Saturday, October 18, 2008
William Cullen Bryant
1794 - 1878
Aye, thou art welcome, heaven's delicious breath!
When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf,
And sons grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief,
And the year smiles as it draws near its death.
Wind of the sunny south! oh, still delay
In the gay woods and in the golden air,
Like to a good old age released from care,
Journeying, in long serenity, away.
In such a bright, late quiet, would that I
Might wear out life like thee, 'mid bowers and brooks,
And dearer yet, the sunshine of kind looks,
And music of kind voices ever nigh;
And when my last sand twinkled in the glass,
Pass silently from men, as thou dost pass.
William Cullen Bryant, most noted for his poem “Thanatopsis,” a study of death, also wrote numerous sonnets on nature. Born in Cummington, Massachusetts, November 3, 1794, Bryant was an early nature lover and much of his poetry focuses on nature subjects.
Bryant’s literary career had begun in his teens. He wrote and published a satirical poem titled “The Embargo” and several other poems when he was only thirteen. He wrote his most widely read poem, “Thanatopsis,” when he was only eighteen.
He moved to New York in 1825 and with a friend founded The New York Review, where he published many of his poems. His longest stint as an editor was at The Evening Post, where he served for over fifty years until his death. In addition to his editorial and literary efforts, Bryant joined in the political discussions of the day, offering clear-headed prose to his repertoire of works.
In 1832, Bryant published his first volume of poems and in 1852 his collection The Fountain and Other Poems appeared. When he was seventy-one years old, he began his translation of the Iliad which he completed in 1869; then he finished the Odyssey in 1871. When he was eighty-two, he wrote and published The Flood of Years, which remains his strongest work.
Bryant’s dedication to his literary career as well as to his homeland could not be emphasized any better than by the poet himself when he said, "We are not without the hope that those who read what we have written, will see in the past, with all its vicissitudes, the promise of a prosperous and honorable future, of concord at home, and peace and respect abroad; and that the same cheerful piety which leads the good man to put his personal trust in a kind Providence, will prompt the good citizen to cherish an equal confidence in regard to the destiny reserved for our beloved country."
Despite the shrill voices of many of today’s poets and political pundits who denigrate their country with their undisciplined art and polemics, Bryant’s hope has well been realized.