Classics  
William Cullen Bryant was an American romantic poet, journalist, and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post. Although "Thanatopsis", his most famous poem, has been said to date from 1811, it is much more probable that Bryant began its composition in 1813, or even later. What is known about ... Read more
William Cullen Bryant was an American romantic poet, journalist, and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post. Although "Thanatopsis", his most famous poem, has been said to date from 1811, it is much more probable that Bryant began its composition in 1813, or even later. What is known about ... Read more

There sits a lovely maiden,
  The ocean murmuring nigh;
She throws the hook, and watches;
  The fishes pass it by.

A ring, with a red jewel,
  Is sparkling on her hand;
Upon the hook she binds it,
  And flings it from the land.

Uprises from the water
  A hand like ivory fair.
What gleams upon its finger?
  The golden ring is there.

Uprises from the bottom
  A young and handsome knight;
In golden scales he rises,
  That glitter in the light.

The maid is pale with terror--
  "Nay, Knight of Ocean, nay,
It was not thee I wanted;
  Let go the ring, I pray."

"Ah, maiden, not to fishes
  The bait of gold is thrown;
The ring shall never leave me,
  And thou must be my own."

Let me move slowly through the street,
  Filled with an ever-shifting train,
Amid the sound of steps that beat
  The murmuring walks like autumn rain.

How fast the flitting figures come!
  The mild, the fierce, the stony face;
Some bright with thoughtless smiles, and some
  Where secret tears have left their trace.

They pass--to toil, to strife, to rest;
  To halls in which the feast is spread;
To chambers where the funeral guest
  In silence sits beside the dead.

And some to happy homes repair,
  Where children, pressing cheek to cheek,
With mute caresses shall declare
  The tenderness they cannot speak.

And some, who walk in calmness here,
  Shall shudder as they reach the door
Where one who made their dwelling dear,
  Its flower, its light, is seen no more.

Youth, with pale cheek and slender frame,
  And dreams of greatness in thine eye!
Goest thou to build an early name,
  Or early in the task to die?

Keen son of trade, with eager brow!
  Who is now fluttering in thy snare?
Thy golden fortunes, tower they now,
  Or melt the glittering spires in air?

Who of this crowd to-night shall tread
  The dance till daylight gleam again?
Who sorrow o'er the untimely dead?
  Who writhe in throes of mortal pain?

Some, famine-struck, shall think how long
  The cold dark hours, how slow the light,
And some, who flaunt amid the throng,
  Shall hide in dens of shame to-night.

Each, where his tasks or pleasures call,
  They pass, and heed each other not.
There is who heeds, who holds them all,
  In his large love and boundless thought.

These struggling tides of life that seem
  In wayward, aimless course to tend,
Are eddies of the mighty stream
  That rolls to its appointed end.

Thine eyes shall see the light of distant skies:
    Yet, COLE! thy heart shall bear to Europe's strand
    A living image of thy native land,
Such as on thine own glorious canvas lies;
Lone lakes--savannas where the bison roves--
    Rocks rich with summer garlands--solemn streams--
    Skies, where the desert eagle wheels and screams--
Spring bloom and autumn blaze of boundless groves.
Fair scenes shall greet thee where thou goest--fair,
    But different--everywhere the trace of men,
    Paths, homes, graves, ruins, from the lowest glen
To where life shrinks from the fierce Alpine air,
    Gaze on them, till the tears shall dim thy sight,
    But keep that earlier, wilder image bright.

I would not always reason. The straight path
Wearies us with its never-varying lines,
And we grow melancholy. I would make
Reason my guide, but she should sometimes sit
Patiently by the way-side, while I traced
The mazes of the pleasant wilderness
Around me. She should be my counsellor,
But not my tyrant. For the spirit needs
Impulses from a deeper source than hers,
And there are motions, in the mind of man,
That she must look upon with awe. I bow
Reverently to her dictates, but not less
Hold to the fair illusions of old time--
Illusions that shed brightness over life,
And glory over nature. Look, even now,
Where two bright planets in the twilight meet,
Upon the saffron heaven,--the imperial star
Of Jove, and she that from her radiant urn
Pours forth the light of love. Let me believe,
Awhile, that they are met for ends of good,
Amid the evening glory, to confer
Of men and their affairs, and to shed down
Kind influence. Lo! they brighten as we gaze,
And shake out softer fires! The great earth feels
The gladness and the quiet of the time.
Meekly the mighty river, that infolds
This mighty city, smooths his front, and far
Glitters and burns even to the rocky base
Of the dark heights that bound him to the west;
And a deep murmur, from the many streets,
Rises like a thanksgiving. Put we hence
Dark and sad thoughts awhile--there's time for them
Hereafter--on the morrow we will meet,
With melancholy looks, to tell our griefs,
And make each other wretched; this calm hour,
This balmy, blessed evening, we will give
To cheerful hopes and dreams of happy days,
Born of the meeting of those glorious stars.

  Enough of drought has parched the year, and scared
The land with dread of famine. Autumn, yet,
Shall make men glad with unexpected fruits.
The dog-star shall shine harmless: genial days
Shall softly glide away into the keen
And wholesome cold of winter; he that fears
The pestilence, shall gaze on those pure beams,
And breathe, with confidence, the quiet air.

