Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
FROM THE RUINS OF ATHENS.
THE daylight fades o'er old Cyllene's hill,
And broad and dun the mountain shadows fall;
The stars are up and sparkling, as if still
Smiling upon their altars; but the tall
Dark cypress, gently, as a mourner, bends—
Wet with the drops of evening as with tears—
Alike o'er shrine and worshipper, and blends,
All dim and lonely, with the wrecks of years,
As of a world gone by no coming morning cheers
There sits the queen of temples—gray and lone.
She, like the last of an imperial line,
Has seen her sister structures, one by one,
To time their gods and worshippers resign;
And the stars twinkle through the weeds that twine
Their roofless capitals; and, through the night,
Heard the hoarse drum and the exploding mine,
The clash of arms and hymns of uncouth rite,
From their dismantled shrines, the guardian powers affright.
Go! thou from whose forsaken heart are reft
The ties of home; and, where a dwelling-place
Not Jove himself the elements have left,
The grass-grown, undefined arena pace!
Look on its rent, though tower-like shafts, and hear
The loud winds thunder in their aged face;
Then slowly turn thine eye, where moulders near
A Cæsar's Arch, and the blue depth of space
Vaults like a sepulchre the wrecks of a past race.
Is it not better with the Eremite,
Where the weeds rustle o'er his airy cave,
Perch'd on their summit, through the long still night
To sit and watch their shadows slowly wave—
While oft some fragment, sapp'd by dull decay,
In thunder breaks the silence, and the fowl
Of Ruin hoots—and turn in scorn away
Of all man builds, time levels, and the cowl
Awards her moping sage in common with the owl?
Or, where the palm, at twilight's holy hour,
By Theseus' Fane her lonely vigil keeps:
Gone are her sisters of the leaf and flower,
With them the living crop earth sows and reaps.
But these revive not: the weed with them sleeps,
But clothes herself in beauty from their clay,
And leaves them to their slumber; o'er them weeps.
Vainly the Spring her quickening dews away,
And Love as vainly mourns, and mourns, alas! for aye.
Or, more remote, on Nature's haunts intrude,
Where, since creation, she has slept on flowers,
Wet with the noonday forest-dew, and wooed
By untamed choristers in unpruned bowers:
By pathless thicket, rock that time-worn towers
O'er dells untrodden by the hunter, piled
Ere by its shadow measured were the hours
To human eye, the rampart of the wild,
Whose banner is the cloud, by carnage undefiled.
The weary spirit that forsaken plods
The world's wide wilderness, a home may find
Here, mid the dwellings of long banish'd gods
And thoughts they bring, the mourners of the mind;Page 184
The spectres that no spell has power to bind,
The loved, but lost, whose soul's life is in ours,
As incense in sepulchral urns, enshrined,
The sense of blighted or of wasted powers,
The hopes whose promised fruits have perish'd with their flowers.
There is a small low cape—there, where the moor
Breaks o'er the shatter'd and now shapeless stone
The waters, as a rude but fitting boon,
Weeds and small shells have, like a garland, thrown
Upon it, and the wind's and wave's low moan,
And sighing grass, and cricket's plaint, are heard
To steal upon the stillness, like a tone
Remember'd. Here, by human foot unstirr'd,
Its seed the thistle sheds, and builds the ocean-bird.
Lurks the foul toad, the lizard basks secure
Within the sepulchre of him whose name
Had scatter'd navies like the whirlwind. Sure,
If aught ambition's fiery wing may tame,
'Tis here; the web the spider reaves where Fame
Planted her proud but sunken shaft, should be
To it a fetter, still it springs the same.
Glory's fool-worshipper! here bend thy knee!
The tomb thine altar-stone, thine idol Mockery:
A small gray elf, all sprinkled o'er with dust
Of crumbling catacomb, and mouldering shred
Of banner and embroider'd pall, and rust
Of arms, time-eaten monuments, that shed
A canker'd gleam on dim escutcheons, where
The groping antiquary pores to spy—
A what? a name—perchance ne'er graven there;
At whom the urchin with his mimic eye
Sits peering through a scull, and laughs continually.
