Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant



OH! for those early days, when patriarchs dwelt
In pastoral tents, that rose beneath the palm,
When life was pure, and every bosom felt
Unwarp'd affection's sweetest, holiest balm,
Page  156
And like the silent scene around them, calm,
Years stole along in one unruffled flow;
Their hearts aye warbled with devotion's psalm,
And as they saw their buds around them blow,
Their keenly glistening eye revealed the grateful glow.
They sat at evening, when their gather'd flocks
Bleated and sported by the palm-crowned well,
The sun was glittering on the pointed rocks,
And long and wide the deepening shadows fell;
They sang their hymn, and in a choral swell
They raised their simple voices to the Power
Who smiled along the fair sky; they would dwell
Fondly and deeply on his praise; that hour
Was to them, as to flowers that droop and fade, the shower.
He warm'd them in the sunbeams, and they gazed
In wonder on that kindling fount of light;
And as, hung the on the glowing west, it blazed
In brighter glories, with a full delight
They pour'd their pealing anthem, and when night
Lifted her silver forehead, and the moon
Roll'd through the blue serenity, in bright
But softer radiance, they bless'd the boon
That gave those hours the charm without the fire of noon.
Spring of the living world, the dawn of nature,
When man walk'd forth the lord of all below,
Erect and godlike in his giant stature,
Before the tainted gales of vice 'gan blow:
His conscience spotless as the new-fallen snow,
Pure as the crystal spouting from the spring,
He aim'd no murderous dagger, drew no bow,
But at the soaring of the eagle's wing,
The gaunt wolf's stealthy step, the lion's ravening spring.
Page  157
With brutes alone he arm'd himself for war;
Free to the winds his long locks dancing flew,
And at his prowling enemy afar,
He shot his death-shaft from the nervy yew;
In morning's mist his shrill-voiced bugle blew,
And with the rising sun on tall rocks strode,
And, bounding through the gemm'd and sparkling, dew,
The rose of health, that in his full cheek glow'd,
Told of the pure fresh stream that there enkindling flow'd.
This was the age when mind was all on fire,
The days of inspiration when the soul,
Warm'd, heighten'd, lifted, burning with desire
For all the great and lovely, to the goal
Of man's essential glory rush'd; then stole
The sage his spark from heaven, the prophet spake
His deep-toned words of thunder, as when roll
The peals amid the clouds: words that would break
The spirit's leaden sleep, and all its terrors wake.


CENTRE of light and energy! thy way
Is through the unknown void; thou hast thy throne,
Morning, and evening, and at noon of day,
Far in the blue, untended and alone:
Ere the first-waken'd airs of earth had blown,
On thou didst march, triumphant in thy light;
Then thou didst send thy glance, which still hath flown
Wide through the never-ending worlds of night,
And yet thy full orb burns with flash as keen and bright.
Page  158
We call thee Lord of Day, and thou dost give
To Earth the fire that animates her crust,
And wakens all the forms that move and live,
From the fine viewless mould which lurks in dust,
To him who looks to Heaven, and on his bust
Bears stamp'd the seal of God, who gathers there
Lines of deep thought, high feeling, daring trust
In his own centred powers, who aims to share
In all his soul can frame of wide, and great, and fair.
Thy path is high in Heaven; we cannot gaze
On the intense of light that girds thy car;
There is a crown of glory in thy rays,
Which bears thy pure divinity afar,
To mingle with the equal light of star,
For thou, so vast to us, art in the whole
One of the sparks of night that fire the air,
And as around thy centre planets roll,
So thou too hast thy path around the central soul.
I am no fond idolater to thee,
One of the countless multitude, who burn,
As lamps, around the one Eternity,
In whose contending forces systems turn
Their circles round that seat of life, the urn
Where all must sleep, if matter ever dies:
Sight fails me here, but fancy can discern
With the wide glance of her all-seeing eyes,
Where, in the heart of worlds the ruling Spirit lies.