  Emblems of power and beauty! well may they
Shine brightest on our borders, and withdraw
Towards the great Pacific, marking out
The path of empire. Thus, in our own land,
Ere long, the better Genius of our race,
Having encompassed earth, and tamed its tribes,
Shall sit him down beneath the farthest west,
By the shore of that calm ocean, and look back
On realms made happy.

                        Light the nuptial torch,
And say the glad, yet solemn rite, that knits
The youth and maiden. Happy days to them
That wed this evening!--a long life of love,
And blooming sons and daughters! Happy they
Born at this hour,--for they shall see an age
Whiter and holier than the past, and go
Late to their graves. Men shall wear softer hearts,
And shudder at the butcheries of war,
As now at other murders.

                          Hapless Greece!
Enough of blood has wet thy rocks, and stained
Thy rivers; deep enough thy chains have worn
Their links into thy flesh; the sacrifice
Of thy pure maidens, and thy innocent babes,
And reverend priests, has expiated all
Thy crimes of old. In yonder mingling lights
There is an omen of good days for thee.
Thou shalt arise from midst the dust and sit
Again among the nations. Thine own arm
Shall yet redeem thee. Not in wars like thine
The world takes part. Be it a strife of kings,--
Despot with despot battling for a throne,--
And Europe shall be stirred throughout her realms,
Nations shall put on harness, and shall fall
Upon each other, and in all their bounds
The wailing of the childless shall not cease.
Thine is a war for liberty, and thou
Must fight it single-handed. The old world
Looks coldly on the murderers of thy race,
And leaves thee to the struggle; and the new,--
I fear me thou couldst tell a shameful tale
Of fraud and lust of gain;--thy treasury drained,
And Missolonghi fallen. Yet thy wrongs
Shall put new strength into thy heart and hand,
And God and thy good sword shall yet work out,
For thee, a terrible deliverance.

Innocent child and snow-white flower!
Well are ye paired in your opening hour.
Thus should the pure and the lovely meet,
Stainless with stainless, and sweet with sweet.

White as those leaves, just blown apart,
Are the folds of thy own young heart;
Guilty passion and cankering care
Never have left their traces there.

Artless one! though thou gazest now
O'er the white blossom with earnest brow,
Soon will it tire thy childish eye;
Fair as it is, thou wilt throw it by.

Throw it aside in thy weary hour,
Throw to the ground the fair white flower;
Yet, as thy tender years depart,
Keep that white and innocent heart.

Far back in the ages,
  The plough with wreaths was crowned;
The hands of kings and sages
  Entwined the chaplet round;
Till men of spoil disdained the toil
  By which the world was nourished,
And dews of blood enriched the soil
  Where green their laurels flourished:
--Now the world her fault repairs--
  The guilt that stains her story;
And weeps her crimes amid the cares
  That formed her earliest glory.

The proud throne shall crumble,
  The diadem shall wane,
The tribes of earth shall humble
  The pride of those who reign;
And War shall lay his pomp away;--
  The fame that heroes cherish,
The glory earned in deadly fray
  Shall fade, decay, and perish.
Honour waits, o'er all the Earth,
  Through endless generations,
The art that calls her harvests forth,
  And feeds the expectant nations.

Oh fairest of the rural maids!
Thy birth was in the forest shades;
Green boughs, and glimpses of the sky,
Were all that met thy infant eye.

Thy sports, thy wanderings, when a child,
Were ever in the sylvan wild;
And all the beauty of the place
Is in thy heart and on thy face.

The twilight of the trees and rocks
Is in the light shade of thy locks;
Thy step is as the wind, that weaves
Its playful way among the leaves.

Thine eyes are springs, in whose serene
And silent waters heaven is seen;
Their lashes are the herbs that look
On their young figures in the brook.

The forest depths, by foot unpressed,
Are not more sinless than thy breast;
The holy peace, that fills the air
Of those calm solitudes, is there.

When, as the garish day is done,
Heaven burns with the descended sun,
  'Tis passing sweet to mark,
Amid that flush of crimson light,
The new moon's modest bow grow bright,
  As earth and sky grow dark.

Few are the hearts too cold to feel
A thrill of gladness o'er them steal,
  When first the wandering eye
Sees faintly, in the evening blaze,
That glimmering curve of tender rays
  Just planted in the sky.

The sight of that young crescent brings
Thoughts of all fair and youthful things
  The hopes of early years;
And childhood's purity and grace,
And joys that like a rainbow chase
  The passing shower of tears.

The captive yields him to the dream
Of freedom, when that virgin beam
  Comes out upon the air:
And painfully the sick man tries
To fix his dim and burning eyes
  On the soft promise there.

Most welcome to the lover's sight,
Glitters that pure, emerging light;
  For prattling poets say,
That sweetest is the lovers' walk,
And tenderest is their murmured talk,
  Beneath its gentle ray.

And there do graver men behold
A type of errors, loved of old,
  Forsaken and forgiven;
And thoughts and wishes not of earth,
Just opening in their early birth,
  Like that new light in heaven.

I.

  When to the common rest that crowns our days,
  Called in the noon of life, the good man goes,
  Or full of years, and ripe in wisdom, lays
  His silver temples in their last repose;
  When, o'er the buds of youth, the death-wind blows,
  And blights the fairest; when our bitter tears
  Stream, as the eyes of those that love us close,
  We think on what they were, with many fears
Lest goodness die with them, and leave the coming years:

II.

