18 poems and songs by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

POEMS
To a Waterfowl
The Death of the Flowers
The Journey of Life
A Day-Dream
Our Fellow-Worshippers

SONGS
Song
The Hunter's Serenade
The Siesta
The May Sun Sheds an Amber Light
These Prairies Glow With Flowers
He Hath Put All Things Under His Feet

SONNETS
Consumption
Mutation
November
October
Midsummer
William Tell
To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe

To a Waterfowl

Whither, midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?

Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly seen against the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.

Seek'st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chafed ocean-side?

There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast
The desert and illimitable air
Lone wandering, but not lost.

All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.

And soon that toil shall end;
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,
Soon, o'er thy sheltered nest.

Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply has sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.

He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.

The Death of the Flowers

The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sere.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit's tread;
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.

Where are the flowers, the fair young flowers, that lately sprang and stood
In brighter light and softer airs, a beauteous sisterhood?
Alas! they all are in their graves, the gentle race of flowers
Are lying in their lowly beds, with the fair and good of ours.
The rain is falling where they lie, but the cold November rain
Calls not from out the gloomy earth the lovely ones again.

The wind-flower and the violet, they perished long ago,
And the brier-rose and the orchis died amid the summer glow;
But on the hills the golden-rod, and the aster in the wood,
And the yellow sun-flower by the brook in autumn beauty stood,
Till fell the frost from the clear cold heaven, as falls the plague on men,
And the brightness of their smile was gone, from upland, glade, and glen.

And now, when comes the calm mild day, as still such days will come,
To call the squirrel and the bee from out their winter home;
When the sound of dropping nuts is heard, though all the trees are still,
And twinkle in the smokey light the waters of the rill,
The south wind searches for the flowers whose fragrance late he bore,
And sighs to find them in the wood and by the stream no more.

And then I think of one who in her youthful beauty died,
The fair meek blossom that grew up and faded by my side.
In the cold moist earth we laid her, when the forests cast the leaf,
And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief:
Yet not unmeet it was that one, like that young friend of ours,
So gentle and so beautiful, should perish with the flowers.

The Journey of Life

Beneath the waning moon I walk at night,
And muse on human life for all around
Are dim uncertain shapes that cheat the sight,
And pitfalls lurk in shade along the ground,
And broken gleams of brightness, here and there,
Glance through, and leave unwarmed the death-like air.

The trampled earth returns a sound of fear
A hollow sound, as if I walked on tombs;
And lights, that tell of cheerful homes, appear
Far off, and die like hope amid the glooms.
A mournful wind across the landscape flies,
And the wide atmosphere is full of sighs.

And I, with faltering footsteps, journey on,
Watching the stars that roll the hours away,
Till the faint light that guides me now is gone,
And, like another life, the glorious day
Shall open o'er me from the empyreal height,
With warmth, and certainty, and boundless light.

A Day-Dream

A day-dream by the dark-blue deep;
Was it a dream, or something more?
I sat where Posilippo's steep,
With its gray shelves, o'erhung the shore.

On ruined Roman walls around
The poppy flaunted, for 'twas May;
And at my feet, with gentle sound,
Broke the light billows of the bay.

I sat and watched the eternal flow
Of those smooth billows toward the shore,
While quivering lines of light below
Ran with them on the ocean-floor:

Till, from the deep, there seemed to rise
White arms upon the waves outspread,
Young faces, lit with soft blue eyes,
And smooth, round cheeks, just touched with red.

Their long, fair tresses, tinged with gold,
Lay floating on the ocean-streams,
And such their brows as bards behold
Love-stricken bards in morning dreams.

Then moved their coral lips; a strain
Low, sweet and sorrowful, I heard,
As if the murmurs of the main
Were shaped to syllable and word.

"The sight thou dimly dost behold,
Oh, stranger from a distant sky!
Was often, in the days of old,
Seen by the clear, believing eye.

"Then danced we on the wrinkled sand,
Sat in cool caverns by the sea,
Or wandered up the bloomy land,
To talk with shepherds on the lea.

"To us, in storms, the seaman prayed,
And where our rustic altars stood,
His little children came and laid
The fairest flowers of field and wood.

