Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant


How swells my theme! how vain my power I find,
To track the windings of the curious mind;
Let aught be hid, though useless, nothing boots,
Straightway it must be pluck'd up by the roots.
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How oft we lay the volume down to ask
Of him, the victim in the Iron Mask;
The crusted medal rub with painful care,
To spell the legend out—that is not there;
With dubious gaze o'er mossgrown tombstones bend
To find a name—the herald never penned;
Dig through the lava-deluged city's breast,
Learn all we can, and wisely guess the rest:
Ancient or modern, sacred or profane,
All must be known, and all obscure made plain;
If 'twas a pippin tempted Eve to sin,
If glorious Byron drugged his muse with gin;
If Troy e'er stood, if Shakspeare stole a deer,
If Israel's missing tribes found refuge here;
If like a villain Captain Henry lied,
If like a martyr Captain Morgan died.
Its aim oft idle, lovely in its end,
We turn to look, then linger to befriend;
The maid of Egypt thus was led to save
A nation's future leader from the wave:
New things to hear when erst the Gentiles ran,
Truth closed what Curiosity began.
How many a noble art, now widely known,
Owes its young impulse to this power alone:
Even in its slightest working we may trace
A deed that changed the fortunes of a race;
Bruce, banned and hunted on his native soil,
With curious eye surveyed a spider's toil;
Six times the little climber strove and failed;
Six times the chief before his foes had quailed;
"Once more," he cried, "in thine my doom I read,
Once more I dare the fight if thou succeed;"
'Twas done: the insect's fate he made his own:
Once more the battle waged, and gained a throne.
Behold the sick man in his easy chair;
Barred from the busy crowd and bracing air,
How every passing trifle proves its power
To while away the long, dull, lazy hour.
As down the pane the rival rain-drops chase,
Curious he'll watch to see which wins the race
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And let two dogs beneath his window fight,
He'll shut his Bible to enjoy the sight.
So with each newborn nothing rolls the day,
Till some kind neighbour, stumbling in his way,
Draws up his chair, the sufferer to amuse,
And makes him happy while he tells—The News.
The News! our morning, noon, and evening cry;
Day unto day repeats it till we die.
For this the cit, the critic, and the fop,
Dally the hour away in Tonsor's shop;
For this the gossip takes her daily route,
And wears your threshold and your patience out,
For this we leave the parson in the lurch,
And pause to prattle on the way to church;
Even when some coffin'd friend we gather round,
We ask, "What news?" then lay him in the ground;
To this the breakfast owes its sweetest zest,
For this the dinner cools, the bed remains unpress'd.