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for us, and minutely inspect and detail the processes of decay. He seems to take pleasure therein ; but it is not the kind of pleasure which radiates the portraitures of Death and the Grave given in Bryant. Though a dirge-like undertone is heard in this song, there are also heard the clear notes of faith and hope, reminding us of Longfellow. Gilfillan rightly calls it · A Meditation Amongst the Tombs.' Rarely has poetry achieved a more masterly and soothing ministry than to
Of the great tomb of man. As we read of the wise, the good, fair forms and hoary seers of ages past, resting in quietness, we, for the time, forget that which is, as a rule, a gloomy and unwelcome subject. He constrains one, for the time, to assume that the repose of the grave is more to be desired than the wakeful and workful present. The closing stanzas of this meditation are a gem of purest ray serene:'
So live that, when thy summons comes to join
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams. A careful student of his poetry will scarcely need be reminded of the fact that Thauatopsis' contains the germs of truths more fully developed in future poems. The lines with which he opens the poem affirm:
To him who, in the love of Nature, holds
A various language. We have but to glance through his poems to see what he means by this ó various language.' Nearly two-thirds of his shorter poems illustrate and confirm his favourite and oft-quoted lines:
-for his gayer hours,
And healing sympathy, that steals away
To Nature's teachings.
Thauatopsis.' He dwells upon the same subject in "The Death of the
The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, and autumn leaves be dead. The same spirit of pensive contemplation pervades the less known poem, which a writer in the Saturday Review thought should have been entitled "The Sepulchre,' but which Mr. Bryant entitled 'June." The thought of
A cell within the frozen mould,
A coffin borne through sleet, was abhorrent to him. But in the former part of the poem he says:
'Twere pleasant that, in flowery June,
And groves a joyous sound,
The rich, green mountain turf should break. • The Death of the Flowers,' June,'' Hymn to Death,' The Old Man's Funeral,' besides others, are, to a great extent,' a development of germs embedded in his famous 6 Thauatopsis.' Having written so much on this subject, and having lived such a virtuous life, it was strange that, for so many years before the end came, he was haunted by a certain vague dread of death. Against this dread he fought, and there were times and seasons when the last verse of “The fringed Gentian' expressed most suitably his desire and hope :
I would that thus, when I shall see
May look to heaven as I depart. If, on the one hand, the poem we have designated 'A Meditation Amongst the Tombs' contains the elements of a large proportion of his poems overcast by the dark or sombre hues of decay, on the other hand, it recognises the fact that
for his gayer hours She (Nature) has a voice of gladness and a smile.
Like Keats, who, as he sat listening to the song of the nightingale in the Wentworth-place orchard, wrote one of the most melodious odes in our language, so Bryant, on a similar occasion, wrote his “Gladness of Nature.' How merrily chime the bells of melody in this piece !
There's a dance of leaves in that aspon bower,
There's a twitter of winds in that beechen tree,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.
Ah, look ! and he'll smile thy gloom away. These lines and others of this class were, no doubt, generated, for the most part, through the instrumentality of circumstances; but this cannot be said of his " Ages. This work was the fruit of hard mental toil. What Shelley's “Prometheus' is to the rest of his poetry, that is Bryant's · Ages' to his collected works.
If it be true that the finest pictures are those which seem to have cost the painter the least effort, so the most perfect poems are those which seem to have cost the poet the least effort. If we test Bryant's Ages' by this test, we shall not fail to discover that his reputation as a poet, like that of Thomas Campbell, is traceable to his smaller poems. In his Introductory Essay' to his illustrated works, Gilfillan expresses his conviction that Bryant wants the comprehension of vision, which alone could have rendered a glance at the Ages' great. It is a philosophical disquisition on the past, present, and future. There is unity in it; though, as thirty of the thirty-five Spenserian stanzas deal with the past, we are compelled to admit that it was wanting in proportions. If there had been a more complete symmetry in its construction, ranging the several parts in due relation and proportion, it would have produced a much more favourable impression.
It is clear that he bestowed much care upon this work. Its words and sentences were most carefully weighed in the balances of an accurate judgment. The poem is not less remarkable for its testimony to the poet's affluent imagination while yet it was under a wise constraint. If anywhere in his works he appears the priest or interpreter of Nature, it is here. He inquires :
Has Nature, in her calm, majestic march,
Faltered with age at last ? Does the bright sun
Sparkle the crowd of stars, when day is done,
Breathes she with airs less soft, or scents the sky
Does prodigal Autumn to our age deny
In the next verse he answers these questions in language the beauty and force of which remind us of Thomson's “Seasons,' though the minting of the stanzas are Bryantonian to the letter:
Look on this beautiful world, and read the truth
In His complacent arms the earth, the air, the deep. These stanzas reflect the poet's conceptions of the profusion and amplitude of material nature. He was not slow to perceive that human blessings, or Divine blessings for human life, do not come slowly or singly, but that they are literally showered upon us; they are successive as the waters of the ceaseless spring; they are continuous as the atmosphere we breathe ; like the stars which beam forth simultaneously from the firmanent; or like the daisies which crowd and bedeck the velvet turf. These form not only the ornament, but the basis of our life. Bryant is amongst that class of poets who regard these objects not only as the outcome of a Divine intelligence, but as the manifestation of Divine goodness. This is one of the cardinal doctrines of this poet-preacher. In the Song of the Stars' he calls upon us to
See, love is brooding, and life is born,
To rejoice, like us, in motion and light.
-delicate forest flower,
That are the soul of this wide universe. The same truth pervades his teaching throughout. The Ages' proclaims most emphatically the hope of the world :
-a thousand cheerful omens give
Hope of yet happier days, whose dawn is nigh. After sketching the dark scenes of the world's sad history before the birth of Christ, and then leading us down to the Middle Ages, he declares that, though the hour for rending the sacred stole from saintly rottenness was deferred, and though
Vice, beneath the mitre's kind control,
Yet, at last,
-the earthquake came—the shock that hurled
After sketching the triumphs of the Reformation in Europe, he begins to describe the dawn of civilised life in the Western World ; and what Freiligrath has done for Oriental scenery Bryant has done for the West. He describes the brown hunter's shouts,' he points us to the old *Indian hamlet,' and goes on to speak of their primitive customs, and then, calling our attention to the change that has already taken place, he predicts a glorious future for his country:
But thou, my country, thou shalt never fall,
How happy in thy lap the sons of men shall dwell. The closing stanzas of “The Ages' bring the poet before us as a patriot. Few men did more to bring to light the past history of America. About four years ago he and Mr. Sydney Howard Gay brought out the first of two volumes of the Early History of the T'nited States. Within one month after the publication of the second volume of this history Mr. Bryant met with the accident which resulted in his death. In reading this history we have been often reminded of the sketches of North American Indian life given in his Ages' half-a-century since.
Unlike Longfellow, Bryant rarely attempts to describe the scenery of other lands, and when he attempts to do so, as in the Apennines, he fails. But none of his attempts at describing American scenery can be described as “ failures.' While reading them we are conscious of being in the clear air of a Transatlantic climate ; we inhale the odour of the American forest pine, and our eyes gaze upon sights never seen beneath our skies, or upon our sea-girt isle. Forgetfulness of this has sometimes led his critics on this side the Atlantic to brand his poems as “tame, “prosy,' or ragged.'