Poems, now first collected/The Death of Bryant


How was it then with Nature when the soul
Of her own poet heard a voice which came
From out the void, "Thou art no longer lent
To Earth!" when that incarnate spirit, blent
With the abiding force of waves that roll,
Wind-cradled vapors, circling stars that flame,
She did recall? How went
His antique shade, beaconed upon its way
Through the still aisles of night to universal day?

Her voice it was, her sovereign voice, which bade
The Earth resolve his elemental mould;
And once more came her summons: "Long, too long,
Thou lingerest, and charmest with thy song!
Return! return!" Thus Nature spoke, and made
Her sign; and forthwith on the minstrel old
An arrow, bright and strong,
Fell from the bent bow of the answering Sun,
Who cried, "The song is closed, the invocation done!"

But not as for those youths dead ere their prime,
New-entered on their music's high domain,
Then snatched away, did all things sorrow own:
No utterance now like that sad sweetest tone
When Bion died, and the Sicilian rhyme
Bewailed; no sobbing of the reeds that plain
Rehearsing some last moan
Of Lycidas; no strains which skyward swell
For Adonais still, and still for Asphodel!

The Muses wept not for him as for those
Of whom each vanished like a beauteous star
Quenched ere the shining midwatch of the night;
The greenwood Nymphs mourned not his lost delight;
Nor Echo, hidden in the tangled close,
Grieved that she could not mimic him afar.
He ceased not from our sight
Like him who, in the first glad flight of spring,
Fell as an eagle pierced with shafts from his own wing.

This was not Thyrsis! no, the minstrel lone
And reverend, the woodland singer hoar,
Who was dear Nature's nursling, and the priest
Whom most she loved; nor had his office ceased
But for her mandate: "Seek again thine own;
The walks of men shall draw thy steps no more!"
Softly, as from a feast
The guest departs that hears a low recall,
He went, and left behind his harp and coronal.

"Return!" she cried, "unto thine own return!
Too long the pilgrimage; too long the dream
In which, lest thou shouldst be companionless,
Unto the oracles thou hadst access,—
The sacred groves that with my presence yearn."
The voice was heard by mountain, dell, and stream,
Meadow and wilderness—
All fair things vestured by the changing year,
Which now awoke in joy to welcome one most dear.

"He comes!" declared the unseen ones that haunt
The dark recesses, the infinitude
Of whispering old oaks and soughing pines.
"He comes!" the warders of the forest shrines
Sang joyously. "His spirit ministrant
Henceforth with us shall walk the underwood,
Till mortal ear divines
Its music added to our choral hymn,
Rising and falling far through archways deep and dim!"

The orchard fields, the hillside pastures green,
Put gladness on; the rippling harvest-wave
Ran like a smile, as if a moment there
His shadow poised in the midsummer air
Above; the cataract took a pearly sheen
Even as it leapt; the winding river gave
A sound of welcome where
He came, and trembled, far as to the sea
It moves from rock-ribbed heights where its dark fountains be.

His presence brooded on the rolling plain,
And on the lake there fell a sudden calm,—
His own tranquillity; the mountain bowed
Its head, and felt the coolness of a cloud,
And murmured, "He is passing!" and again
Through all its firs the wind swept like a psalm;
Its eagles, thunder-browed,
In that mist-moulded shape their kinsman knew,
And circled high, and in his mantle soared from view.

So drew he to the living veil, which hung
Of old above the deep's unimaged face,
And sought his own. Henceforward he is free
Of vassalage to that mortality
Which men have given a sepulchre among
The pathways of their kind,—a resting-place
Where, bending one great knee,
Knelt the proud mother of a mighty land
In tenderness, and came anon a plumèd band.

Came one by one the seasons meetly drest,
To sentinel the relics of their seer.
First Spring—upon whose head a wreath was set
Of wind-flowers and the yellow violet—
Advanced. Then Summer led his loveliest
Of months, one ever to the minstrel dear
(Her sweet eyes dewy wet),
June, and her sisters, whose brown hands entwine
The brier-rose and the bee-haunted columbine.

Next, Autumn, like a monarch sad of heart,
Came, tended by his melancholy days.
Purple he wore, and bore a golden rod,
His sceptre; and let fall upon the sod
A lone fringed-gentian ere he would depart.
Scarce had his train gone darkling down the ways
When Winter thither trod,—
Winter, with beard and raiment blown before,
That was so seeming like our poet old and hoar.

What forms are these amid the pageant fair,
Harping with hands that falter? What sad throng?
They wait in vain, a mournful brotherhood,
And listen where their laurelled elder stood
For some last music fallen through the air.
"What cold, thin atmosphere now hears thy song?"
They ask, and long have wooed
The woods and waves that knew him, but can learn
Naught save the hollow, haunting cry, "Return! return!"