Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Religion of Taste
By Carlos Wilcox (1794–1827)
 
  ’T WAS 1 one of summer’s last and loveliest days,
  When at the dawn, with a congenial friend
  I rose to climb the mount, that with the gaze
  Of expectation high we long had kenn’d,
  While travelling toward it as our journey’s end:—        5
  Height after height we reach’d that seem’d the last;
  But far above, where we must yet ascend,
  Another and another rose, till fast
The sun began to sink ere all but one were past.
 
  Upon that loftiest one awhile we stood        10
  Silent with wonder and absorbing awe;
  A thousand peaks, the lowest crown’d with wood,
  The highest of bare rock at once we saw,
  In ranges spread till seeming to withdraw
  Far into heaven, and mix their softer blue;        15
  While ranges near, as if in spite of law,
  With all wild shapes and grand fill’d up the view
And o’er the deep dark gulf fantastic shadows threw.
 
  Here billows heaved in one vast swell, and there
  In one long sweep, as on a stormy sea,        20
  Drawn to a curling edge, seem’d held in air,
  Ready to move as from a charm set free,
  And roar, and dash, and sink, and cease to be;
  While firm and smooth as hewn of emerald rock,
  Below them rose to points of one proud tree,        25
  Green pyramids of pine, that seem’d to mock
In conscious safety proud, their vainly threaten’d shock.
 
  Here while the sun yet shone, abysses vast
  Like openings into inner regions seem’d
  All objects fading, mingling, sinking fast,        30
  Save few that shut up where the sun yet beam’d;
  But soon as his last rays around us stream’d
  Thick darkness wrapt the whole, o’er which the glow
  Of western skies in feeble flashes gleam’d,
  While bright from pole to pole extending slow        35
Along the wide horizon ere it sunk below.
 
  ’T was midnight, when from our sequester’d bower
  I stole with sleepless eyes to gaze alone;
  For ’t is alone we feel in its full power,
  The enchantment o’er a scene so awful thrown:—        40
  Through broken flying clouds the moon now shone,
  And light and shade cross’d mountain-top and vale;
  While with imparted motion, not their own,
  The heavens and earth to fancy seem’d to sail
Through boundless space like her creation bright but frail.        45
 
  Ere long the clouds were gone, the moon was set;
  When deeply blue without a shade of gray,
  The sky was fill’d with stars that almost met,
  Their points prolong’d and sharpen’d to one ray;
  Through their transparent air the milky-way        50
  Seem’d one broad flame of pure resplendent white,
  As if some globe on fire, turn’d far astray,
  Had cross’d the wide arch with so swift a flight,
That for a moment shone its whole long track of light.
 
  At length in northern skies, at first but small,        55
  A sheet of light meteorous begun
  To spread on either hand, and rise and fall
  In waves, that slowly first, then quickly run
  Along its edge, set thick but one by one
  With spiry beams, that all at once shot high,        60
  Like those through vapors from the setting sun;
  Then sidelong as before the wind they fly,
Like streaking rain from clouds that flit along the sky.
 
  Now all the mountain-tops and gulfs between
  Seem’d one dark plain; from forests, caves profound,        65
  And rushing waters far below unseen,
  Rose a deep roar in one united sound,
  Alike pervading all the air around,
  And seeming e’en the azure dome to fill,
  And from it through soft ether to resound        70
  In low vibrations, sending a sweet thrill
To every finger’s end from rapture deep and still.
 
  Spent with emotion, and to rest resign’d,
  A sudden sleep fell on me, and subdued
  With visions bright and dread my restless mind;—        75
  Methought that in a realm of solitude,
  All indistinctly like the one just view’d,
  With guilt oppress’d and with foreboding gloom,
  My lonely way bewilder’d I pursued,
  Mid signs of terror that the day of doom,        80
And lovely nature’s last dissolving hour had come.
 
  The sun and moon in depths of ether sunk
  Till half extinct, shed their opposing light
  In dismal union, at which all things shrunk;—
  Anon they both, like meteors streaming bright,        85
  Ran down the sky and vanished—all was night;
  With that a groan as from earth’s centre rose,
  While o’er its surface ran, o’er vale and height,
  A waving as of woods when wild wind blows,
A heaving as of life in its expiring throes.        90
 
  Far in the broad horizon dimly shone
  A flood of fire, advancing with a roar,
  Like that of ocean when the waves are thrown
  In nightly storms high on a rocky shore;—
  Spreading each way it came, and sweeping o’er        95
  Woodlands like stubble, forests wide and tall
  In thick ranks falling, blooming groves before
  Its fury vanishing too soon to fall,
And mountains melting down—one deluge covering all.
 
  Before it, striking quick from cloud to cloud,        100
  Stream’d its unearthly light along the sky,
  Flashing from all the swift wings of a crowd
  Of frighted birds at random soaring high,
  And from the faces of lost men that fly
  In throngs beneath, as back they snatch’d a look        105
  Of horror at the billows rolling nigh,
  With thundering sound at which all nature shook,
And e’en the strength of hope their sinking hearts forsook.
 