"Oh woe, a long, unending woe!
For who shall knit the ties again
That linked the sea-nymphs, long ago,
In kindly fellowship with men?

"Earth rears her flowers for us no more;
A half-remembered dream are we;
Unseen we haunt the sunny shore,
And swim, unmarked, the glassy sea.

"And we have none to love or aid,
But wander, heedless of mankind,
With shadows by the cloud-rack made,
With moaning wave and sighing wind.

"Yet sometimes, as in elder days,
We come before the painter's eye,
Or fix the sculptor's eager gaze,
With no profaner witness nigh.

"And then the words of men grow warm
With praise and wonder, asking where
The artist saw the perfect form
He copied forth in lines so fair."

As thus they spoke, with wavering sweep
Floated the graceful forms away;
Dimmer and dimmer, through the deep,
I saw the white arms gleam and play.

Fainter and fainter, on mine ear,
Fell the soft accents of their speech,
Till I, at last, could only hear
The waves run murmuring up the beach.

Our Fellow-Worshippers

Think not that thou and I
Are here the only worshippers to day,
Beneath this glorious sky,
Mid the soft airs that o'er the meadows play;
These airs, whose breathing stirs
The fresh grass, are our fellow-worshippers.

See, as they pass, they swing
The censers of a thousand flowers that bend
O'er the young herbs of spring,
And the sweet odors like a prayer ascend,
While, passing thence, the breeze
Wakes the grave anthem of the forest-trees.

It is as when, of yore,
The Hebrew poet called the mountain-steeps,
The forests, and the shore
Of ocean, and the mighty mid-sea deeps,
And stormy wind, to raise
A universal symphony of praise.

For lo! the hills around,
Gay in their early green, give silent thanks;
And, with a joyous sound,
The streamlet's huddling waters kiss their banks,
And, from its sunny nooks,
To heaven, with grateful smiles, the valley looks.

The blossomed apple-tree,
Among its flowery tufts, on every spray,
Offers the wandering bee
A fragrant chapel for his matin-lay;
And a soft bass is heard
From the quick pinions of the humming-bird.

Haply for who can tell?
Aerial beings, from the world unseen,
Haunting the sunny dell,
Or slowly floating o'er the flowery green,
May join our worship here,
With harmonies too fine for mortal ear.

Song

Dost thou idly ask to hear
At what gentle seasons
Nymphs relent, when lovers near
Press the tenderest reasons?
Ah, they give their faith too oft
To the careless wooer;
Maidens' hearts are always soft:
Would that men's were truer!

Woo the fair one when around
Early birds are singing;
When, o'er all the fragrant ground,
Early herbs are springing:
When the brookside, bank, and grove,
All with blossoms laden,
Shine with beauty, breathe of love,
Woo the timid maiden.

Woo her when, with rosy blush,
Summer eve is sinking;
When, on rills that softly gush,
Stars are softly winking;
When through boughs that knit the bower
Moonlight gleams are stealing;
Woo her, till the gentle hour
Wake a gentler feeling.

Woo her when autumnal dyes
Tinge the woody mountain;
When the dropping foliage lies
In the weedy fountain;
Let the scene, that tells how fast
Youth is passing over,
Warn her, ere her bloom is past,
To secure her lover.

Woo her when the north winds call
At the lattice nightly;
When, within the cheerful hall,
Blaze the fagots brightly;
While the wintry tempest round
Sweeps the landscape hoary,
Sweeter in her ear shall sound
Love's delightful story.

1999 tune by John McDonnell

The Hunter's Serenade

undated musical setting by E. Ives Junr.
MIDI sequence of the Ives setting
Thy bower is finished, fairest!
Fit bower for hunter's bride,
Where old woods overshadow
The green savanna's side.
I've wandered long, and wandered far,
And never have I met,
In all this lovely Western land,
A spot so lovely yet.
But I shall think it fairer
When thou art come to bless,
With thy sweet smile and silver voice,
Its silent loveliness.

For thee the wild-grape glistens
On sunny knoll and tree,
The slim papaya ripens
Its yellow fruit for thee.
For thee the duck, on glassy stream,
The prairie-fowl shall die;
My rifle for thy feast shall bring
The wild-swan from the sky.
The forest's leaping panther,
Fierce, beautiful, and fleet,
Shall yield his spotted hide to be
A carpet for thy feet.