  And therefore, to our hearts, the days gone by,--
  When lived the honoured sage whose death we wept,
  And the soft virtues beamed from many an eye,
  And beat in many a heart that long has slept,--
  Like spots of earth where angel-feet have stepped--
  Are holy; and high-dreaming bards have told
  Of times when worth was crowned, and faith was kept,
  Ere friendship grew a snare, or love waxed cold--
Those pure and happy times--the golden days of old.

III.

  Peace to the just man's memory,--let it grow
  Greener with years, and blossom through the flight
  Of ages; let the mimic canvas show
  His calm benevolent features; let the light
  Stream on his deeds of love, that shunned the sight
  Of all but heaven, and in the book of fame,
  The glorious record of his virtues write,
  And hold it up to men, and bid them claim
A palm like his, and catch from him the hallowed flame.

IV.

  But oh, despair not of their fate who rise
  To dwell upon the earth when we withdraw!
  Lo! the same shaft by which the righteous dies,
  Strikes through the wretch that scoffed at mercy's law,
  And trode his brethren down, and felt no awe
  Of Him who will avenge them. Stainless worth,
  Such as the sternest age of virtue saw,
  Ripens, meanwhile, till time shall call it forth
From the low modest shade, to light and bless the earth.

V.

  Has Nature, in her calm, majestic march
  Faltered with age at last? does the bright sun
  Grow dim in heaven? or, in their far blue arch,
  Sparkle the crowd of stars, when day is done,
  Less brightly? when the dew-lipped Spring comes on,
  Breathes she with airs less soft, or scents the sky
  With flowers less fair than when her reign begun?
  Does prodigal Autumn, to our age, deny
The plenty that once swelled beneath his sober eye?

VI.

  Look on this beautiful world, and read the truth
  In her fair page; see, every season brings
  New change, to her, of everlasting youth;
  Still the green soil, with joyous living things,
  Swarms, the wide air is full of joyous wings,
  And myriads, still, are happy in the sleep
  Of ocean's azure gulfs, and where he flings
  The restless surge. Eternal Love doth keep
In his complacent arms, the earth, the air, the deep.

VII.

  Will then the merciful One, who stamped our race
  With his own image, and who gave them sway
  O'er earth, and the glad dwellers on her face,
  Now that our swarming nations far away
  Are spread, where'er the moist earth drinks the day,
  Forget the ancient care that taught and nursed
  His latest offspring? will he quench the ray
  Infused by his own forming smile at first,
And leave a work so fair all blighted and accursed?

VIII.

  Oh, no! a thousand cheerful omens give
  Hope of yet happier days, whose dawn is nigh.
  He who has tamed the elements, shall not live
  The slave of his own passions; he whose eye
  Unwinds the eternal dances of the sky,
  And in the abyss of brightness dares to span
  The sun's broad circle, rising yet more high,
  In God's magnificent works his will shall scan--
And love and peace shall make their paradise with man.

IX.

  Sit at the feet of history--through the night
  Of years the steps of virtue she shall trace,
  And show the earlier ages, where her sight
  Can pierce the eternal shadows o'er their face;--
  When, from the genial cradle of our race,
  Went forth the tribes of men, their pleasant lot
  To choose, where palm-groves cooled their dwelling-place,
  Or freshening rivers ran; and there forgot
The truth of heaven, and kneeled to gods that heard them not.

X.

  Then waited not the murderer for the night,
  But smote his brother down in the bright day,
  And he who felt the wrong, and had the might,
  His own avenger, girt himself to slay;
  Beside the path the unburied carcass lay;
  The shepherd, by the fountains of the glen,
  Fled, while the robber swept his flock away,
  And slew his babes. The sick, untended then,
Languished in the damp shade, and died afar from men.

XI.

  But misery brought in love--in passion's strife
  Man gave his heart to mercy, pleading long,
  And sought out gentle deeds to gladden life;
  The weak, against the sons of spoil and wrong,
  Banded, and watched their hamlets, and grew strong.
  States rose, and, in the shadow of their might,
  The timid rested. To the reverent throng,
  Grave and time-wrinkled men, with locks all white,
Gave laws, and judged their strifes, and taught the way of right;

XII.

  Till bolder spirits seized the rule, and nailed
  On men the yoke that man should never bear,
  And drove them forth to battle. Lo! unveiled
  The scene of those stern ages! What is there!
  A boundless sea of blood, and the wild air
  Moans with the crimson surges that entomb
  Cities and bannered armies; forms that wear
  The kingly circlet rise, amid the gloom,
O'er the dark wave, and straight are swallowed in its womb.

XIII.

  Those ages have no memory--but they left
  A record in the desert--columns strown
  On the waste sands, and statues fallen and cleft,
  Heaped like a host in battle overthrown;
  Vast ruins, where the mountain's ribs of stone
  Were hewn into a city; streets that spread
  In the dark earth, where never breath has blown
  Of heaven's sweet air, nor foot of man dares tread
The long and perilous ways--the Cities of the Dead:

XIV.

  And tombs of monarchs to the clouds up-piled--
  They perished--but the eternal tombs remain--
  And the black precipice, abrupt and wild,
  Pierced by long toil and hollowed to a fane;--
  Huge piers and frowning forms of gods sustain
  The everlasting arches, dark and wide,
  Like the night-heaven, when clouds are black with rain.
  But idly skill was tasked, and strength was plied,
All was the work of slaves to swell a despot's pride.

