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
 
18. A Forest Hymn
 
  THE GROVES were God's first temples. Ere man learned 
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave, 
And spread the roof above them—ere he framed 
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back 
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,         5
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down, 
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks 
And supplication. For his simple heart 
Might not resist the sacred influences 
Which, from the stilly twilight of the place,  10
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven 
Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound 
Of the invisible breath that swayed at once 
All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed 
His spirit with the thought of boundless power  15
And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why 
Should we, in the world's riper years, neglect 
God's ancient sanctuaries, and adore 
Only among the crowd, and under roofs 
That our frail hands have raised? Let me, at least,  20
Here, in the shadow of this aged wood, 
Offer one hymn—thrice happy if it find 
Acceptance in His ear. 
  
            Father, thy hand 
Hath reared these venerable columns, thou  25
Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down 
Upon the naked earth, and, forthwith, rose 
All these fair ranks of trees. They, in thy sun, 
Budded, and shook their green leaves in thy breeze, 
And shot towards heaven. The century-living crow,  30
Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died 
Among their branches, till, at last, they stood, 
As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark, 
Fit shrine for humble worshipper to hold 
Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults,  35
These winding aisles, of human pomp or pride 
Report not. No fantastic carvings show 
The boast of our vain race to change the form 
Of thy fair works. But thou art here—thou fill'st 
The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds  40
That run along the summit of these trees 
In music; thou art in the cooler breath 
That from the inmost darkness of the place 
Comes, scarcely felt; the barky trunks, the ground, 
The fresh moist ground, are all instinct with thee.  45
Here is continual worship;—Nature, here, 
In the tranquillity that thou dost love, 
Enjoys thy presence. Noiselessly, around, 
From perch to perch, the solitary bird 
Passes; and yon clear spring, that, midst its herbs,  50
Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots 
Of half the mighty forest, tells no tale 
Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left 
Thyself without a witness, in these shades, 
Of thy perfections. Grandeur, strength, and grace,  55
Are here to speak of thee. This mighty oak,— 
By whose immovable stem I stand and seem 
Almost annihilated—not a prince, 
In all that proud old world beyond the deep, 
E'er wore his crown as loftily as he  60
Wears the green coronal of leaves with which 
Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root 
Is beauty, such as blooms not in the glare 
Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower, 
With scented breath and look so like a smile,  65
Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould, 
An emanation of the indwelling Life, 
A visible token of the upholding Love, 
That are the soul of this great universe. 
  
  My heart is awed within me when I think  70
Of the great miracle that still goes on, 
In silence, round me—the perpetual work 
Of thy creation, finished, yet renewed 
Forever. Written on thy works I read 
The lesson of thy own eternity.  75
Lo! all grow old and die—but see again, 
How on the faltering footsteps of decay 
Youth presses,—ever-gay and beautiful youth 
In all its beautiful forms. These lofty trees 
Wave not less proudly that their ancestors  80
Moulder beneath them. O, there is not lost 
One of earth's charms: upon her bosom yet, 
After the flight of untold centuries, 
The freshness of her far beginning lies 
And yet shall lie. Life mocks the idle hate  85
Of his arch-enemy Death—yea, seats himself 
Upon the tyrant's throne—the sepulchre, 
And of the triumphs of his ghastly foe 
Makes his own nourishment. For he came forth 
From thine own bosom, and shall have no end.  90
  
  There have been holy men who hid themselves 
Deep in the woody wilderness, and gave 
Their lives to thought and prayer, till they outlived 
The generation born with them, nor seemed 
Less aged than the hoary trees and rocks  95
Around them;—and there have been holy men 
Who deemed it were not well to pass life thus. 
But let me often to these solitudes 
Retire, and in thy presence reassure 
My feeble virtue. Here its enemies, 100
The passions, at thy plainer footsteps shrink 
And tremble and are still. O God! when thou 
Dost scare the world with tempests, set on fire 
The heavens with falling thunderbolts, or fill, 
With all the waters of the firmament, 105
The swift dark whirlwind that uproots the woods 
And drowns the villages; when, at thy call, 
Uprises the great deep and throws himself 
Upon the continent, and overwhelms 
Its cities—who forgets not, at the sight 110
Of these tremendous tokens of thy power, 
His pride, and lays his strifes and follies by? 
O, from these sterner aspects of thy face 
Spare me and mine, nor let us need the wrath 
Of the mad, unchainèd elements to teach 115
Who rules them. Be it ours to meditate, 
In these calm shades, thy milder majesty, 
And to the beautiful order of thy works 
Learn to conform the order of our lives. 
 
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