William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)
|Bryant, William Cullen, 1794–1878, American poet and newspaper editor, b. Cummington, Mass. The son of a learned and highly respected physician, Bryant was exposed to English poetry in his father's vast library. As a boy he became devoted to the New England countryside and was a keen observer of nature. In his early poems such as “Thanatopsis,” “To a Waterfowl,” “Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood,” and “The Yellow Violet,” all written before he was 21, he celebrated the majesty of nature in a style that was influenced by the English romantics but also reflected a personal simplicity and dignity. Admitted to the bar in 1815 after a year at Williams and private study, Bryant practiced law in Great Barrington, Mass., until 1825, when he went to New York City. By that time he was already known as a poet and critic. He became associate editor of the New York Evening Post in 1826, and from 1829 to his death he was part owner and editor in chief. An industrious and forthright editor of a highly literate paper, he was a defender of human rights and an advocate of free trade, abolition of slavery, and other reforms. He also holds an important place in literature as the earliest American theorist of poetry. In his Lectures on Poetry (delivered 1825; published 1884) and other critical essays he stressed the values of simplicity, original imagination, and morality. During his later career Bryant traveled widely, made many public speeches, and continued to write a few poems (e.g., “The Death of the Flowers,” “To the Fringed Gentian,” and “The Battle-Field”). His blank verse translation of the Iliad appeared in 1870, that of the Odyssey in 1872.|
TO A WATERFOWL
by William Cullen Bryant
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 painted on 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 fann'd
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; reed 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 hath 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 Yellow Violet
by William Cullen Bryant
|When beechen buds begin to swell, |
And woods the blue-bird's warble know,
The yellow violet's modest bell
Peeps from the last year's leaves below.
Ere russet field their green resume,
Sweet flower, I love, in forest bare,
To meet thee, when thy faint perfume
Alone is in the virgin air.
Of all her train, the hands of Spring
First plant thee in the snowy mould,
And I have seen thee blossoming
Beside the snow-bank's edges cold.
Thy parent sun, who bade thee view,
Pale skies, and chilling moisture sip,
Has bathed thee in his own bright hue,
And streaked with jet thy glowing lip.
Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat,
And earthward bent thy gentle eye,
Unapt the passing view to meet
When loftier flowers are flaunting nigh.
Oft, in the sunless April day,
Thy early smile has stayed my walk;
But midst the gorgeous blooms of May,
I passed thee on my humble stalk.
So, they, who climb to wealth, forget
The friends in darker fortunes tried,
I copied them - but I regret
That I should ape the ways of pride.
And when again the genial hour
Awakes the painted tribes of light,
I'll not o'erlook the modest flower
That made the woods of April bright.