XV.

  And Virtue cannot dwell with slaves, nor reign
  O'er those who cower to take a tyrant's yoke;
  She left the down-trod nations in disdain,
  And flew to Greece, when Liberty awoke,
  New-born, amid those glorious vales, and broke
  Sceptre and chain with her fair youthful hands:
  As rocks are shivered in the thunder-stroke.
  And lo! in full-grown strength, an empire stands
Of leagued and rival states, the wonder of the lands.

XVI.

  Oh, Greece! thy flourishing cities were a spoil
  Unto each other; thy hard hand oppressed
  And crushed the helpless; thou didst make thy soil
  Drunk with the blood of those that loved thee best;
  And thou didst drive, from thy unnatural breast,
  Thy just and brave to die in distant climes;
  Earth shuddered at thy deeds, and sighed for rest
  From thine abominations; after times,
That yet shall read thy tale, will tremble at thy crimes.

XVII.

  Yet there was that within thee which has saved
  Thy glory, and redeemed thy blotted name;
  The story of thy better deeds, engraved
  On fame's unmouldering pillar, puts to shame
  Our chiller virtue; the high art to tame
  The whirlwind of the passions was thine own;
  And the pure ray, that from thy bosom came,
  Far over many a land and age has shone,
And mingles with the light that beams from God's own throne;

XVIII.

  And Rome--thy sterner, younger sister, she
  Who awed the world with her imperial frown--
  Rome drew the spirit of her race from thee,--
  The rival of thy shame and thy renown.
  Yet her degenerate children sold the crown
  Of earth's wide kingdoms to a line of slaves;
  Guilt reigned, and we with guilt, and plagues came down,
  Till the north broke its floodgates, and the waves
Whelmed the degraded race, and weltered o'er their graves.

XIX.

  Vainly that ray of brightness from above,
  That shone around the Galilean lake,
  The light of hope, the leading star of love,
  Struggled, the darkness of that day to break;
  Even its own faithless guardians strove to slake,
  In fogs of earth, the pure immortal flame;
  And priestly hands, for Jesus' blessed sake,
  Were red with blood, and charity became,
In that stern war of forms, a mockery and a name.

XX.

  They triumphed, and less bloody rites were kept
  Within the quiet of the convent cell:
  The well-fed inmates pattered prayer, and slept,
  And sinned, and liked their easy penance well.
  Where pleasant was the spot for men to dwell,
  Amid its fair broad lands the abbey lay,
  Sheltering dark orgies that were shame to tell,
  And cowled and barefoot beggars swarmed the way,
All in their convent weeds, of black, and white, and gray.

XXI.

  Oh, sweetly the returning muses' strain
  Swelled over that famed stream, whose gentle tide
  In their bright lap the Etrurian vales detain,
  Sweet, as when winter storms have ceased to chide,
  And all the new-leaved woods, resounding wide,
  Send out wild hymns upon the scented air.
  Lo! to the smiling Arno's classic side
  The emulous nations of the west repair,
And kindle their quenched urns, and drink fresh spirit there.

XXII.

  Still, Heaven deferred the hour ordained to rend
  From saintly rottenness the sacred stole;
  And cowl and worshipped shrine could still defend
  The wretch with felon stains upon his soul;
  And crimes were set to sale, and hard his dole
  Who could not bribe a passage to the skies;
  And vice, beneath the mitre's kind control,
  Sinned gaily on, and grew to giant size,
Shielded by priestly power, and watched by priestly eyes.

XXIII.

  At last the earthquake came--the shock, that hurled
  To dust, in many fragments dashed and strown,
  The throne, whose roots were in another world,
  And whose far-stretching shadow awed our own.
  From many a proud monastic pile, o'erthrown,
  Fear-struck, the hooded inmates rushed and fled;
  The web, that for a thousand years had grown
  O'er prostrate Europe, in that day of dread
Crumbled and fell, as fire dissolves the flaxen thread.

XXIV.

  The spirit of that day is still awake,
  And spreads himself, and shall not sleep again;
  But through the idle mesh of power shall break
  Like billows o'er the Asian monarch's chain;
  Till men are filled with him, and feel how vain,
  Instead of the pure heart and innocent hands,
  Are all the proud and pompous modes to gain
  The smile of heaven;--till a new age expands
Its white and holy wings above the peaceful lands.

XXV.

  For look again on the past years;--behold,
  How like the nightmare's dreams have flown away
  Horrible forms of worship, that, of old,
  Held, o'er the shuddering realms, unquestioned sway:
  See crimes, that feared not once the eye of day,
  Rooted from men, without a name or place:
  See nations blotted out from earth, to pay
  The forfeit of deep guilt;--with glad embrace
The fair disburdened lands welcome a nobler race.

XXVI.

  Thus error's monstrous shapes from earth are driven;
  They fade, they fly--but truth survives their flight;
  Earth has no shades to quench that beam of heaven;
  Each ray that shone, in early time, to light
  The faltering footsteps in the path of right,
  Each gleam of clearer brightness shed to aid
  In man's maturer day his bolder sight,
  All blended, like the rainbow's radiant braid,
Pour yet, and still shall pour, the blaze that cannot fade.

XXVII.

