Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant



THE sun is sinking from the sky
In calm and cloudless majesty;
And cooler hours, with gentle sway,
Succeed the fiery heat of day.
Page  167
Forest, and shore, and rippling tide,
Confess the evening's influence wide,
Seen lovelier in that fading light,
That heralds the approaching night;
That magic colouring nature throws,
To deck her beautiful repose;
When, floating on the breeze of even,
Long clouds of purple streak the heaven,
With brighter tints of glory blending,
And darker hues of night descending.
While hastening to its shady rest
Each weary songster seeks its nest,
Chanting a last, a farewell lay,
As gloomier falls the parting day.
Broad Narraganset's bosom blue
Has shone with every varying hue;
The mystic alchymy of even
Its rich delusions all has given.
The silvery sheet unbounded spread,
First melting from the waters fled;
Next the wide path of beaten gold
Flashing with fiery sparkles roll'd;
As all its gorgeous glories died,
An amber tinge blush'd o'er the tide;
Faint and more faint, as more remote,
The lessening ripples peaceful float;
And now, one ruby line alone
Trembles, is paler, and is gone;
And from the blue wave fades away
The last life-tint of dying day!
In darkness veil'd, was seen no more
Connanicut's extended shore;
Each little isle with bosom green,
Descending mists impervious screen;
One gloomy shade o'er all the woods
Of forest-fringed Aquetnet broods;
Where solemn oak was seen before
Beside the rival sycamore,
Page  168
Or pine and cedar lined the height,
All in one livery brown were dight.
But lo! with orb serene on high,
The round moon climbs the eastern sky;
The stars all quench their feebler rays
Before her universal blaze.
Round moon! how sweetly dost thou smile,
Above that green reposing isle;
Soft cradled in the illumined bay,
Where from its banks the shadows seem
Melting in filmy light away.
Far does thy temper'd lustre stream,
Checkering the tufted groves on high,
While glens in gloom beneath them lie.
Oft sheeted with the ghostly beam,
Mid the thick forest's mass of shade,
The shingled roof is gleaming white,
Where labour, in the cultured glade,
Has all the wild a garden made.
And there with silvery tassels bright
The serried maize is waving slow,
While fitful shadows come and go,
Swift o'er its undulating seas,
As gently breathes the evening breeze.
Solemn it is, in green woods deep,
That magic light o'er nature's sleep;
Where in long ranks the pillars gray
Aloft their mingling structures bear—
Mingling, in gloom or tracery fair,
Where find the unbroken beams their way—
Or through close trellis flickering stray,
While sheeny leaflets here and there
Flutter, with momentary glow.
'Tis wayward life reveal'd below,
With checker'd gleams of joy and wo!
And those pure realms above that shine,
So chaste, so vivid, so divine,
Page  169
Are the sole type that heaven has shown
Of those more lovely realms, its own!
There is no sound amid the trees,
Save the faint brush of rustling breeze;
Save insect sentinels, that still
Prolong their constant 'larum shrill,
And answer all, from tree to tree,
With one monotonous revelry.


"SLEEP, child of my love! be thy slumber as light
As the redbird's that nestles secure on the spray;
Be the visions that visit thee fairy and bright
As the dewdrops that sparkle around with the ray!
Oh, soft flows the breath from thine innocent breast;
In the wild wood, sleep cradles in roses thy head;
But her who protects thee, a wanderer unbless'd,
He forsakes, or surrounds with his phantoms of dread.
I fear for thy father! why stays he so long
On the shores where the wife of the giant was thrown,
And the sailor oft linger'd to hearken her song,
So sad o'er the wave, ere she harden'd to stone.
He skims the blue tide in his birchen canoe,
Where the foe in the moonbeams his path may descry;
The ball to its scope may speed rapid and true,
And lost in the wave be thy father's death cry!
The POWER that is round us, whose presence is near,
In the gloom and the solitude felt by the soul,
Protect that frail bark in its lonely career,
And shield thee when roughly life's billows shall roll."
Page  170


