Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

loss of a beloved sister who died in her twenty-second

year:

The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,

Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and

sere...

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.

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.

He calls one of his poems "The Past." He sees all of earth's treasures sooner or later swallowed up by time. But, personifying the past, he writes:

Thine for a space are they

Yet shalt thou yield thy treasures up at last;
Thy gates shall yet give way,

Thy bolts shall fall, inexorable Past!

All that of good and fair

Has gone into thy womb from earliest time,

Shall then come forth to wear

The glory and the beauty of its prime.

They have not perished-no!

Kind words, remembered voices once so sweet,
Smiles, radiant long ago,

And features, the great soul's apparent seat.

FILIAL PIETY

All shall come back; each tie

Of pure affection shall be knit again;
Alone shall Evil die,

And Sorrow dwell a prisoner in thy reign.

And then shall I behold

Him, by whose kind paternal side I sprung,

And her, who, still and cold,

Fills the next grave-the beautiful and young.

4I

One of Bryant's noblest traits was his filial piety, the love for parents and for kindred, which many waters could not quench nor the floods drown, and which the lapse of time and the separation of death only intensified and exalted. He cannot view the glory of "June," without thinking of the friends who will visit his 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.

Rest, therefore, thou

Whose early guidance trained my infant steps-
Rest, in the bosom of God, till the brief sleep

Of death is over, and a happier life

Shall dawn to waken thine insensible dust."

In “The Indian Girl's Lament," the bereaved maiden comforts her soul with the thought that her lover will yet be hers:

"Hymn to Death."

E

42

66

THE FRINGED GENTIAN

And thou dost wait and watch to meet
My spirit sent to join the blessed,
And, wondering what detains my feet
From that bright land of rest,

Dost seem, in every sound, to hear
The rustling of my footsteps near.

"The Fringed Gentian" suggests to Bryant an old man's departure from this earthly life:

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 Old Man's Funeral" is a poem in which Bryant might seem to be describing his own end:

Why weep ye then for him, who, having won
The bound of man's appointed years, at last,
Life's blessings all enjoyed, life's labors done,
Serenely to his final rest has passed;
While the soft memory of his virtues, yet,

Lingers like twilight hues, when the bright sun is set.

His youth was innocent; his riper age

Marked with some act of goodness every day;
And watched by eyes that loved him, calm and sage,
Faded his late declining years away.

Meekly he gave his being up, and went

To share the holy rest that waits a life well spent.

IMMORTAL HOPE

43

"The Journey of Life" ends with a stanza of immortal hope:

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.

There is a "Paradise of Tears":

There every heart rejoins its kindred heart;
There, in a long embrace that none may part,
Fulfilment meets desire, and that fair shore
Beholds its dwellers happy evermore.

"And I," he said, "shall sleep ere long;
These fading gleams will soon be gone;
Shall sleep to rise refreshed and strong

In the bright day that yet will dawn." 10

"The Flood of Years" will bring at length the consummation of all our hopes:

Old sorrows are forgotten now,

Or but remembered to make sweet the hour.
That overpays them; wounded hearts that bled
Or broke are healed forever. In the room
Of this grief-shadowed present, there shall be
A Present in whose reign no grief shall gnaw

The heart, and never shall a tender tie

Be broken; in whose reign the eternal Change,
That waits on growth and action, shall proceed
With everlasting Concord hand in hand.

It must be acknowledged that this earliest of our American poets had his limitations. He had not the

10" The Two Travellers."

44

[ocr errors]

BRYANT'S LIMITATIONS

breadth of the great masters of his art. Science and philosophy did not interest him, as they interested Tennyson. The complexity of human nature is not depicted in his verse, as we find it depicted by Browning. A certain narrowness of range characterizes all This work. He his work. He is descriptive and meditative, but never lyric or dramatic. There is an ever-recurring remembrance of death and the grave. Critics have debated the question how a youth of seventeen could have chosen "Thanatopsis" for a subject. It is even more remarkable that the poetical writing of after years I still dealt with this as its central theme. Dr. William C. Gannett, with his minute knowledge of literary history, has suggested an explanation both plausible and interesting. The first five years of Bryant's life were spent in a log house whose windows looked across the road upon the stone-walled village burying-ground. The child's earliest impressions of the world were connected with man's mortality. Puritan training traced this mortality to an original apostasy of the race from God, and to the penalty of a broken law. The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts, and Bryant never outgrew the somberness of this early view of the universe.

Jean Paul has said that the melancholy of youth is the veil which a kind Providence throws over the faces of those who are to climb the dazzling Alpine heights of success and fame. But it surely belongs to manhood to look with unveiled face upon the realities of existence. The meagerness of Bryant's schooling prevented his emancipation. If he had gone to Yale, as he had hoped to do, association with his equals and

« PreviousContinue »