  Late, from this western shore, that morning chased
  The deep and ancient night, that threw its shroud
  O'er the green land of groves, the beautiful waste,
  Nurse of full streams, and lifter-up of proud
  Sky-mingling mountains that o'erlook the cloud.
  Erewhile, where yon gay spires their brightness rear,
  Trees waved, and the brown hunter's shouts were loud
  Amid the forest; and the bounding deer
Fled at the glancing plume, and the gaunt wolf yelled near;

XXVIII.

  And where his willing waves yon bright blue bay
  Sends up, to kiss his decorated brim,
  And cradles, in his soft embrace, the gay
  Young group of grassy islands born of him,
  And crowding nigh, or in the distance dim,
  Lifts the white throng of sails, that bear or bring
  The commerce of the world;--with tawny limb,
  And belt and beads in sunlight glistening,
The savage urged his skiff like wild bird on the wing.

XXIX.

  Then all this youthful paradise around,
  And all the broad and boundless mainland, lay
  Cooled by the interminable wood, that frowned
  O'er mount and vale, where never summer ray
  Glanced, till the strong tornado broke his way
  Through the gray giants of the sylvan wild;
  Yet many a sheltered glade, with blossoms gay,
  Beneath the showery sky and sunshine mild,
Within the shaggy arms of that dark forest smiled.

XXX.

  There stood the Indian hamlet, there the lake
  Spread its blue sheet that flashed with many an oar,
  Where the brown otter plunged him from the brake,
  And the deer drank: as the light gale flew o'er,
  The twinkling maize-field rustled on the shore;
  And while that spot, so wild, and lone, and fair,
  A look of glad and guiltless beauty wore,
  And peace was on the earth and in the air,
The warrior lit the pile, and bound his captive there:

XXXI.

  Not unavenged--the foeman, from the wood,
  Beheld the deed, and when the midnight shade
  Was stillest, gorged his battle-axe with blood;
  All died--the wailing babe--the shrieking maid--
  And in the flood of fire that scathed the glade,
  The roofs went down; but deep the silence grew,
  When on the dewy woods the day-beam played;
  No more the cabin smokes rose wreathed and blue,
And ever, by their lake, lay moored the light canoe.

XXXII.

  Look now abroad--another race has filled
  These populous borders--wide the wood recedes,
  And towns shoot up, and fertile realms are tilled:
  The land is full of harvests and green meads;
  Streams numberless, that many a fountain feeds,
  Shine, disembowered, and give to sun and breeze
  Their virgin waters; the full region leads
  New colonies forth, that toward the western seas
Spread, like a rapid flame among the autumnal trees.

XXXIII.

  Here the free spirit of mankind, at length,
  Throws its last fetters off; and who shall place
  A limit to the giant's unchained strength,
  Or curb his swiftness in the forward race!
  Far, like the cornet's way through infinite space
  Stretches the long untravelled path of light,
  Into the depths of ages: we may trace,
  Distant, the brightening glory of its flight,
Till the receding rays are lost to human sight.

XXXIV

  Europe is given a prey to sterner fates,
  And writhes in shackles; strong the arms that chain
  To earth her struggling multitude of states;
  She too is strong, and might not chafe in vain
  Against them, but might cast to earth the train
  That trample her, and break their iron net.
  Yes, she shall look on brighter days and gain
  The meed of worthier deeds; the moment set
To rescue and raise up, draws near--but is not yet.

XXXV.

  But thou, my country, thou shalt never fall,
  Save with thy children--thy maternal care,
  Thy lavish love, thy blessings showered on all--
  These are thy fetters--seas and stormy air
  Are the wide barrier of thy borders, where,
  Among thy gallant sons that guard thee well,
  Thou laugh'st at enemies: who shall then declare
  The date of thy deep-founded strength, or tell
How happy, in thy lap, the sons of men shall dwell.

The sea is mighty, but a mightier sways
His restless billows. Thou, whose hands have scooped
His boundless gulfs and built his shore, thy breath,
That moved in the beginning o'er his face,
Moves o'er it evermore. The obedient waves
To its strong motion roll, and rise and fall.
Still from that realm of rain thy cloud goes up,
As at the first, to water the great earth,
And keep her valleys green. A hundred realms
Watch its broad shadow warping on the wind,
And in the dropping shower, with gladness hear
Thy promise of the harvest. I look forth
Over the boundless blue, where joyously
The bright crests of innumerable waves
Glance to the sun at once, as when the hands
Of a great multitude are upward flung
In acclamation. I behold the ships
Gliding from cape to cape, from isle to isle,
Or stemming toward far lands, or hastening home
From the old world. It is thy friendly breeze
That bears them, with the riches of the land,
And treasure of dear lives, till, in the port,
The shouting seaman climbs and furls the sail.

  But who shall bide thy tempest, who shall face
The blast that wakes the fury of the sea?
Oh God! thy justice makes the world turn pale,
When on the armed fleet, that royally
Bears down the surges, carrying war, to smite
Some city, or invade some thoughtless realm,
Descends the fierce tornado. The vast hulks
Are whirled like chaff upon the waves; the sails
Fly, rent like webs of gossamer; the masts
Are snapped asunder; downward from the decks,
Downward are slung, into the fathomless gulf,
Their cruel engines; and their hosts, arrayed
In trappings of the battle-field, are whelmed
By whirlpools, or dashed dead upon the rocks.
Then stand the nations still with awe, and pause,
A moment, from the bloody work of war.

