Re-discovering William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
One has written of his youth in Massachusetts,
“An inquisitive child, Cullen learned to make a companion of thoughts stimulated by nature. The observations of plants and flowers, of birds and sky, and of brooks and rolling fields that occupy so much of his verse were trained by the boy’s delight in investigating his surroundings.”
I was reading his famous poem, Thanatopsis, this morning. This used to be memorized by schoolchildren.
It begins. . .
“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
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—”
Then, I found this verse, that seems to say something about the joy of a secular experience with Nature:
“I Broke the Spell That Held Me Long”
I broke the spell that held me long,
The dear, dear witchery of song.
I said, the poet’s idle lore
Shall waste my prime of years no more,
For Poetry, though heavenly born,
Consorts with poverty and scorn.
I broke the spell–nor deemed its power
Could fetter me another hour.
Ah, thoughtless! how could I forget
Its causes were around me yet?
For wheresoe’er I looked, the while,
Was Nature’s everlasting smile.
Still came and lingered on my sight
Of flowers and streams the bloom and light,
And glory of the stars and sun; –
And these and poetry are one.
They, ere the world had held me long,
Recalled me to the love of song.
Isn’t all “faith” and “religion” and “scripture” as with Life itself, simply and ultimately Poetry?
Not all is good poetry. Some is quite awful. Some is inspiring and instructive.
“Breaking the spell” with a love of songs and poems might just remind us, reveal to us again,
Nature’s teachings and, now and again, Nature’s everlasting smile.