And thou, too, hast thy world, and unto thee
We are as nothing; thou goest forth alone,
And movest through the wide aërial sea,
Glad as a conqueror resting on his throne
From a new victory, where he late had shown
Wider his power to nations; so thy light
Comes with new pomp, as if thy strength had grown,
With each revolving day, or thou at night
Had lit again thy fires, and thus renew'd thy might.
Page  159
Age o'er thee has no power: thou bringst the same
Light to renew the morning, as when first,
If not eternal, thou, with front of flame,
On the dark face of earth in glory burst,
And warm'd the seas, and in their bosom nursed
The earliest things of life, the worm and shell;
Till through the sinking ocean mountains pierced,
And then came forth the land whereon we dwell,
Rear'd like a magic fane above the watery swell.
And there thy searching heat awoke the seeds
Of all that gives a charm to earth, and lends
An energy to nature; all that feeds
On the rich mould, and then in bearing bends
Its fruits again to earth, wherein it blends
The last and first of life; of all who bear
Their forms in motion, where the spirit tends
Instinctive, in their common good to share,
Which lies in things that breathe, or late were living there.
They live in thee: without thee all were dead
And dark, no beam had lighted on the waste,
But one eternal night around had spread
Funereal gloom, and coldly thus defaced
This Eden, which thy fairy hand had graced
With such uncounted beauty; all that blows
In the fresh air of Spring, and, growing, braced
Its form to manhood, when it stands and glows
In the full-temper'd beam, that gladdens as it goes.
Thou lookest on the Earth, and then it smiles;
Thy light is hid, and all things droop and mourn;
Laughs the wide sea around her budding isles,
When through their heaven thy changing car is borne;
Thou wheel'st away thy flight, the woods are shorn
Of all their waving locks, and storms awake;
All, that was once so beautiful, is torn
By the wild winds which plough the lonely lake,
And in their maddening rush the crested mountains
Page  160
The earth lies buried in a shroud of snow;
Life lingers, and would die, but thy return
Gives to their gladden'd hearts an overflow
Of all the power that brooded in the urn
Of their chill'd frames, and then they proudly spurn
All bands that would confine, and give to air
Hues, fragrance, shapes of beauty, till they burn,
When on a dewy morn thou dartest there
Rich waves of gold to wreath with fairer light the fair.
The vales are thine; and when the touch of Spring
Thrills them, and gives them gladness, in thy light
They glitter, as the glancing swallow's wing
Dashes the water in his winding flight,
And leaves behind a wave that crinkles bright,
And widens outward to the pebbled shore—
The vales are thine: and when they wake from night,
The dews that bend the grass tips, twinkling o'er
Their soft and oozy beds, look upward and adore.
The hills are thine: they catch thy newest beam,
And gladden in thy parting, where the wood
Flames out in every leaf, and drinks the stream
That flows from out thy fulness, as a flood
Bursts from an unknown land, and rolls the food
Of nations in its waters; so thy rays
Flow and give brighter tints, than ever bud,
When a clear sheet of ice reflects a blaze
Of many twinkling gems, as every gloss'd bough plays.
Thine are the mountains, where they purely lift
Snows that have never wasted in a sky
Which hath no stain; below the storm may drift
Its darkness, and the thunder-gust roar by;
Aloft in thy eternal smile they lie,
Dazzling but cold; thy farewell glance looks there
And when below thy hues of beauty die,
Girt round them as a rosy belt, they bear
Into the high dark vault a brow that still is fair.
