Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant



Labitur et labetur.
THE thoughts are strange that crowd into my brain
While I look upward to thee. It would seem
As if God pour'd thee from his "hollow hand,"
And hung his bow upon thine awful front;
And spoke in that loud voice, which seem'd to him
Who dwelt in Patmos for his Saviour's sake,
"The sound of many waters;" and had bade
Thy flood to chronicle the ages back,
And notch His cent'ries in the eternal rocks.
Page  101
Deep calleth unto deep. And what are we,
That hear the question of that voice sublime?
Oh! what are all the notes that ever rung
From war's vain trumpet, by thy thundering side!
Yea, what is all the riot man can make
In his short life, to thy unceasing roar!
And yet, bold babbler, what art thou to HIM,
Who drown'd a world, and heap'd the waters far
Above its loftiest mountains? a light wave
That breaks, and whispers of its Maker's might.


"Let us think of them that sleep,
Full many a fathom deep,
By thy wild and stormy steep,
THY cruise is over now,
Thou art anchor'd by the shore,
And never more shalt thou
Hear the storm around thee roar;
Death has shaken out the sands of thy glass.
Now around thee sports the whale,
And the porpoise snuffs the gale,
And the night-winds wake their wail,
As they pass.
The sea-grass round thy bier
Shall bend beneath the tide,
Nor tell the breakers near
Where thy manly limbs abide;
But the granite rock thy tombstone shall be.
Though the edges of thy grave
Are the combings of the wave,
Yet unheeded they shall rave
Over thee.
Page  102
At the piping of all hands,
When the judgment signal's spread—
When the islands, and the lands,
And the seas give up their dead,
And the south and the north shall come;
When the sinner is betray'd,
And the just man is afraid,
Then Heaven be thy aid,
Poor Tom.


WHAT is there sadd'ning in the Autumn leaves?
Have they that "green and yellow melancholy"
That the sweet poet spake of? Had he seen
Our variegated woods, when first the frost
Turns into beauty all October's charms—
When the dread fever quits us—when the storms
Of the wild Equinox, with all its wet,
Has left the land, as the first deluge left it,
With a bright bow of many colours hung
Upon the forest tops—he had not sigh'd.
The moon stays longest for the Hunter now:
The trees cast down their fruitage, and the blithe
And busy squirrel hoards his winter store:
While man enjoys the breeze that sweeps along
The bright blue sky above him, and that bends
Magnificently all the forest's pride,
Or whispers through the evergreens, and asks,
"What is there sadd'ning in the Autumn leaves?"


"The dead leaves strow the forest walk,
And wither'd are the pale wild-flowers;
The frost hangs blackening on the stalk,
The dewdrops fall in frozen showers.
Page  103
Gone are the spring's green sprouting bowers,
Gone summer's rich and mantling vines,
And Autumn, with her yellow hours,
On hill and plain no longer shines.
I learn'd a clear and wild-toned note,
That rose and swell'd from yonder tree.
A gay bird, with too sweet a throat,
There perch'd and raised her song for me.
The winter comes, and where is she?
Away—where summer wings will rove,
Where buds are fresh, and every tree
Is vocal with the notes of love.
Too mild the breath of southern sky,
Too fresh the flower that blushes there,
The northern breeze that rustles by,
Finds leaves too green and buds too fair;
No forest-tree stands stripp'd and bare,
No stream beneath the ice is dead,
No mountain-top, with sleety hair,
Bends o'er the snows its reverend head.
Go there with all the birds, and seek
A happier clime, with livelier flight,
Kiss, with the sun, the evening's cheek,
And leave me lonely with the night.
I'll gaze upon the cold north light,
And mark where all its glories shone—
See!—that it all is fair and bright,
Feel—that it all is cold and gone."