turbid waters with a rushing sound
Of painful moans; as if the inky waves
Were hastening still on their complaining course
To escape the horrid solitudes. Beyond
What seemed a highway ran, with branching paths
Innumerous. This to gain, she sought to plunge
Straight in the troubled stream. For well she knew
To shun with agile limbs the current's force,
Nor feared the noise of waters. She had played
From infancy in her fair native lake,
Amid the gay plumed creatures floating round,
Wheeling for diving, with their changeful hues,
As fearless and as innocent as they.
A vision stayed her purpose. By her side
Stood a bright youth; and startling, as she gazed
On his effulgence, every sense was bound
In pleasing awe and in fond reverence.
For not Tezcatlipoca, as he shone
Upon her priest-led fancy, when from heaven
By filmy thread sustained he came to earth,
In his resplendent mail reflecting all
Its images, with dazzling portraiture,
Was, in his radiance and immortal youth,
A peer to this new god. His stature was
Like that of men; but matched with his, the port
Of kings tall dreaded was the crouching mien
Of suppliants at their feet. Serene the light
That floated round him, as the lineaments
It cased with its mild glory. Gravely sweet
The impression of his features, which to scan
Their lofty loveliness forbade: his eyes
She felt, but saw not: only, on his brow—
From over which, encircled by what seemed
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A ring of liquid diamond, in pure light
Revolving ever, backward flowed his locks
In buoyant, waving clusters—on his brow
She marked a CROSS described; and lowly bent,
She knew not wherefore, to the sacred sign.
From either shoulder mantled o'er his front
Wings dropping feathery silver; and his robe
Snow-white in the still air was motionless,
As that of chiselled god, or the pale shroud
Of some fear-conjured ghost.
Her hand he took,
And led her passive o'er the naked banks
Of that black stream, still murmuring angrily.
But, as he spoke, she heard its moans no more;
His voice seemed sweeter than the hymnings raised
By brave and gentle souls in Paradise,
To celebrate the outgoing of the sun
On his majestic progress over heaven.
"Stay, princess," thus he spoke, "thou mayst not yet
O'erpass these waters. Though thou knowest it not
Nor Him, God loves thee." So he led her on,
Unfainting, amid hideous sights and sounds;
For now, o'er scattered sculls and grisly bones
They walked; while underneath, before, behind,
Rise dolorous wails and groans protracted long,
Sobs of deep anguish, screams of agony,
And melancholy sighs, and the fierce yell
Of hopeless and intolerable pain.
Shuddering, as, in the gloomy whirlwind's pause
Through the malign, distempered atmosphere,
The second circle's purple blackness, passed
The pitying Florentine, who saw the shades
Of poor Francesca and her paramour;
The princess o'er the ghastly relics stepped,
Listening the frightful clamour; till a gleam,
Whose sickly and phosphoric lustre seemed
Kindled from these decaying bones, lit up
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The sable river. Then a pageant came
Over its obscure tides, of stately barks,
Gigantic, with their prows of quaint device,
Tall masts, and ghostly canvass, huge and high,
Hung in the unnatural light and lifeless air.
Grim bearded men, with stern and angry looks,
Strange robes, and uncouth armour, stood behind
Their galleries and bulwarks. One ship bore
A broad sheet pendant, where, inwrought with gold,
She marked the symbol that adorned the brow
Of her mysterious guide. Down the dark stream
Swept on the spectral fleet, in the false light
Flickering and fading. Louder then uprose
The roar of voices from the accursed strand.