I know, for thou hast told me,
Thy maiden love of flowers;
Ah, those that deck thy gardens
Are pale compared with ours.
When our wide woods and mighty lawns
Bloom to the April skies,
The earth has no more gorgeous sight
To show to human eyes.
In meadows red with blossoms,
All summer long, the bee
Murmurs, and loads his yellow thighs,
For thee, my love, and me.

Or wouldst thou gaze at tokens
Of ages long ago
Our old oaks stream with mosses,
And sprout with mistletoe;
And mighty vines, like serpents, climb
The giant sycamore;
And trunks, o'erthrown for centuries,
Cumber the forest floor;
And in the great savanna,
The solitary mound,
Built by the elder world, o'erlooks
The loneliness around.

Come, thou hast not forgotten
Thy pledge and promise quite,
With many blushes murmured,
Beneath the evening light.
Come, the young violets crowd my door,
Thy earliest look to win,
And at my silent window-sill
The jessamine peeps in.
All day the red-bird warbles
Upon the mulberry near,
And the night-sparrow trills her song
All night, with none to hear.

The Siesta

FROM THE SPANISH
Vientecico murmurador,
Que lo gozas y andas todo, etc.

1885 musical setting by Carl L. Mayr
MIDI sequence of the Mayr setting

1885 musical setting by S. A. Sargent
MIDI sequence of the Sargent setting

Airs, that wander and murmur round,
Bearing delight where'er ye blow!
Make in the elms a lulling sound,
While my lady sleeps in the shade below.

Lighten and lengthen her noonday rest,
Till the heat of the noonday sun is o'er.
Sweet be her slumbers! though in my breast
The pain she has waked may slumber no more.

Breathing soft from the blue profound,
Bearing delight where'er ye blow,
Make in the elms a lulling sound,
While my lady sleeps in the shade below.

Airs! that over the bending boughs,
And under the shade of pendent leaves,
Murmur soft, like my timid vows
Or the secret sighs my bosom heaves

Gently sweeping the grassy ground,
Bearing delight where'er ye blow,
Make in the elms a lulling sound,
While my lady sleeps in the shade below.

The May Sun Sheds an Amber Light

The May sun sheds an amber light
On new-leaved woods and lawns between;
But she who, with a smile more bright,
Welcomed and watched the springing green,
Is in her grave,
Low in her grave.

The fair white blossoms of the wood
In groups beside the pathway stand;
But one, the gentle and the good,
Who cropped them with a fairer hand,
Is in her grave,
Low in her grave.

Upon the woodland's morning airs
The small birds' mingled notes are flung;
But she, whose voice, more sweet than theirs,
Once bade me listen while they sung,
Is in her grave,
Low in her grave.

That music of the early year
Brings tears of anguish to my eyes;
My heart aches when the flowers appear;
For then I think of her who lies
Within her grave,
Low in her grave.

1852 musical setting by William R. Dempster
MIDI sequence of the Dempster setting

1877 musical setting by Fred R. Doerinckel
MIDI sequence of the Doerinckel setting

1999 tune by John McDonnell

These Prairies Glow With Flowers

These prairies glow with flowers,
These groves are tall and fair,
The sweet lay of the mocking-bird
Rings in the morning air;
And yet I pine to see
My native hill once more,
And hear the sparrow's friendly chirp
Beside its cottage-door.

And he, for whom I left
My native hill and brook,
Alas, I sometimes think I trace
A coldness in his look!
If I have lost his love,
I know my heart will break;
And haply, they I left for him
Will sorrow for my sake.

1849 musical setting by J. E. Kochersperger
MIDI sequence of the Kochersperger setting

1885 musical setting by Carl L. Mayr
MIDI sequence of the Mayr setting

1998 tune by John McDonnell

He Hath Put All Things Under His Feet

O North, with all thy vales of green!
O South, with all thy palms!
From peopled towns and fields between
Uplift the voice of psalms;
Raise, ancient East, the anthem high,
And let the youthful West reply.