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THE MOUNTAIN GIRL.
THE clouds, that upward curling from
Nevada's summit fly,
Melt into air: gone are the showers,
And, deck'd, as 'twere with bridal flowers,
Earth seems to wed the sky.
All hearts are by the spirit that
Breathes in the sunshine stirr'd;
And there's a girl that, up and down,
A merry vagrant, through the town
Goes singing like a bird.
A thing all lightness, life, and glee;
One of the shapes we seem
To meet in visions of the night;
And, should they greet our waking sight,
Imagine that we dream.
With glossy ringlet, brow that is
As falling snow-flake whim,
Half hidden by its jetty braid,
And eye like dewdrop in the shade,
At once both dark and bright:
And cheek whereon the sunny clime
Its brown tint gently throws,
Gently, as it reluctant were
To leave its print on thing so fair—
A shadow on a rose.
She stops, looks up—what does she see?
A flower of crimson dye,
Whose vase, the work of Moorish hands,
A lady sprinkles, as it stands
Upon a balcony:
High, leaning from a window forth,
From curtains that half shroud
Her maiden form, with tress of gold,
And brow that mocks their snow-white fold,
Like Dian from a cloud.
Nor flower, nor lady fair she sees—
That mountain girl—but dumb
And motionless she stands, with eye
That seems communing with the sky:
Her visions are of home.
That flower to her is as a tone
Of some forgotten song,
One of a slumbering thousand, struck
From an old harp-string; but, once woke,
It brings the rest along.
She sees beside the mountain brook,
Beneath the old cork-tree
And toppling crag, a vine-thatch'd shed,
Perch'd, like the eagle, high o'erhead,
The home of liberty;
The rivulet, the olive shade,
The grassy plot, the flock;
Nor does her simple thought forget,
Haply, the little violet,
That springs beneath the rock.
Sister and mate, they may not from
Her dreaming eye depart;
And one, the source of gentler fears,
More dear than all, for whom she wears
The token at her heart.
THE LOST PLEIAD.
There were Seven Sisters, and each wore
A starry crown, as, hand in hand,
By Hesper woke, they led the hours—
The minstrels of his virgin band.
And Love would come at eve, as they
Were met their vesper hymn to sing,
And linger till it ceased, with eye
Of raptured gaze and folded wing.
For ne'er on earth, in air, were heard
More thrilling tones than, to the lyre
Of Heaven timed, rose nightly from
The lips of that young virgin choir.
But they were coy, or seeming coy,
Those minstrels of the twilight hour;
Nuns of the sky, as cold and shy,
As blossoms of the woodland bower.
'Twas eve, and Hesper came to wake
His starry troop, but wept—for one,
The brightest, fairest of the group,
Where all were bright and fair, was gone.
They found within her bower the harp
To which was tuned her vesper-hymn,
The star-gems of her coronet,
And one was with a teardrop dim.
ALL was so still that I could almost count
The tinklings of the falling leaves. At times,
Perchance, a nut was heard to drop, and then—
As if it had slipp'd from him as he struck
The meat—a squirrel's short and fretful bark.
Anon, a troop of noisy, roving jays,
Whisking their gaudy topknots, would surprise
And seize upon the top of some tall tree,
Shrieking, as if on purpose to enjoy
The consternation of the noontide stillness.
Roused by the din, the squirrel from his hole,
Like some grave justice bent to keep the peace,
Thrust his gray pate, much wondering what it meant
And squatted near me on a stone, there bask'd
A fly of larger breed and o'ergrown bulk,
In the warm sunshine, vain of his green coat
Of variable velvet laced with gold,
That, ever and anon, would whisk about,
Vexing the stillness with his buzzing din,
As human fopling will do with his talk:
And o'er the mossy post of an old fence,
Lured from its crannies by the warmth, was spied
A swarm of gay motes waltzing to a tune
Of their own humming. quiet sounds, that [ gap: ;reason: printing error ]
More deeply to impress us with a sense
Of silent loneliness and trackless ways.