Saturday, January 20, 2007

In Memory of a Departed Relative

THANATOPSIS

by: William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

      O 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 nourish'd 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-ribb'd 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, pour'd round all,
      Old Ocean's grey 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 not 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 favourite 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 glides 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 by his dungeon; but, sustain'd 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.
"Thanatopsis" is reprinted from Yale Book of American Verse. Ed. Thomas R. Lounsbury. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1912.

1 comment:

language said...

Man, I haven't read "Thanatopsis" in forty years, and it's still a damn fine poem, and a good tribute.