Earth

Author: William Cullen Bryant  | Date: 1834

EARTH

A midnight black with clouds is in the sky;

I seem to feel, upon my limbs, the weight

Of its vast brooding shadow. All in vain

Turns the tired eye in search of form; no star

Pierces the pitchy veil; no ruddy blaze,

From dwellings lighted by the cheerful heath,

Tinges the flowering summits of the grass.

No sound of life is heard, no village hum,

Nor measured tramp of footstep in the path,

Nor rush of wind, while, on the breast of Earth,

I lie and listen to her mighty voice:

A voice of many tones- sent up from streams

That wander through the gloom, from woods unseen

Swayed by the sweeping of the tides of air,

From rocky chasms where darkness dwells all day,

And hollows of the great invisible hills,

And sands that edge the ocean, stretching far

Into the night- a melancholy sound!

O Earth! dost thou too sorrow for the past

Like man thy offspring? Do I hear thee mourn

Thy childhood’s unreturning hours, thy springs

Gone with their genial airs and melodies,

The gentle generations of thy flowers,

And thy majestic groves of olden time,

Perished with all their dwellers? Dost thou wail

For that fair age of which the poets tell,

Ere yet the winds grew keen with frost, or fire

Fell with the rains or spouted from the hills,

To blast thy greenness, while the virgin night

Was guiltless and salubrious as the day?

Or haply dost thou grieve for those that die-

For living things that trod thy paths awhile,

The love of thee and heaven- and now thy sleep

Mixed with the shapeless dust on which thy herds

Trample and graze? I too must grieve with thee,

O’er loved ones lost. Their graves are far away

Upon thy mountains; yet, while I recline

Alone, in darkness, on thy naked soil,

The mighty nourisher and burial-place

Of man, I feel that I embrace their dust.

Ha! how the murmur deepens! I perceive

And tremble at its dreadful import. Earth

Uplifts a general cry for guilt and wrong,

And heaven is listening. The forgotten graves

Of the heart-broken utter forth their plaint.

The dust of her who loved and was betrayed,

And him who died neglected in his age;

The sepulchres of those who for mankind

Labored, and earned the recompense of scorn;

Ashes of martyrs for the truth, and bones

Of those who, in the strife for liberty,

Were beaten down, their corses given to dogs,

Their names to infamy, all find a voice.

The nook in which the captive, overtoiled,

Lay down to rest at last, and that which holds

Childhood’s sweet blossoms, crushed by cruel hands,

Send up a plaintive sound. From battle-fields,

Where heroes madly drave and dashed their hosts

Against each other, rises up a noise,

As if the armed multitudes of dead

Stirred in their heavy slumber. Mournful tones

Come from the green abysses of the sea-

A story of the crimes the guilty sought

To hide beneath its waves. The glens, the groves,

Paths in the thicket, pools of running brook,

And banks and depths of lake, and streets and lanes

Of cities, now that living sounds are hushed,

Murmur of guilty force and treachery.

Here, where I rest, the vales of Italy

Are round me, populous from early time,

And field of the tremendous warfare waged

’Twixt good and evil. Who, alas! shall dare

Interpret to man’s ear the mingled voice

That comes from her old dungeons yawning now

To the black air, her amphitheatres,

Where the dew gathers on the mouldering stones,

And fanes of banished gods, and open tombs,

And roofless palaces, and streets and hearths

Of cities dug from their volcanic graves?

I hear a sound of many languages,

The utterance of nations now no more,

Driven out by mightier, as the days of heaven

Chase one another from the sky. The blood

Of freemen shed by freemen, till strange lords

Came in their hour of weakness, and made fast

The yoke that yet is worn, cries out to heaven.

What then shall cleanse thy bosom, gentle Earth,

From all its painful memories of guilt?

The whelming flood, or the renewing fire,

Or the slow change of time?- that so, at last,

The horrid tale of perjury and strife,

Murder and spoil, which men call history,

May seem a fable, like the inventions told

By poets of the gods of Greece. O thou,

Who sittest far beyond the Atlantic deep,

Among the sources of thy glorious streams,

My native Land of Groves! a newer page

In the great record of the world is thine;

Shall it be fairer? Fear, and friendly Hope,

And Envy, watch the issue, while the lines,

By which thou shalt be judged, are written down.

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Chicago: William Cullen Bryant, Earth Original Sources, accessed June 24, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8E95ZTXJWVGM5U7.

MLA: Bryant, William Cullen. Earth, Original Sources. 24 Jun. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8E95ZTXJWVGM5U7.

Harvard: Bryant, WC, Earth. Original Sources, retrieved 24 June 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8E95ZTXJWVGM5U7.