Verse > Anthologies > Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. > Yale Book of American Verse
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.  1912.
 
William Cullen Bryant. 1794–1878
 
16. Thanatopsis
 
  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         5
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  10
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—  15
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,  20
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  25
To mix forever 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.  30
  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,  35
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  40
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,  45
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  50
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  55
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  60
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  65
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—  70
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  75
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  80
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams. 
 
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