p. 494-502. "There were poets before Bryant...But the real beginner was Bryant. As Irving had proved to European readers that grace and humor might be expected of American writing, and as Cooper had proved that Americans could write exciting fiction, so Bryant demonstrated that first-rate poetry might likewise be expected from the country of the coonskin cap and the wigwam."
p.495-6WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT. Lyric poets are usually young men. When they grow older they often turn to writing philosophical or narrative poetry, or drama; but not m any of them can prolong the lyric fire beyond forty. Bryant wrote his greatest poem when he was in his teens, and all of his major poetry before he was forty. The great poem was "Thanatopsis." The story of how it came to be published is still worth telling-how Bryant's father found it in his son's desk (the boy was just 23 and had apparently written it some years before) and how he took it to the editor of the North American Review, who said in astonishment, "No one on this side of the Atlantic is capable of writing such verses." Proof was demanded and furnished; the poem was published in 1817. Bryant rewrote the beginning and added the end of it later, but the central part of the poem stands now as it was written, by a teen-age boy in western Massaachusetts. The North American Review asked for more poems. Bryant produced To a Waterfowl, written in 1815, age 21. What kind of young man wrote poetry like that? Bryant was born and grew up in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts and sometimes prayed for the gift of expression to match the beauty of the nature aorund him. Nature was always a great part of Bryant's life. He was one of the first American's to feel that violets and fringed gentians and other natural objects were fit subjects for poetry. It took Bryant to get the skylark out of American poetry and American birds in! he was a thoughtful, meditative boy, brought up by parents of Puritan descent. He was disappointed deeply in not being able to afford to go to Yale. suspected of being in ill-health, he tended toward melancholy and was fond of the more melancholy English poets. Nature usually stimulated him to reflect on life and death. He felt that God was closely identified with nature, and nature with goodness, so that when he wrote about flowers and trees he had no difficulty in changing the subject to ethics or morals or religion. That was the mood in which he wrote the austure and beautiful poem Thantopsis. it is sometimes hard to understand how these writers of the Eastern Flowering felt about nature....their feeling that living close to nature was much like living close to God, thinking about nature was much like thinking about religion. Bryant read in a lawyer's office instead of going to Yale. He practiced law in Massachusetts for 10 years. Then, when his reputation as a poet had been established, he went to New York as writer and magazine editor, soon became editor of The New York Evening Post. Thanatopsis and To a Waterfowl were in final shape for the volume of poems published in 1821, "To A Fringed Gentian" for a volume in 1832. he wrote a small amount of poetry for the rest of his life, but as his output of poetry decreased his influence as a vigorous and liberal editor grew. he started as a Conservative., then was on the side of "the common man" and supported Jackson. He opposed all financial and class ligislation, and urged Lincoln to free the slaves sooner than he did. He made the Post a paper of high literary quality, and its editorial columns an example of the dignified public service a paper can render a democracy. but every afternoon when he could get away from work he escaped his office in the city to the open countryside where he could hear the bololink, the rustle of corn fields, and the swish of American trees that poets seemed never to have heard before his time. and whether his mornings or his afternoons, the editorial work he did in maturity or the poety he wrote as a young man, will ulitmatly be considered the greater contribution to the good of his countrymen, who can now say? Braynt was born (1794) just after the death of Franklin. He lived until 1878, when Edison was using electricity. Bryant and John Greenleaf Whittier were born and gerw up within 100 miles of each other in the hills of Massachusetts. both were thought to be sickly young men, Bryant lived to 84, Whittier 85. Bryant lived 2/3 of his life in New York. All of Bryant's well known poetry came early in life. Bryant was only 13 years older, his last important book of new poetry was published within one year of Whittiers first, his best known poem Thanatopsis was published 49 years before Whittier's best known poem Snow-Bound.
