Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
SCENE FROM HADAD.
The terraced roof of ABSALOM'S house by night; adorned with vases of flowers and fragrant shrubs; an awning over part of it. TAMAR and HADAD.
Well, my love, thou know'st
I've been a traveller in various climes;
Trod Ethiopia's scorching sands, and scaled
The snow-clad mountains; trusted to the deep;
Traversed the fragrant islands of the sea,
And with the wise conversed of many nations.
Of all mine eyes have seen,
The greatest, wisest, and most wonderful
Is that dread sage, the Ancient of the Mountain.
None knows his lineage, age, or name: his locks
Are like the snows of Caucasus; his eyes
Beam with the wisdom of collected ages.
In green unbroken years he sees, 'tis said,
The generations pass, like autumn fruits,
Garner'd, consumed, and springing fresh to life.
Again to perish, while he views the sun,
The seasons roll, in rapt serenity,
And high communion with celestial powers.
Some say 'tis Shem, our father, some say Enoch,
And some Melchizedek.
I have proved it.
Through perils dire, dangers most imminent,
Seven days and nights mid rocks and wildernesses,
And boreal snows, and never-thawing ice,
Where not a bird, a beast, a living thing,
Save the far-soaring vulture, comes, I dared
My desperate way, resolved to know or perish.
On the highest peak
Of stormy Caucasus there blooms a spot
On which perpetual sunbeams play, where flowers
And verdure never die; and there he dwells.
Never did I view
Such awful majesty: his reverend locks
Hung like a silver mantle to his feet,
His raiment glistered saintly white, his brow
Rose like the gate of Paradise, his mouth
Was musical as its bright guardians' songs.
Whether he possess
The Tetragrammaton—the powerful name
Inscribed on Moses' rod, by which he wrought
Unheard-of wonders, which constrains the heavens
To shower down blessings, shakes the earth, and rules
The strongest spirits; or if God hath given
A delegated power, I cannot tell.
But 'twas from him I learned their fate, their fall,
Who erewhile wore resplendent crowns in Heaven;
Now scattered through the earth, the air, the sea.
Them he compels to answer, and from them
Has drawn what Moses, nor no mortal ear,
Has ever heard.
Due only to his Maker! awful crime!
But what their doom? their place of punishment?
Above, about, beneath; earth, sea, and air;
Their habitations various as their minds,
Employments, and desires.
You wrong them. They are bright intelligences,
Robbed of some native splendour, and east down,
'Tis true, from Heaven; but not deformed, and foul,Page 47
Revengeful, malice-working fiends, as fools
Suppose They dwell, like princes, in the clouds;
Sun their bright pinions in the middle sky;
Or arch their palaces beneath the hills,
With stones inestimable studded so,
That sun or stars were useless there.
He bade me look on rugged Caucasus,
Crag piled on crag beyond the utmost ken,
Naked and wild, as if creation's ruins
Were heaped in one immeasurable chain
Of barren mountains, beaten by the storms
Of everlasting winter. But within
Are glorious palaces and domes of light,
Irradiate halls and crystal colonnades,
Vaults set with gems the purchase of a crown,
Blazing with lustre past the noontide beam,
Or, with a milder beauty, mimicking
The mystic signs of changeful Mazzaroth.
There they dwell, and muse,
And wander; beings beautiful, immortal.
Minds vast as heaven, capacious as the sky,
Whose thoughts connect past, present, and to come,
And glow with light intense, imperishable.
Thus, in the sparry chambers of the sea
And air-pavilions, rainbow tabernacles,
They study Nature's secrets, and enjoy
No poor dominion.
Man's feeble heart cannot conceive it. When
The sage described them, fiery eloquence
Flowed from his lips, his bosom heaved, his eyes
Grew bright and mystical; moved by the theme,
Like one who feels a deity within.
Attracts them with her gentler virtues, soft,
And beautiful, and heavenly, like themselves.
They have been known to love her with a passion
Stronger than human.
Sometimes 'tis spiritual, signified
By beatific dreams, or more distinct
And glorious apparition. They have stooped
To animate a human form, and love
Frightful to be so beloved!
Who could endure the horrid thought! What makes
Thy cold hand tremble? or is't mine
That feels so deathy?
Why dost thou speak so sadly now? And lo!
Thine eyes are fixed again upon Arcturus.
Thus ever, when thy drooping spirits ebb,
Thou gazest on that star. Hath it the power
To cause or cure thy melancholy mood?
[He appears lost in thought.
Tell me, ascrib'st thou influence to the stars?
Like palace lamps! Thou echoest well thy grandsire.
Woman! the stars are living, glorious,
Speak not so wildly.
I know them numberless, resplendent, set
As symbols of the countless, countless years
That make eternity.
Oh! mighty, glorious, miserable thought!
Had ye endured like those great sufferers,
Like them, seen ages, myriad ages roll;
Could ye but look into the void abyss
With eyes experienced, unobscured by torments,
Then mightst thou name it, name it feelingly.
Thy cheek is wet with tears—Nay, let us part—
'Tis late—I cannot, must not linger.
[Breaks from him, and exit.
Loved and abhorred! Still, still accursed!
[He paces twice or thrice up and down with passionate gestures; then turns his face to the sky, and stands a moment in silence.]
In the illimitable space, in what
Profound of untried misery, when all
His worlds, his rolling orbs of light, that fill
With life and beauty yonder infinite,
Their radiant journey run, for ever set,
Where, where, in what abyss shall I be groaning?