Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant


Lines written after seeing among a collection of beautiful paintings—copies from the old masters, recently sent to New-York from Italy—one representing the daughter of Herodias bearing the head of John the Baptist in a charger, and wearing upon her countenance an expression, not of triumph, as one might suppose, but rather of soft and sorrowful remorse, as she looks upon the calm and beautiful features of her victim.
MOTHER! I bring thy gift;
Take from my hand the dreaded boon; I pray,
Take it; the still, pale sorrow of the face
Hath left upon my soul its living trace,
Never to pass away,
Since from these lips one word of idle breath
Blanch'd that calm face. Oh, mother! this is death!
What is it that I see
From all the pure and settled features gleaming?
Reproach! reproach! My dreams are strange and wild.
Mother! hadst thou no pity on thy child?
Lo! a celestial smile seems softly beaming
On thy hush'd lips; my mother! canst thou brook
Longer upon thy victim's face to look?
Alas! at yester morn
My heart was light, and to the viol's sound
I gayly danced, while crown'd with summer flowers,
And swiftly by me sped the flying hours;
And all was joy around,
Not death! Oh, mother! could I say thee nay?
Take from thy daughter's hand thy boon away!
Take it! my heart is sad;
And the pure forehead hath an icy chill.
I dare not touch it, for avenging Heaven
Hath shuddering visions to my fancy given;
And the pale face appals me, cold and still,
With the closed lips. Oh, tell me! could I know
That the pale features of the dead were so?
Page  288
I may not turn away
From the charm'd brow; and I have heard his name
Even as a prophet by his people spoken;
And that high brow in death bears seal and token
Of one whose words were flame.
Oh, holy teacher! couldst thou rise and live,
Would not those hush'd lips whisper, "I forgive?"
Away with lute and harp,
With the glad heart for ever, and the dance!
Never again shall tabret sound for me!
Oh, fearful mother! I have brought to thee
The silent dead, with his rebuking glance,
And the crush'd heart of one to whom is given
Wild dreams of judgment and offended Heaven!