Page  161
The clouds are thine, and all their magic hues
Are pencill'd by thee; when thou bendest low,
Or comest in thy strength, thy hand imbues
Their waving fold with such a perfect glow
Of all pure tints, the fairy pictures throw
Shame on the proudest art; the tender stain
Hung round the verge of Heaven, that has a bow
Girds the wide world, and in their blended chain
All tints to the deep gold that flashes in thy train:
These are thy trophies, and thou bendst thy arch,
The sign of triumph, in a seven-fold twine,
Where the spent storm is hasting on its march,
And there the glories of thy light combine,
And form with perfect curve a lifted line,
Striding the earth and air; man looks and tells
How Peace and Mercy in its beauty shine,
And how the heavenly messenger impels
Her glad wings on the path, that thus in ether swells.
The ocean is thy vassal: thou dost sway
His waves to thy dominion, and they go
Where thou in Heaven dost guide them on their way,
Rising and falling in eternal flow;
Thou lookest on the waters, and they glow;
They take them wings, and spring aloft in air,
And change to clouds, and then, dissolving, throw
Their treasures back to earth, and, rushing, tear
The mountain and the vale, as proudly on they bear.
I too have been upon thy rolling breast,
Widest of waters! I have seen thee lie
Calm, as an infant pillow'd in its rest
On a fond mother's bosom, when the sky,
Not smoother, gave the deep its azure die,
Till a new Heaven was arch'd and glass'd below;
And then the clouds, that, gay in sunset, fly,
Cast on it such a stain, it kindled so,
As in the cheek of youth the living roses grow.
Page  162
I too have seen thee on thy surging path,
When the night tempest met thee: thou didst dash
Thy white arms high in Heaven, as if in wrath
Threatening the angry sky; thy waves did lash
The labouring vessel, and with deadening crash
Rush madly forth to scourge its groaning sides;
Onward thy billows came to meet and clash
In a wild warfare, till the lifted tides
Mingled their yesty tops, where the dark storm-cloud rides.
In thee, first light, the bounding ocean smiles,
When the quick winds uprear it in a swell,
That rolls in glittering green around the isles,
Where ever-springing fruits and blossoms dwell:
Oh! with a joy no gifted tongue can tell,
I hurry o'er the waters, when the sail
Swells tensely, and the light keel glances well
Over the curling billow, and the gale
Comes off from spicy groves to tell its winning tale.
The soul is thine: of old thou wert the power:
Who gave the poet life, and I in thee
Feel my heart gladden at the holy hour
When thou art sinking in the silent sea;
Or when I climb the height, and wander free
In thy meridian glory, for the air
Sparkles and burns in thy intensity,
I feel thy light within me, and I share
In the full glow of soul thy spirit kindles there.


HE comes not; I have watched the moon go down,
But yet he comes not. Once it was not so.
He thinks not how these bitter tears do flow,
The while he holds his riot in that town.
Yet he will come and chide, and I shall weep;
And he will wake my infant from its sleep,
Page  163
To blend its feeble wailing with my tears
Oh! how I love a mother's watch to keep,
Over those sleeping eyes, that smile, which cheers
My heart, though sunk in sorrow, fix'd and deep.
I had a husband once, who loved me; now
He ever wears a frown upon his brow,
And feeds his passion on a wanton's lip,
As bees, from laurel flowers, a poison sip;
But yet I cannot hate. Oh! there were hours,
When I could hang for ever on his eye,
And Time, who stole with silent swiftness by,
Strew'd, as he hurried on, his path with flowers.
I loved him then; he loved me too. My heart
Still finds its fondness kindle if he smile;
The memory of our loves will ne'er depart;
And though he often sting me with a dart,
Venom'd and barb'd, and waste upon the vile
Caresses which his babe and mine should share—
Though he should spurn me, I will camly bear
His madness; and should sickness come, and lay
Its paralyzing hand upon him, then
I would, with kindness, all my wrongs repay,
Until the penitent should weep, and say
How injured and how faithful I had been.


