Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant


YE Muses! dames of dignified renown,
Revered alike in country and in town,
Your bard the mysteries of a visit show,
For sure your ladyships those mysteries know:
What is it, then, obliging Sisters! say,
The debt of social visiting to pay?
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'Tis not to toil before the idol pier;
To shine the first in fashion's lunar sphere;
By sad engagements forced abroad to roam,
And dread to find the expecting fair at home!
To stop at thirty doors in half a day,
Drop the gilt card, and proudly roll away;
To alight, and yield the hand with nice parade;
Up stairs to rustle in the stiff brocade;
Swim through the drawing-room with studied air,
Catch the pink'd beau, and shade the rival fair;
To sit, to curb, to toss with bridled mien,
Mince the scant speech, and lose a glance between;
Unfurl the fan, display the snowy arm,
And ope, with each new motion, some new charm:
Or sit in silent solitude, to spy
Each little failing with malignant eye;
Or chatter with incessancy of tongue,
Careless if kind, or cruel, right or wrong;
To trill of us and ours, of mine and me,
Our house, our coach, our friends, our family,
While all th' excluded circle sit in pain,
And glance their cool contempt or keen disdain:
T' inhale from proud Nanking a sip of tea,
And wave a court'sy trim and flirt away:
Or waste at cards peace, temper, health, and life,
Begin with sullenness, and end in strife;
Lose the rich feast by friendly converse given,
And backward turn from happiness and heaven.
It is in decent habit, plain and neat,
To spend a few choice hours in converse sweet,
Careless of forms, to act th' unstudied part,
To mix in friendship, and to blend the heart;
To choose those happy themes which all must feel,
The moral duties and the household weal,
The tale of sympathy, the kind design,
Where rich affections soften and refine;
T' amuse, to be amused, to bless, be bless'd,
And tune to harmony the common breast;
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To cheer, with mild good-humour's sprightly ray,
And smooth life's passage o'er its thorny way;
To circle round the hospitable board,
And taste each good our generous climes afford:
To court a quick return with accents kind.
And leave, at parting, some regret behind.