Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant



WHY is that graceful female here,
With yon red hunter of the deer?
Of gentle mien and shape, she seems
For civil halls design'd,
Yet with the stately savage walks
As she were of his kind.
Look on her leafy diadem,
Enrich'd with many a floral gem:
Those simple ornaments about
Her candid brow, disclose
The loitering Spring's last violet,
And Summer's earliest rose;
But not a flower lies breathing there,
Sweet as herself, or half so fair.
Exchanging lustre with the sun,
A part of day she strays;
A glancing, living, human smile,
On nature's face she plays.
Can none instruct me what are these
Companions of the lofty trees?
Intent to blend with his her lot,
Fate form'd her all that he was not;
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And as by mere unlikehess thoughts
Associate we see,
Their hearts from very difference caught
A perfect sympathy.
The household goddess here to be
Of that one dusky votary,
She left her pallid countrymen,
An earthling most divine,
And sought in this sequester'd wood
A solitary shrine.
Behold them roaming hand in hand,
Like night and sleep, along the land;
Observe their movements: he for her
Restrains his active stride,
While she assumes a bolder gait
To ramble at his side:
Thus, even as the steps they frame,
Their souls fast alter to the same.
The one forsakes ferocity,
And momently grows mild;
The other tempers more and more
The artful with the wild.
She humanizes him, and he
Educates her to liberty.
Oh, say not they must soon be old,
Their limbs prove faint, their breasts feel cold!
Yet envy I that sylvan pair
More than my words express,
The singular beauty of their lot,
And seeming happiness.
They have not been reduced to share
The painful pleasures of despair:
Their sun declines not in the sky,
Nor are their wishes cast,
Like shadows of the afternoon,
Repining towards the past:
With naught to dread or to repent,
The present yields them full content.
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In solitude there is no crime;
Their actions are all free,
And passion lends their way of life
The only dignity;
And how should they have any cares?
Whose interest contends with theirs?
The world, or all they know of it,
Is theirs: for them the stars are lit;
For them the earth beneath is green,
The heavens above are bright:
For them the moon doth wax and wane,
And decorate the night;
For them the branches of those trees
Wave music in the vernal breeze;
For them upon that dancing spray
The free bird sits and sings,
And glitt'ring insects flit about
Upon delighted wings;
For them that brook, the brakes among,
Murmurs its small and drowsy song;
For them the many-colour'd clouds
Their shapes diversify,
And change at once, like smiles and frowns,
Th' expression of the sky.
For them and by them all is gay,
And fresh and beautiful as they:
The images their minds receive,
Their minds assimilate,
To outward forms imparting thus
The glory of their state.
Could aught be painted otherwise
Than fair, seen through her star-bright eyes?
He too, because she fills his sight,
Each object falsely sees;
The pleasure that he has in her
Makes all things seem to please.
And this is love; and it is life
They lead, that Indian and his wife.
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HOW feels the guiltless dreamer, who
With idly curious gaze
Has let his mind's glance wander through
The relics of past days?
As feels the pilgrim that has scann'd,
Within their skirting wall,
The moonlit marbles of some grand
Disburied capital;
Masses of whiteness and of gloom,
The darkly bright remains
Of desolate palace, empty tomb,
And desecrated fanes:
For in the ruins of old hours
Remembrance haply sees
Temples, and tombs, and palaces,
Not different from these.