AND on this night, whose parting shades
Shall see the avengers lift their blades,
And bring relentless fury, fraught
With many an insult's goading thought,
The outlaw Sachem slept;
The while his scanty band around,
Low in the swamp's unequal ground,
Their mournful vigils kept.
Tall trees o'erthrown their bulwark made,
While rude, luxuriant vines o'erspread,
Conceal'd their lurking-place;
There, now to feeble numbers worn,
In strength o'erspent, in hope forlorn,
Shrunk, trembling for the coming morn,
The Wampanoag race.
Mothers and widows sad were then
Hidden within that gloomy fen;
Left for a space by war, to mourn
Each sacred bond asunder torn.
Perchance they thought of many a scene
Departed, to return no more;
How, when the hunter's toil was o'er,
And dress'd his frugal meal had been,
His children cluster'd round his knee,
To hear the tales of former days,
And learn what men should strive to be,
While listening to the warrior's praise:
And she, thrice happy parent! sate,
Well pleased, beside her honour'd mate;
What time gray eve its welcome hue
O'er distant hills and forests threw:
Nor idle then, with dexterous hand,
She wrought the glittering wampum band;
Or loved the silken grass to braid;
Or through the deerskin, smooth and strong
Weaving the many-colour'd thong,
Her hunter's comely sandals made.
Page  171
This they recall'd; and marvell'd they,
When bounteous earth is wide and free,
Why man, whose life is for a day,
So much in love with wo should be!
He slept, yet not the spirit slept;
Her feverish vigil memory kept;
In motley visions on her eye,
The phantom host of dreams pass'd by.
Tradition, meet for vulgar faith,
Has told of threats of coming skaith,
Spoke by the Evil One, who came,
This eve, his destined prey to claim,
In form, as when at noon of night,
He met him on the mountain's height:
O'er the gray rock the fiend outspread
His sable pinions as he fled,
And, ere the sounding air he cleft,
His foot gigantic impress left.
Such superstition's idle tale—
But let the minstrel's lore prevail.
He saw the world of souls; and there
Brave men and beauteous women were:
Fair forms to chiefs of godlike mien,
Reposing in their arbours green,
Supplied the spicy bowls they quaff'd,
And round them danced, and joyous laugh'd;
While aye the warriors smiled to see
Those lovely creatures in their glee;
And pledged them in the sparkling cup;
Or breathed their fragrant incense up;
Grateful and pure, 'twas seen to flow
From calumets like stainless snow.
Apart reclined in kingly state,
The ancient Massasoiet sate,
And earnest with Uncompeon old,
Speech grave, but pleasant, seem'd to hold;
Uncompoën, slain in recent fight,
Contending for his nephew's right.
Page  172
Just from the woods, like hunter dight,
The gallant Ouamsutta came;
Bearing behind his plenteous game,
In order moved the warrior's train;
Joyous his bearing was, and free,
As if fatigue, and wounds, and pain,
In that bless'd world could never be;
His buskins trapp'd with glittering gold,
His floating mantle's graceful fold
Clasp'd with a sparkling gem;
Dazzling his cincture's radiance gleam'd,
Woven from the heavenly bow it seem'd,
And like the sun-rays danced and stream'd
His feathery diadem.
A spear with silver tipp'd he bore;
The gayly-tinkling rings before,
The quiver rattling on his back,
His buoyant frame and kindling eye,
The thrilling pulse of transport high,
The sense of power and pleasure spake
And one and all the Sachem knew,
When near their blissful bower he drew;
And clapp'd their hands with joy to see
The hero join their company.
And strains of softest music round,
From flutes and tabors, with the sound
Of voices, sweet as sweetest bird,
To greet the entering guest were heard.
"Welcome," they sung, "thy toils are done,
Thy battles fought, thy rest is won;
And welcome to the world thou art,
Where kindred souls shall never part;
Honour on earth shall valour have,
And joy with us attends the brave."
That ravishing dream was rapt away,
Vanish'd the forms, the music died;
And changeful fancy's wayward sway
Visions of darker hue supplied
Page  173
O'er frozen plains he seem'd to go,
Mid driving sleet and blinding snow.
Then Assawomsett's lake he knew,
And dim descried, the tempest through,
Apostate Sausaman arise;
Stiff were his gory locks with ice,
And mangled was his form;
It tower'd aloft to giant size;
Fierce shone the fury of his eyes,
Like lightning through the storm.
He cried, "My spirit hath no home!
A weary, wandering ghost I roam.
This night the avengers lift the blade,
And my foul murder shall be paid!"