She woke in darkness and in solitude.
Slow passed her lethargy away, and long
To her half-dreaming eye that brilliant sign
Distinct appeared. Then damp and close she felt
The air around, and knew the poignant smell
Of spicy herbs collected and confined.
As those awakening from some troubled trance
Are wont, she would have learned by touch if yet
The spirit to the body was allied.
Strange hindrances prevented. O'er her face
A mask thick-plated lay—and round her swathed
Was many a costly and encumbering robe,
Such as she wore on some high festival,
O'erspread with precious gems, rayless and cold,
That now pressed hard and sharp against her touch.
The cumbrous collar round her slender neck,
Of gold thick studded with each valued stone
Earth and the sea-depths yield for human pride—
The bracelets and the many-twisted rings
That girt her taper limbs, coil upon coil—
What were they in this dungeon's solitude?
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The plumy coronal that would have sprung
Light from her fillet in the purer air,
Waving in mockery of the rainbow tints,
Now drooping low, and steeped in clogging dews,
Oppressive hung. Groping in dubious search,
She found the household goods, the spindle, broom,
Gicalli quaintly sculptured, and the jar
That held the useless beverage for the dead.
By these, and by the jewel to her lip
Attached, the emerald symbol of the soul,
In its green life immortal, soon she knew
Her dwelling was a sepulchre.
She loosed
The mask, and from her feathery bier uprose,
Casting away the robe, which like long alb
Wrapped her; and with it many an aloe leaf,
Inscribed with Azteck characters and signs,
To guide the spirit where the serpent hissed,
Hills towered, and deserts spread, and keen winds blew,
And many a "flower of death;" though their frail leaves
Were yet unwithered. For the living warmth
Which in her dwelt, their freshness had preserved;
Else, if corruption had begun its work,
The emblems of quick change would have survived
Her beauty's semblance. What is beauty worth,
If the cropp'd flower retains its tender bloom
When foul decay has stolen the latest lines
Of loveliness in death? Yet even now
Papantzin knew that her exuberant locks—
Which, unconfined, had round her flowed to earth,
Like a stream rushing down some rocky steep,
Threaded ten thousand channels—had been shorn
Of half their waving length, and liked it not.
But through a crevice soon she marked a gleam
Of rays uncertain; and, with staggering steps,
But strong in reckless dreaminess, while still
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Presided o'er the chaos of her thoughts
The revelation that upon her soul
Dwelt with its power, she gained the cavern's throat,
And pushed the quarried stone aside, and stood
In the free air, and in her own domain.
But now obscurely o'er her vision swam
The beauteous landscape, with its thousand tints
And changeful views; long alleys of bright trees
Bending beneath their fruits; espaliers gay
With tropic flowers and shrubs that filled the breeze
With odorous incense, basins vast, where birds
With shining plumage sported, smooth canals
Leading the glassy wave, or towering grove
Of forest veterans. On a rising bank,
Her seat accustomed, near a well hewn out
From ancient rocks into which waters gushed
From living springs, where she was wont to bathe,
She threw herself to muse. Dim on her sight
The imperial city and its causeways rose,
With the broad lake and all its floating isles
And glancing shallops, and the gilded pomp
Of princely barges, canopied with plumes
Spread fanlike, or with tufted pageantry
Waving magnificent. Unmarked around
The frequent huitzilin, with murmuring hum
Of ever-restless wing, and shrill sweet note,
Shot twinkling, with the ruby star that glowed
Over his tiny bosom, and all hues
That loveliest seem in heaven, with ceaseless change,
Flashing from his fine films. And all in vain
Untiring, from the rustling branches near,
Poured the Centzontli all his hundred strains
Of imitative melody. Not now
She heeded them. Yet pleasant was the shade
Of palms and cedars; and through twining boughs
And fluttering leaves, the subtle god of air,
The serpent armed with plumes, most welcome crept,
And fanned her cheek with kindest ministry.
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A dull and dismal sound came booming on;
A solemn, wild, and melancholy noise,
Shaking the tranquil air; and afterward
A clash and jangling, barbarously prolonged,
Torturing the unwilling car, rang dissonant.
Again the unnatural thunder rolled along,
Again the crash and clamour followed it.
Shuddering she heard, who knew that every peal
From the dread gong, announced a victim's heart
Torn from his breast, and each triumphant clang,
A mangled corse down the great temple's stairs
Hurled headlong; and she knew, as lately taught,
How vengeance was ordained for cruelty;
How pride would end; and uncouth soldiers tread
Through bloody furrows o'er her pleasant groves
And gardens; and would make themselves a road
Over the dead, choking the silver lake,
And cast the battered idols down the steps
That climbed their execrable towers, and raze
Sheer from the ground Ahuitzol's mighty pile.


GOOD-night to all the world! there's none,
Beneath the "over-going" sun,
To whom I feel, or hate, or spite,
And so to all a fair good-night.
Would I could say good-night to pain,
Good-night to conscience and her train,
To cheerless poverty, and shame
That I am yet unknown to fame!
Would I could say good-night to dreams
That haunt me with delusive gleams,
That through the sable future's veil
Like meteors glimmer, but to fail.
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Would I could say a long good-night
To halting between wrong and right,
And, like a giant with new force,
Awake prepared to run my course!
But time o'er good and ill sweeps on,
And when few years have come and gone,
The past will be to me as naught,
Whether remembered or forgot.
Yet let me hope one faithful friend
O'er my last couch in tears shall bend;
And, though no day for me was bright,
Shall bid me then a long good-night.


OH Time and Death! with certain pace,
Though still unequal, hurrying on,
O'erturning in your awful race,
The cot, the palace, and the throne!
Not always in the storm of war,
Nor by the pestilence that sweeps
From the plague-smitten realms afar,
Beyond the old and solemn deeps:
In crowds the good and mighty go,
And to those vast dim chambers hie:
Where, mingled with the high and low,
Dead Cæsars and dead Shakspeares lie!
Dread ministers of God! sometimes
Ye smite at once to do his will,
In all earth's ocean-severed climes,
Those—whose renown ye cannot kill!
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When all the brightest stars that burn
At once are banished from their spheres,
Men sadly ask, when shall return
Such lustre to the coming years?
For where is he3—who lived so long—
Who raised the modern Titan's ghost,
And showed his fate in powerful song,
Whose soul for learning's sake was lost?
Where he—who backward to the birth
Of Time itself, adventurous trod,
And in the mingled mass of earth
Found out the handiwork of God?4
Where he—who in the mortal head,5
Ordained to gaze on heaven, could trace
The soul's vast features, that shall tread
The stars, when earth is nothingness?
Where he—who struck old Albyn's lyre,6
Till round the world its echoes roll,
And swept, with all a prophet's fire,
The diapason of the soul?
Where he—who read the mystic lore,7
Buried, where buried Pharaohs sleep;
And dared presumptuous to explore
Secrets four thousand years could keep?
Where he—who, with a poet's eye8
Of truth, on lowly nature gazed,
And made even sordid Poverty
Classic, when in HIS numbers glazed?
Where—that old sage so hale and staid,9
The "greatest good" who sought to find,
Who in his garden mused, and made
All forms of rule for all mankind?
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And thou—whom millions far removed10
Revered—the hierarch meek and wise,
Thy ashes sleep, adored, beloved,
Near where thy Wesley's coffin lies.
He too—the heir of glory—where11
Hath great Napoleon's scion fled?
Ah! glory goes not to an heir!
Take him, ye noble, vulgar dead!
But hark! a nation sighs! for he,12
Last of the brave who perilled all
To make an infant empire free,
Obeys the inevitable call!
They go—and with them is a crowd,
For human rights who THOUGHT and DID,
We rear to them no temples proud,
Each hath his mental pyramid.
All earth is now their sepulchre,
The MIND, their monument sublime—
Young in eternal fame they are—
Such are YOUR triumphs, Death and Time.