  These restless surges eat away the shores
Of earth's old continents; the fertile plain
Welters in shallows, headlands crumble down,
And the tide drifts the sea-sand in the streets
Of the drowned city. Thou, meanwhile, afar
In the green chambers of the middle sea,
Where broadest spread the waters and the line
Sinks deepest, while no eye beholds thy work,
Creator! thou dost teach the coral worm
To lay his mighty reefs. From age to age,
He builds beneath the waters, till, at last,
His bulwarks overtop the brine, and check
The long wave rolling from the southern pole
To break upon Japan. Thou bid'st the fires,
That smoulder under ocean, heave on high
The new-made mountains, and uplift their peaks,
A place of refuge for the storm-driven bird.
The birds and wafting billows plant the rifts
With herb and tree; sweet fountains gush; sweet airs
Ripple the living lakes that, fringed with flowers,
Are gathered in the hollows. Thou dost look
On thy creation and pronounce it good.
Its valleys, glorious with their summer green,
Praise thee in silent beauty, and its woods,
Swept by the murmuring winds of ocean, join
The murmuring shores in a perpetual hymn.

Spirit that breathest through my lattice, thou
  That cool'st the twilight of the sultry day,
Gratefully flows thy freshness round my brow:
  Thou hast been out upon the deep at play,
Riding all day the wild blue waves till now,
  Roughening their crests, and scattering high their spray
And swelling the white sail. I welcome thee
To the scorched land, thou wanderer of the sea!

Nor I alone--a thousand bosoms round
  Inhale thee in the fulness of delight;
And languid forms rise up, and pulses bound
  Livelier, at coming of the wind of night;
And, languishing to hear thy grateful sound,
  Lies the vast inland stretched beyond the sight.
Go forth into the gathering shade; go forth,
God's blessing breathed upon the fainting earth!

Go, rock the little wood-bird in his nest,
  Curl the still waters, bright with stars, and rouse
The wide old wood from his majestic rest,
  Summoning from the innumerable boughs
The strange, deep harmonies that haunt his breast:
  Pleasant shall be thy way where meekly bows
The shutting flower, and darkling waters pass,
And where the o'ershadowing branches sweep the grass.

The faint old man shall lean his silver head
  To feel thee; thou shalt kiss the child asleep,
And dry the moistened curls that overspread
  His temples, while his breathing grows more deep:
And they who stand about the sick man's bed,
  Shall joy to listen to thy distant sweep,
And softly part his curtains to allow
Thy visit, grateful to his burning brow.

Go--but the circle of eternal change,
  Which is the life of nature, shall restore,
With sounds and scents from all thy mighty range
  Thee to thy birthplace of the deep once more;
Sweet odours in the sea-air, sweet and strange,
  Shall tell the home-sick mariner of the shore;
And, listening to thy murmur, he shall deem
He hears the rustling leaf and running stream.

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
  When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
  And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
  And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gayly chirps by his den,
  And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space,
  And their shadows at play on the bright green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
  And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
  There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
  And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
  On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
  Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

I broke the spell that held me long,
The dear, dear witchery of song.
I said, the poet's idle lore
Shall waste my prime of years no more,
For Poetry, though heavenly born,
Consorts with poverty and scorn.

I broke the spell--nor deemed its power
Could fetter me another hour.
Ah, thoughtless! how could I forget
Its causes were around me yet?
For wheresoe'er I looked, the while,
Was nature's everlasting smile.

Still came and lingered on my sight
Of flowers and streams the bloom and light,
And glory of the stars and sun;--
And these and poetry are one.
They, ere the world had held me long,
Recalled me to the love of song.

These are the gardens of the Desert, these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no name--
The Prairies. I behold them for the first,
And my heart swells, while the dilated sight
Takes in the encircling vastness. Lo! they stretch
In airy undulations, far away,
As if the ocean, in his gentlest swell,
Stood still, with all his rounded billows fixed,
And motionless for ever.--Motionless?--
No--they are all unchained again. The clouds
Sweep over with their shadows, and, beneath,
The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye;
Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase
The sunny ridges. Breezes of the South!
Who toss the golden and the flame-like flowers,
And pass the prairie-hawk that, poised on high,
Flaps his broad wings, yet moves not--ye have played
Among the palms of Mexico and vines
Of Texas, and have crisped the limpid brooks
That from the fountains of Sonora glide
Into the calm Pacific--have ye fanned
A nobler or a lovelier scene than this?
Man hath no part in all this glorious work:
The hand that built the firmament hath heaved
And smoothed these verdant swells, and sown their slopes
With herbage, planted them with island groves,
And hedged them round with forests. Fitting floor
For this magnificent temple of the sky--
With flowers whose glory and whose multitude
Rival the constellations! The great heavens
Seem to stoop down upon the scene in love,--
A nearer vault, and of a tenderer blue,
Than that which bends above the eastern hills.