DEEP in the wave is a coral grove,
Where the purple mullet and goldfish rove,
Where the sea-flower spreads its leaves of blue,
That never are wet with falling dew,
But in bright and changeful beauty shine,
Far down in the green and glassy brine;
The floor is of sand, like the mountain drift,
And the pearl shells spangle the flinty snow;
From coral rocks the sea-plants lift
Their boughs, where the tides and billows flow;
Page  164
The water is calm and still below,
For the winds and waves are absent there,
And the sands are bright as the stars that glow
In the motionless fields of upper air:
There with its waving blade of green,
The sea-flag streams through the silent water,
And the crimson leaf of the dulse is seen
To blush, like a banner bathed in slaughter:
There, with a light and easy motion,
The fan-coral sweeps through the clear deep sea;
And the yellow and scarlet tufts of ocean
Are bending like corn on the upland lea:
And life, in rare and beautiful forms,
Is sporting amid those bowers of stone,
And is safe, when the wrathful spirit of storms
Has made the top of the wave his own:
And when the ship from his fury flies,
Where the myriad voices of ocean roar,
When the wind-god frowns in the murky skies,
And demons are waiting the wreck on shore;
Then far below in the peaceful sea,
The purple mullet and goldfish rove,
Where the waters murmur tranquilly,
Through the bending twigs of the coral grove


YE clouds, who are the ornament of heaven,
Who give to it its gayest shadowings,
And its most awful glories; ye who roll
In the dark tempest, or at dewy evening
Hang low in tenderest beauty; ye who, ever
Changing your Protean aspects, now are gather'd,
Like fleecy piles, when the mid sun is brightest,
Even in the height of heaven, and there repose,
Solemnly calm, without a visible motion,
Hour after hour, looking upon the earth
Page  165
With a serenest smile: or ye who rather,
Heap'd in those sulphury masses, heavily
Jutting above their bases, like the smoke
Poured from a furnace or a roused volcano,
Stand on the dun horizon, threatening
Lightning and storm; who, lifted from the hills.
March onward to the zenith, ever darkening,
And heaving into more gigantic towers
And mountainous piles of blackness; who then roar
With the collected winds within your womb,
Or the far uttered thunders; who ascend
Swifter and swifter, till wide overhead
Your vanguards curl and toss upon the tempest
Like the stirred ocean on a reef of rocks
Just topping o'er its waves, while deep below
The pregnant mass of vapour and of flame
Rolls with an awful pomp, and grimly lowers,
Seeming to the struck eye of fear the car
Of an offended spirit, whose swart features
Glare through the sooty darkness, fired with vengeance,
And ready with uplifted hand to smite
And scourge a guilty nation; ye who lie,
After the storm is over, far away,
Crowning the drippling forests with the arch
Of beauty, such as lives alone in heaven,
Bright daughter of the sun, bending around
From mountain unto mountain like the wreath
Of victory, or like a banner telling
Of joy and gladness; ye who round the moon
Assemble, when she sits in the mid sky
In perfect brightness, and encircle her
With a fair wreath of all aërial dyes;
Ye who, thus hovering round her, shine like mountains
Whose tops are never darken'd, but remain,
Centuries and countless ages, reared for temples
Of purity and light; or ye who crowd
To hail the newborn day, and hang for him,
Above his ocean couch, a canopy
Of all inimitable hues and colours,
Page  166
Such as are only pencill'd by the hands
Of the unseen ministers of earth and air,
Seen only in the tinting of the clouds,
And the soft shadowing of plumes and flowers
Or ye who, following in his funeral train,
Light up your torches at his sepulchre,
And open on us through the clefted hills
Far glances into glittering worlds beyond
The twilight of the grave, where all is light,
Golden and glorious light, too full and high
For mortal eye to gaze on, stretching out
Brighter and ever brighter, till it spread,
Like one wide radiant ocean without bounds,
One infinite sea of glory: Thus, ye clouds,
And in innumerable other shapes
Of greatness or of beauty, ye attend us,
To give to the wide arch above us Life
And all its changes. Thus it is to us
A volume full of wisdom, but without ye
One awful uniformity had ever,
With too severe a majesty, oppress'd us.