Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
THE PEBBLE AND THE ACORN.
"I AM a pebble! and yield to none!"
Were the swelling words of a tiny stone;
"Nor time nor seasons can alter me;
I am abiding, while ages flee.
The pelting hail and the drizzling rain
Have tried to soften me, long, in vain;
And the tender dew has sought to melt,
Or touch my heart, but it was not felt.
There's none that can tell about my birth,
For I'm as old as the big, round earth.
The children of men arise, and pass
Out of the world like the blades of grass;
And many a foot on me has trod,
That's gone from sight and under the sod!
I am a pebble! but who art thou,
Rattling along from the restless bough?"
The acorn was shock'd at this rude salute,
And lay for a moment abash'd and mute;
She never before had been so near
This gravelly ball, the mundane sphere;
And she felt for a time at a loss to know
How to answer a thing so coarse and low.
But to give reproof of a nobler sort
Than the angry look or the keen retort,
At length she said, in a gentle tone,
"Since it has happen'd that I am thrown
From the lighter element, where I grew,
Down to another so hard and new,
And beside a personage so august,
Abased, I will cover my head with dust,
And quickly retire from the sight of one
Whom time, nor season, nor storm, nor sun,
Nor the gentle dew, nor the grinding heel
Has ever subdued, or made to feel!"
And soon, in the earth, she sunk away
From the comfortless spot where the pebble lay.
But it was not long ere the soil was broke
By the peering head of an infant oak!
And, as it arose and its branches spread,
The pebble look'd up, and wondering said:
"A modest acorn! never to tell
What was enclosed in its simple shell;
That the pride of the forest was folded up
In the narrow space of its little cup!
And meekly to sink in the darksome earth,
Which proves that nothing could hide her worth!
And oh! how many will tread on me,
To come and admire the beautiful tree,
Whose head is towering towards the sky,
Above such a worthless thing as I!
Useless and vain, a cumberer here,
I have been idling from year to year.
But never, from this, shall a vaunting word
From the humbled pebble again be heard,Page 197
Till something without me or within,
Shall show the purpose for which I've been!"
The pebble its vow could not forget,
And it lies there wrapp'd in silence yet.