  No more I saw, for while I thought to flee,
  What seem’d the swoon of terror held me fast,        110
  My senses drowned, and set my fancy free,
  Waked not, but back to sleep unconscious cast
  My troubled spirit; one dark moment pass’d,
  And, all revived again, my dream went on;
  But in that interval what changes vast!        115
  The earth and its lost multitudes were gone;
A new creation bless’d eternity’s bright dawn.
 
  Myself I found borne to a heavenly clime
  I knew not how, but felt a stranger there;
  Still the same being that I was in time,        120
  E’en to my raiment; on the borders fair
  Of that blest land I stood in lone despair;
  Not its pure beauty and immortal bloom,
  Its firmament serene and balmy air,
  Nor all its glorious beings, broke the gloom        125
Of my foreboding thoughts, fix’d on some dreadful doom.
 
  There walk’d the ransom’d ones of earth in white,
  As beautifully pure as new-fallen snow,
  On the smooth summit of some eastern height,
  In the first rays of morn that o’er it flow,        130
  Nor less resplendent than the richest glow
  Of snow-white clouds, with all their stores of rain
  And thunder spent, roll’d up in volumes slow
  O’er the blue sky just clear’d from every stain,
Till all the blaze of noon they drink and long retain.        135
 
  Safe landed on these shores, together hence
  That bright throng took their way to where insphered
  In a transparent cloud of light intense,
  With starry pinnacles above it reared,
  A city vast, the inland all appear’d,        140
  With walls of azure, green and purple stone,
  All to one glassy surface smooth’d and clear’d,
  Reflecting forms of angel guards that shone
Above the approaching host as each were on a throne.
 
  And while that host moved onward o’er a plain        145
  Of living verdure, oft they turn’d to greet
  Friends that on earth had taught them heaven to gain;
  Then hand in hand they went with quicken’d feet;
  And bright with immortality, and sweet
  With love ethereal, were the smiles they cast;        150
  I only wander’d on with none to meet
  And call me dear, while pointing to the past,
And forward to the joys that never reach their last.
 
  I had not bound myself by any ties
  To that bless’d land; none saw me and none sought;        155
  Nor any shunn’d, or from me turn’d their eyes;
  And yet such sense of guilt and conscience wrought,
  It seem’d that every bosom’s inmost thought
  Was fix’d on me; when back as from their view
  I shrunk, and would have fled or shrunk to nought,        160
  As some I loved and many that I knew
Pass’d on unmindful why or whither I withdrew.
 
  Whereat of sad remembrances a flood
  Rush’d o’er my spirit, and my heart beat low
  As with the heavy gush of curdling blood:—        165
  Soon left behind, awhile I follow’d slow,
  Then stopp’d and round me look’d, my fate to know,
  But look’d in vain;—no voice my doom to tell;—
  No arm to hurl me down the depths of wo;—
  It seem’d that I was brought to heaven to dwell        170
That conscience might alone do all the work of hell.
 
  Now came the thought, the bitter thought of years
  Wasted in musings sad and fancies wild,
  And in the visionary hopes and fears
  Of the false feeling of a heart beguiled        175
  By nature’s strange enchantment, strong and wild;
  Now with celestial beauty blooming round,
  I stood as on some naked waste exiled;
  From gathering hosts came music’s swelling sound,
But deeper in despair my sinking spirits drown’d.        180
 
  At length methought a darkness as of death
  Came slowly o’er me, and with that I woke;
  Yet knew not in the first suspended breath
  Where I could be, so real seem’d the stroke,
  That in my dream all earthly ties had broke;        185
  A moment more, and melting in a tide
  Of grateful fervor, how did I invoke
  Power from the Highest to leave all beside,
And live but to secure the bliss my dream denied.
 
  The day soon dawn’d, and I could not but view        190
  Its purple tinge in heaven, and then its beams
  Revealing all around me, as they flew
  From peak to peak, and striking in soft gleams
  On the white mists that hung o’er winding streams
  Through trackless forests, and o’er clustering lakes        195
  In valleys wide, where many a green height seems
  An isle above the cloud that round it breaks,
As with the breeze it moves and its deep bed forsakes.
 
Note 1. Wilcox was born at Newport, New Hampshire, October 22d, 1794. He studied at Middlebury College, Vermont, and afterwards at the Theological Seminary at Andover. In 1824, he was settled as a preacher at Hartford, in Connecticut. He published a small poem, entitled The Age of Benevolence, No. 1, which was a work of merit. His ill health obliged him soon after to relinquish his situation, and he died on the 29th of May, 1827. A volume of his poetry and sermons, with a memoir, was published the last year. As a preacher he was uncommonly eloquent and interesting. [back]
 
 
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