Bryant wrote Thanatopsis at age 17. usually considered the first poem to deserve a place among the great poems of America. The dignity of the blank verse and the power of its expression are truly remarkable, coming from so young a writer. In the restraint of his emotions and the balanced beauty of his language, Bryant has often been said to resemble the ancient Greeks.Thanatopsis BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks A various language; for his gayer hours She has a voice of gladness, and a smile And eloquence of beauty, and she glides Into his darker musings, with a mild And healing sympathy, that steals away Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts Of the last bitter hour come like a blight Over thy spirit, and sad images Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall, And breathless darkness, and the narrow house, Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;— Go forth, under the open sky, and list To Nature’s teachings, while from all around— Earth and her waters, and the depths of air— Comes a still voice— Yet a few days, and thee The all-beholding sun shall see no more In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground, Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears, Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again, And, lost each human trace, surrendering up Thine individual being, shalt thou go To mix for ever with the elements, To be a brother to the insensible rock And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould. Yet not to thine eternal resting-place Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings, The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good, Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past, All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales Stretching in pensive quietness between; The venerable woods—rivers that move In majesty, and the complaining brooks That make the meadows green; and, poured round all, Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,— Are but the solemn decorations all Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun, The planets, all the infinite host of heaven, Are shining on the sad abodes of death, Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread The globe are but a handful to the tribes That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness, Or lose thyself in the continuous woods Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound, Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there: And millions in those solitudes, since first The flight of years began, have laid them down In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone. So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw In silence from the living, and no friend Take note of thy departure? All that breathe Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care Plod on, and each one as before will chase His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave Their mirth and their employments, and shall come And make their bed with thee. As the long train Of ages glide away, the sons of men, The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes In the full strength of years, matron and maid, The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man— Shall one by one be gathered to thy side, By those, who in their turn shall follow them. So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, which moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
To A Waterfowl. when Bryant as a young man was licensed to practice law, he was confronted by the problem of where to open his office. one December day while tramping over the hills to consider the town of Plainfield, Massachusetts he felt particularly depressed by the uncertainty of his future. The sun had set, a solitary bird mades it's way along the illuminated horizon. he wnet on with new strength and courage. when he reached the house where he was to stop for the night, he immediately sate down and wrote the lines. (his biographer was John Bigelow)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; 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 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.
To The Fringed Gentian a simple little poem, one of the favorites among his poems. it illustrates two of his marked characteristics: the freshness of the American scene. he frequently put a short lesson at the end of a poem.William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) To the Fringed Gentian. THOU blossom bright with autumn dew, And coloured 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 other side of Bryant's writing may be seen in this vigorous and courageous editorial in August 8 1836 New York Evening Post.
A meeting of the people of Cinncinnati have proclaimed the right of silencing the expression of unpopular opinions by violence. We refer our readers to the proceedings of an anti-abolition meeting lately held in that city. They will be found in another part of this paper.The Cincinnati meeting, in the concluding resolution offered by Wilson N. Brown and adopted with the rest, declare in so many words that, if they cannot put down the abolitionist press by fair means, they will do it by foul; if they cannot silence it by violence; if they cannot persuade it to desist, they will stir up mobs against it, inflame them to madness, and turn their brutal rage against the dwellings, the property, the persons, the lives of the wretched abolitionists and their families. In announcing that they will put them down by force all this is included. Fire, robbery, and bloodshed are the common excesses of an enraged mob. There is no extreme of cruelty and destruction to which, in the drunkenness and delirium of its fury, it may not proceed. The commotions of the elements can as easily be appeaesd by appeals to the quality of mercy as these commotions of the human mind; the whirlwind and the lightning might as well be expected to pause and turn aside to spare the helpless and innocent as an infuriated mulitude.If the abolitionist must be put down, and if the community are of that opinion, there is no necessity of violence to effect the object. The community have the power in their own hands; the majority may make a law declaring the discussion of slavery in a certain manner to be a crime, and imposing penalties. The law may then be put in force against the offenders, and their mouths may be gagged in the due form and with all the solemnities of justice.What is the reason this is not done? The answer is ready. The community are for leaving the liberty of the press untrammeled; thre is not a committee that can be raised in any of the state legislatures north of the Potomac who will report in favor of imposing penalties on those who declaim against slavery; there is not a legislature who would sanction such a report; there is not a single free state the people of which would sustain a legislature in so doing. These are fadcts, adn teh advocates of mob law know them to be so.Who are the men that issue this inviation to silence the press by violence? Who but an insolent, brawling minority, a few nosiy fanatics, who claim that their own opinions shall be the measure of freedom for the rest of the community, and who undertake to overawe a vast, pacific majority by threats of wanton outrage and plunder? These men are for erecting an oligarchy of their own and riding roughshod over the people and the people's rights. They claim a right to repeal the laws established by the majority in favor of the freedome of the press. They make new laws of their own, to which they require that the rest of the communitiy shall submit, and, in case of a refusal, they threaten to execute them by the ministry of a mob. There is no tyranny or oppression exercised in any part of the world more absolute or more frightful than that which they would establish. So far as we are concerned, we are determined that this despotism shall neither be submitted to nor encouraged. In whatever form it makes it appearance, we shall raise our voice against it. We are resolved that the subject of slavery shall be as it ever has been-as free a subject of discussin and argument and delcamation as the difference between whiggism and democracy, or the difference between the Arminians and the Calvinists. If the press chooses to be silent on the subject, it shall be the silence of perfect free will, and not the silence of fear. We hold that this combination fo the few to govern the many by the terror of illegal violence is as wicked and infefensible as a conspriacy to rob on the highway. We hold it to be the duty of good citizens to protest against it whenever and wherever it shows itself, and to resist it, if necessary, to the death.