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by William Cullen Bryant


I When to the common rest that crowns our days,

Called in the noon of life, the good man goes,

Or full of years, and ripe in wisdom, lays

His silver temples in their last repose;

When, o'er the buds of youth, the death-wind blows

And blights the fairest; when our bitter tears

Stream, as the eyes of those that love us close,

We think on what they were, with many fears

Lest goodness die with them; and leave the coming years. -

II And therefore, to our hearts, the days gone by,

When lived the honored sage whose death we wept,

And the soft virtues beamed from many an eye,

And beat in many a heart that long has slept-

Like spots of earth where angel-feet have stepped,

Are holy; and high-dreaming bards have told

Of times when worth was crowned, and faith was kept

Ere friendship grew a snare, or love waxed cold-

Those pure and happy times- the golden days of old. -

III Peace to the just man's memory; let it grow

Greener with years, and blossom through the flight

Of ages; let the mimic canvas show

His calm benevolent features; let the light

Stream on his deeds of love, that shunned the sight

Of all but heaven, and in the book of fame

The glorious record of his virtues write

And hold it up to men, and bid them claim

A palm like his, and catch from him the hallowed flame. -

IV But oh, despair not of their fate who rise

To dwell upon the earth when we withdraw!

Lo! the same shaft by which the righteous dies,

Strikes through the wretch that scoffed at mercy's law

And trode his brethren down, and felt no awe

Of Him who will avenge them. Stainless worth,

Such as the sternest age of virtue saw,

Ripens, meanwhile, till time shall call it forth

From the low modest shade, to light and bless the earth. -

V Has Nature, in her calm, majestic march,

Faltered with age at last? does the bright sun

Grow dim in heaven? or, in their far blue arch,

Sparkle the crowd of stars, when day is done,

Less brightly? when the dew-lipped Spring comes on,

Breathes she with airs less soft, or scents the sky

With flowers less fair than when her reign begun?

Does prodigal Autumn, to our age, deny

The plenty that once swelled beneath his sober eye? -

VI Look on this beautiful world, and read the truth

In her fair page; see, every season brings

New change, to her, of everlasting youth;

Still the green soil, with joyous living things,

Swarms, the wide air is full of joyous wings,

And myriads, still, are happy in the sleep

Of ocean's azure gulfs, and where he flings

The restless surge. Eternal Love doth keep,

In his complacent arms, the earth, the air, the deep. -

VII Will then the merciful One, who stamped our race

With his own image, and who gave them sway

O'er earth, and the glad dwellers on her face,

Now that our swarming nations far away

Are spread, where'er the moist earth drinks the day,

Forget the ancient care that taught and nursed

His latest offspring? will he quench the ray

Infused by his own forming smile at first,

And leave a work so fair all blighted and accursed? -

VIII Oh, no! a thousand cheerful omens give

Hope of yet happier days, whose dawn is nigh.

He who has tamed the elements, shall not live

The slave of his own passions; he whose eye

Unwinds the eternal dances of the sky,

And in the abyss of brightness dares to span

The sun's broad circle, rising yet more high,

In God's magnificent works his will shall scan-

And love and peace shall make their paradise with man. -

IX Sit at the feet of History- through the night

Of years the steps of virtue she shall trace,

And show the earlier ages, where her sight

Can pierce the eternal shadows o'er their face;-

When, from the genial cradle of our race,

Went forth the tribes of men, their pleasant lot

To choose, where palm-groves cooled their dwelling-place,

Or freshening rivers ran; and there forgot

The truth of heaven, and kneeled to gods that heard them not. -

X Then waited not the murderer for the night,

But smote his brother down in the bright day,

And he who felt the wrong, and had the might,

His own avenger, girt himself to slay;

Beside the path the unburied carcass lay;

The shepherd, by the fountains of the glen,

Fled, while the robber swept his flock away,

And slew his babes. The sick, untended then,

Languished in the damp shade, and died afar from men. -