To him who in the love of Nature holdsCommunion with her visible forms, she speaksA various language; for his gayer hoursShe has a voice of gladness, and a smileAnd eloquence of beauty, and she glidesInto his darker musings, with a mildAnd healing sympathy, that steals awayTheir sharpness, ere he is aware….William Cullen Bryant – Thanatoposis – Excerpt
by William Cullen Bryant
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.
William Cullen Bryant was a worthy tradesman in the business of letters as a journalist and writer, carving out a small place in American Literature. Not as celebrated or innovative as other poets of his generation like Wordsworth or Whitman, Bryant toiled at his craft. He worked as a journalist, then editor, then part owner of the New York Evening Post, a paper founded by Alexander Hamilton. Bryant was a long time advocate for organized labor and a consistent critic of Thomas Jefferson, he would go on to be a fierce supporter of Abraham Lincoln and a progressive voice for change.
Bryant’s poetry is largely focused on the beauty of nature and our appreciation of our place in the natural world. I appreciate his rhyming schemes and word play, use of rhythm and the workmanship in some of his shorter poems. Thanatoposis, his most famous poem, feels a bit outdated, but there are still some beautiful lines. Here’s a clever bit of animation to bring it to life.
I Broke The Spell That Held Me Long
by William Cullen Bryant
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.