  As o'er the verdant waste I guide my steed,
Among the high rank grass that sweeps his sides
The hollow beating of his footstep seems
A sacrilegious sound. I think of those
Upon whose rest he tramples. Are they here--
The dead of other days?--and did the dust
Of these fair solitudes once stir with life
And burn with passion? Let the mighty mounds
That overlook the rivers, or that rise
In the dim forest crowded with old oaks,
Answer. A race, that long has passed away,
Built them;--a disciplined and populous race
Heaped, with long toil, the earth, while yet the Greek
Was hewing the Pentelicus to forms
Of symmetry, and rearing on its rock
The glittering Parthenon. These ample fields
Nourished their harvests, here their herds were fed,
When haply by their stalls the bison lowed,
And bowed his maned shoulder to the yoke.
All day this desert murmured with their toils,
Till twilight blushed, and lovers walked, and wooed
In a forgotten language, and old tunes,
From instruments of unremembered form,
Gave the soft winds a voice. The red man came--
The roaming hunter tribes, warlike and fierce,
And the mound-builders vanished from the earth.
The solitude of centuries untold
Has settled where they dwelt. The prairie-wolf
Hunts in their meadows, and his fresh-dug den
Yawns by my path. The gopher mines the ground
Where stood their swarming cities. All is gone--
All--save the piles of earth that hold their bones--
The platforms where they worshipped unknown gods--
The barriers which they builded from the soil
To keep the foe at bay--till o'er the walls
The wild beleaguerers broke, and, one by one,
The strongholds of the plain were forced, and heaped
With corpses. The brown vultures of the wood
Flocked to those vast uncovered sepulchres,
And sat, unscared and silent, at their feast.
Haply some solitary fugitive,
Lurking in marsh and forest, till the sense
Of desolation and of fear became
Bitterer than death, yielded himself to die.
Man's better nature triumphed then. Kind words
Welcomed and soothed him; the rude conquerors
Seated the captive with their chiefs; he chose
A bride among their maidens, and at length
Seemed to forget,--yet ne'er forgot,--the wife
Of his first love, and her sweet little ones,
Butchered, amid their shrieks, with all his race.

  Thus change the forms of being. Thus arise
Races of living things, glorious in strength,
And perish, as the quickening breath of God
Fills them, or is withdrawn. The red man, too,
Has left the blooming wilds he ranged so long,
And, nearer to the Rocky Mountains, sought
A wilder hunting-ground. The beaver builds
No longer by these streams, but far away,
On waters whose blue surface ne'er gave back
The white man's face--among Missouri's springs,
And pools whose issues swell the Oregan,
He rears his little Venice. In these plains
The bison feeds no more. Twice twenty leagues
Beyond remotest smoke of hunter's camp,
Roams the majestic brute, in herds that shake
The earth with thundering steps--yet here I meet
His ancient footprints stamped beside the pool.

  Still this great solitude is quick with life.
Myriads of insects, gaudy as the flowers
They flutter over, gentle quadrupeds,
And birds, that scarce have learned the fear of man,
Are here, and sliding reptiles of the ground,
Startlingly beautiful. The graceful deer
Bounds to the wood at my approach. The bee,
A more adventurous colonist than man,
With whom he came across the eastern deep,
Fills the savannas with his murmurings,
And hides his sweets, as in the golden age,
Within the hollow oak. I listen long
To his domestic hum, and think I hear
The sound of that advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts. From the ground
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of herds
Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain
Over the dark-brown furrows. All at once
A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks my dream,
And I am in the wilderness alone.

Alexis calls me cruel;
  The rifted crags that hold
The gathered ice of winter,
  He says, are not more cold.

When even the very blossoms
  Around the fountain's brim,
And forest walks, can witness
  The love I bear to him.

I would that I could utter
  My feelings without shame;
And tell him how I love him,
  Nor wrong my virgin fame.

Alas! to seize the moment
  When heart inclines to heart,
And press a suit with passion,
  Is not a woman's part.

If man comes not to gather
  The roses where they stand,
They fade among their foliage;
  They cannot seek his hand.

I gazed upon the glorious sky
  And the green mountains round,
And thought that when I came to lie
  Within the silent ground,
'Twere pleasant, that in flowery June,
When brooks send up a cheerful tune,
  And groves a joyous sound,
The sexton's hand, my grave to make,
The rich, green mountain turf should break.

A cell within the frozen mould,
  A coffin borne through sleet,
And icy clods above it rolled,
  While fierce the tempests beat--
Away!--I will not think of these--
Blue be the sky and soft the breeze,
  Earth green beneath the feet,
And be the damp mould gently pressed
Into my narrow place of rest.

There through the long, long summer hours,
  The golden light should lie,
And thick young herbs and groups of flowers
  Stand in their beauty by.
The oriole should build and tell
His love-tale close beside my cell;
  The idle butterfly
Should rest him there, and there be heard
The housewife bee and humming-bird.

And what if cheerful shouts at noon
  Come, from the village sent,
Or songs of maids, beneath the moon
  With fairy laughter blent?
And what if, in the evening light,
Betrothed lovers walk in sight
  Of my low monument?
I would the lovely scene around
Might know no sadder sight nor sound.

I know, I know I should not see
  The season's glorious show,
Nor would its brightness shine for me,
  Nor its wild music flow;
But if, around my place of sleep,
The friends I love should come to weep,
  They might not haste to go.
Soft airs, and song, and light, and bloom,
Should keep them lingering by my tomb.

These to their softened hearts should bear
  The thought of what has been,
And speak of one who cannot share
  The gladness of the scene;
Whose part, in all the pomp that fills
The circuit of the summer hills,
  Is--that his grave is green;
And deeply would their hearts rejoice
To hear again his living voice.

As shadows cast by cloud and sun
Flit o'er the summer grass,
So, in thy sight, Almighty One,
Earth's generations pass.