Lo! in the clouds of heaven appears
God's well-beloved Son;
He brings a train of brighter years:
His kingdom is begun.
He comes, a guilty world to bless
With mercy, truth, and righteousness.

Oh, Father! haste the promised hour
When, at His feet, shall lie
All rule, authority, and power,
Beneath the ample sky;
When He shall reign from pole to pole,
The lord of every human soul;

When all shall heed the words He said
Amid their daily cares,
And, by the loving life He led,
Shall seek to pattern theirs;
And He, who conquered Death, shall win
The nobler conquest over Sin.

Consumption

Ay, thou art for the grave; thy glances shine
Too brightly to shine long; another Spring
Shall deck her for men's eyes but not for thine
Sealed in a sleep which knows no wakening.
The fields for thee have no medicinal leaf,
And the vexed ore no mineral of power;
And they who love thee wait in anxious grief
Till the slow plague shall bring the fatal hour.
Glide softly to thy rest then; Death should come
Gently, to one of gentle mould like thee,
As light winds wandering through groves of bloom
Detach the delicate blossom from the tree.
Close thy sweet eyes, calmly, and without pain;
And we will trust in God to see thee yet again.

Mutation

They talk of short-lived pleasure be it so
Pain dies as quickly: stern , hard-featured pain
Expires, and lets her weary prisoner go.
The fiercest agonies have shortest reign;
And after dreams of horror, comes again
The welcome morning with its rays of peace.
Oblivion, softly wiping out the stain,
Makes the strong secret pangs of shame to cease:
Remorse is virtue's root; its fair increase
Are fruits of innocence and blessedness:
Thus joy, o'erborne and bound, doth still release
His young limbs from the chains that round him press.
Weep not that the world changes did it keep
A stable, changeless state, 'twere cause indeed to weep.

November

Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!
One mellow smile through the soft vapory air,
Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds run,
Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare.
One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,
And the dark rocks whose summer wreathes are cast,
And the blue gentian-flower, that, in the breeze,
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.
Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee
Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way,
The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,
And man delight to linger in thy ray.
Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear
The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.

October

Ay, thou art welcome, heaven's delicious breath!
When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf,
And suns grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief,
And the year smiles as it draws near its death.
Wind of the sunny south! oh, still delay
In the gay woods and in the golden air,
Like to a good old age released from care,
Journeying, in long serenity, away.
In such a bright, late quiet, would that I
Might wear out life like thee, mid bowers and brooks,
And, dearer yet, the sunshine of kind looks,
And music of kind voices ever nigh;
And when my last sand twinkled in the glass,
Pass silently from men, as thou dost pass.

Midsummer

A power is on the earth and in the air
From which the vital spirit shrinks afraid,
And shelters him, in nooks of deepest shade,
From the hot steam and from the fiery glare.
Look forth upon the earth her thousand plants
Are smitten; even the dark sun-loving maize
Faints in the field beneath the torrid blaze;
The herd beside the shaded fountain pants;
For life is driven from all the landscape brown;
The bird has sought his tree, the snake his den,
The trout floats dead in the hot stream, and men
Drop by the sun-stroke in the populous town;
As if the Day of Fire had dawned, and sent
Its deadly breath into the firmament.


The statue is "William Tell" (1895) by Richard Kissling, at
Altdorf, Switzerland, depicting William and his son Walter.

William Tell

Chains may subdue the feeble spirit, but thee,
TELL, of the iron heart! they could not tame!
For thou wert of the mountains; they proclaim
The everlasting creed of liberty.
That creed is written on the untrampled snow,
Thundered by torrents which no power can hold,
Save that of God, when He sends forth His cold,
And breathed by winds that through the free heaven blow.
Thou, while thy prison-walls were dark around,
Didst meditate the lesson Nature taught,
And to thy brief captivity was brought
A vision of thy Switzerland unbound.
The bitter cup they mingled, strengthened thee
For the great work to set thy country free.


The painting is "Kindred Spirits" (1849) by Asher Durand,
depicting William Cullen Bryant, the poet, and Thomas Cole,
the painter, in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe

Thine eyes shall see the light of distant skies;
Yet, COLE! thy heart shall bear to Europe's strand
A living image of our own bright land,
Such as upon thy 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.

landzastanza