Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
LAST SETTING OF THE SUN.
By this the sun his westering car drove low;
Round his broad wheels full many a lucid cloud
Floated, like happy isles in seas of gold:
Along the horizon castled shapes were piled,
Turrets and towers, whose fronts embattled gleamed
With yellow light: smit by the slanting ray,
A ruddy beam the canopy reflected;
With deeper light the ruby blushed; and thick
Upon the Seraphs' wings the glowing spots
Seemed drops of fire. Uncoiling from its staff,
With fainter wave, the gorgeous ensign hung,
Or, swelling with the swelling breeze, by fits
Cast off, upon the dewy air, huge flakes
Of golden lustre. Over all the hill,
The heavenly legions, the assembled world,
Evening her crimson tint for ever drew.
But while at gaze, in solemn silence, men
And angels stood, and many a quaking heartPage 43
With expectation throbbed; about the throne
And glittering hill-top slowly wreathed the clouds,
Erewhile like curtains for adornment hung,
Involving Shiloh and the Seraphim
Beneath a snowy tent. The bands around
Eying the gonfalon that through the smoke
Tower'd into air, resembled hosts who watch
The king's pavilion where, ere battle hour,
A council sits. What their consult might be,
Those seven dread Spirits and their Lord, I mused,
I marvelled. Was it grace and peace? or death?
Was it of man? Did pity for the Lost
His gentle nature wring, who knew, who felt
How frail is this poor tenement of clay?
Arose there from the misty tabernacle
A cry like that upon Gethsemane?
What passed in Jesus' bosom none may know,
But close the cloudy dome invested him;
And, weary with conjecture, round I gazed
Where in the purple west, no more to dawn,
Faded the glories of the dying day.
Mild-twinkling through a crimson-skirted cloud
The solitary star of evening shone.
While gazing wistful on that peerless light
Thereafter to be seen no more (as oft
In dreams strange images will mix), sad thoughts
Passed o'er my soul. Sorrowing I cried, "Farewell,
Pale, beauteous planet, that displayest so soft,
Amid yon glowing streak, thy transient beam,
A long, a last farewell! Seasons have changed,
Ages and empires rolled, like smoke, away,
But thou, unaltered, beam'st as silver fair
As on thy birthnight! Bright and watchful eyes,
From palaces and bowers, have hailed thy gem
With secret transport! Natal star of love,
And souls that love the shadowy hour of fancy,
How much I owe thee, how I bless thy ray!
How oft thy rising o'er the hamlet green,
Signal of rest, and social converse sweet,Page 44
Beneath some patriarchal tree, has cheered
The peasant's heart, and drawn his benison!
Pride of the West! beneath thy placid light
The tender tale shall never more be told,
Man's soul shall never wake to joy again:
Thou set'st for ever—lovely orb, farewell!"