And while the years, an endless host,
Come pressing swiftly on,
The brightest names that earth can boast
Just glisten and are gone.

Yet doth the Star of Bethlehem shed
A lustre pure and sweet,
And still it leads, as once it led,
To the Messiah's feet.

O Father, may that holy star
Grow every year more bright,
And send its glorious beams afar
To fill the world with light.

Thou blossom bright with autumn dew,
And colored with the heaven's own blue,
That openest when the quiet light
Succeeds the keen and frosty night.

Thou comest not when violets lean
O'er wandering brooks and springs unseen,
Or columbines, in purple dressed,
Nod o'er the ground-bird's hidden nest.

Thou waitest late and com'st alone,
When woods are bare and birds are flown,
And frosts and shortening days portend
The aged year is near his end.

Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye
Look through its fringes to the sky,
Blue--blue--as if that sky let fall
A flower from its cerulean wall.

I would that thus, when I shall see
The hour of death draw near to me,
Hope, blossoming within my heart,
May look to heaven as I depart.

The quiet August noon has come,
  A slumberous silence fills the sky,
The fields are still, the woods are dumb,
  In glassy sleep the waters lie.

And mark yon soft white clouds that rest
  Above our vale, a moveless throng;
The cattle on the mountain's breast
  Enjoy the grateful shadow long.

Oh, how unlike those merry hours
  In early June when Earth laughs out,
When the fresh winds make love to flowers,
  And woodlands sing and waters shout.

When in the grass sweet voices talk,
  And strains of tiny music swell
From every moss-cup of the rock,
  From every nameless blossom's bell.

But now a joy too deep for sound,
  A peace no other season knows,
Hushes the heavens and wraps the ground,
  The blessing of supreme repose.

Away! I will not be, to-day,
  The only slave of toil and care.
Away from desk and dust! away!
  I'll be as idle as the air.

Beneath the open sky abroad,
  Among the plants and breathing things,
The sinless, peaceful works of God,
  I'll share the calm the season brings.

Come, thou, in whose soft eyes I see
  The gentle meanings of thy heart,
One day amid the woods with me,
  From men and all their cares apart.

And where, upon the meadow's breast,
  The shadow of the thicket lies,
The blue wild flowers thou gatherest
  Shall glow yet deeper near thine eyes.

Come, and when mid the calm profound,
  I turn, those gentle eyes to seek,
They, like the lovely landscape round,
  Of innocence and peace shall speak.

Rest here, beneath the unmoving shade,
  And on the silent valleys gaze,
Winding and widening, till they fade
  In yon soft ring of summer haze.

The village trees their summits rear
  Still as its spire, and yonder flock
At rest in those calm fields appear
  As chiselled from the lifeless rock.

One tranquil mount the scene o'erlooks--
  There the hushed winds their sabbath keep
While a near hum from bees and brooks
  Comes faintly like the breath of sleep.

Well may the gazer deem that when,
  Worn with the struggle and the strife,
And heart-sick at the wrongs of men,
  The good forsakes the scene of life;

Like this deep quiet that, awhile,
  Lingers the lovely landscape o'er,
Shall be the peace whose holy smile
  Welcomes him to a happier shore.

Merrily swinging on briar and weed,
  Near to the nest of his little dame,
Over the mountain-side or mead,
  Robert of Lincoln is telling his name.
        Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
        Spink, spank, spink,
Snug and safe is that nest of ours,
Hidden among the summer flowers.
        Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln is gayly dressed,
  Wearing a bright, black wedding-coat;
White are his shoulders, and white his crest,
  Hear him call in his merry note,
        Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
        Spink, spank, spink,
Look what a nice, new coat is mine;
Sure there was never a bird so fine.
        Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln's Quaker wife,
  Pretty and quiet, with plain brown wings,
Passing at home a patient life,
  Broods in the grass while her husband sings:
        Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
        Spink, spank, spink,
Brood, kind creature, you need not fear
Thieves and robbers while I am here.
        Chee, chee, chee.

Modest and shy as a nun is she;
  One weak chirp is her only note;
Braggart, and prince of braggarts is he,
  Pouring boasts from his little throat,
        Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
        Spink, spank, spink,
Never was I afraid of man,
Catch me, cowardly knaves, if you can.
        Chee, chee, chee.

Six white eggs on a bed of hay,
  Flecked with purple, a pretty sight:
There as the mother sits all day,
  Robert is singing with all his might,
    Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
    Spink, spank, spink,
Nice good wife, that never goes out,
Keeping house while I frolic about.
    Chee, chee, chee.

Soon as the little ones chip the shell,
  Six wide mouths are open for food;
Robert of Lincoln bestirs him well,
  Gathering seeds for the hungry brood:
    Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
    Spink, spank, spink,
This new life is likely to be
Hard for a gay young fellow like me.
    Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln at length is made
  Sober with work, and silent with care,
Off is his holiday garment laid,
  Half forgotten that merry air:
    Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
    Spink, spank, spink,
Nobody knows but my mate and I,
Where our nest and our nestlings lie,
    Chee, chee, chee.

Summer wanes; the children are grown;
  Fun and frolic no more he knows,
Robert of Lincoln's a humdrum drone;
  Off he flies, and we sing as he goes,
        Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
        Spink, spank, spink,
When you can pipe that merry old strain,
Robert of Lincoln, come back again.
        Chee, chee, chee.

 
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