Monument Mountain

Author: William Cullen Bryant  | Date: 1824

MONUMENT MOUNTAIN

Thou who wouldst see the lovely and the wild

Mingled in harmony on Nature’s face,

Ascend our rocky mountains. Let thy foot

Fail not with weariness, for on their tops

the beauty and the majesty of earth,

Spread wide beneath, shall make thee to forget

The steep and toilsome way. There, as thou stand’st,

The haunts of men below thee, and around

The mountain-summits, thy expanding heart

Shall feel a kindred with that loftier world

To which thou art translated, and partake

The enlargement of thy vision. Thou shalt look

Upon the green and rolling forest-tops,

And down into the secrets of the glens,

And streams that with their bordering thickets strive

To hide their windings. Thou shalt gaze, at once,

Here on white villages, and tilth, and herds,

And swarming roads, and there on solitudes

That only hear the torrent, and the wind,

And eagle’s shriek. There is a precipice

That seems a fragment of some mighty wall,

Built by the hand that fashioned the old world,

To separate its nations, and thrown down

When the flood drowned them. To the north, a path

Conducts you up the narrow battlement.

Steep is the western side, shaggy and wild

With mossy trees, and pinnacles of flint,

And many a hanging crag. But, to the east,

Sheer to the vale go down the bare old cliffs-

Huge pillars, that in middle heaven upbear

Their weather-beaten capitals, here dark

With moss, the growth of centuries, and there

Of chalky whiteness where the thunderbolt

Has splintered them. It is a fearful thing

To stand upon the beetling verge, and see

Where storm and lightning, from that huge gray wall,

Have tumbled down vast blocks, and at the base

Dashed them in fragments, and to lay thine ear

Over the dizzy depth, and hear the sound

Of winds, that struggle with the woods below,

Come up like ocean murmurs. But the scene

Is lovely round; a beautiful river there

Wanders amid the fresh and fertile meads,

The paradise he made unto himself,

Mining the soil for ages. On each side

The fields swell upward to the hills; beyond,

Above the hills, in the blue distance, rise

The mountain-columns with which earth props heaven.

There is a tale about these reverend rocks,

A sad tradition of unhappy love,

And sorrows borne and ended, long ago,

When over these fair vales the savage sought

His game in the thick woods. There was a maid,

The fairest of the Indian maids, bright-eyed,

With wealth of raven tresses, a light form,

And a gay heart. About her cabin-door

The wide old woods resounded with her song

And fairy laughter all the summer day.

She loved her cousin; such a love was deemed,

By the morality of those stern tribes,

Incestuous, and she struggled hard and long

Against her love, and reasoned with her heart,

As simple Indian maiden might. In vain.

Then her eye lost its lustre, and her step

Its lightness, and the gray-haired men that passed

Her dwelling, wondered that they heard no more

The accustomed song and laugh of her, whose looks

Were like the cheerful smile of Spring, they said,

Upon the Winter of their age. She went

To weep where no eye saw, and was not found

Where all the merry girls were met to dance,

And all the hunters of the tribe were out;

Nor when they gathered from the rustling husk

The shining ear; nor when, by the river’s side,

They pulled the grape and startled the wild shades

With sounds of mirth. The keen-eyed Indian dames

Would whisper to each other, as they saw

Her wasting form, and say, The girl will die.

One day into the bosom of a friend,

A playmate of her young and innocent years,

She poured her griefs. "Thou know’st, and thou alone,"

She said, "for I have told thee, all my love,

And guilt, and sorrow. I am sick of life.

All night I weep in darkness, and the morn

Glares on me, as upon a thing accursed,

That has no business on the earth. I hate

The pastimes and the pleasant toils that once

I loved; the cheerful voices of my friends

Sound in my ear like mockings, and, at night,

In dreams, my mother, from the land of souls,

Calls me and chides me. All that look on me

Do seem to know my shame; I cannot bear

Their eyes; I cannot from my heart root out

The love that wrings it so, and I must die!"

It was a summer morning, and they went

To this old precipice. About the cliffs,

Lay garlands, ears of maize, and shaggy skins

Of wolf and bear, the offerings of the tribe

Here made to the Great Spirit, for they deemed,

Like worshippers of the elder time, that God

Doth walk on the high places and affect

The earth-o’erlooking mountains. She had on

The ornaments with which her father loved

To deck the beauty of his bright-eyed girl,

And bade her wear when stranger warriors came

To be his guests. Here the friends sat them down,

And sang, all day, old songs of love and death,

And decked the poor wan victim’s hair with flowers,

And prayed that safe and swift might be her way

To the calm world of sunshine, where no grief

Makes the heart heavy and the eyelids red.

Beautiful lay the region of her tribe

Below her- waters resting in the embrace

Of the wide forest, and maize-planted glades

Opening amid the leafy wilderness.

She gazed upon it long, and at the sight

Of her own village peeping through the trees,

And her own dwelling, and the cabin roof

Of him she loved with an unlawful love,

And came to die for, a warm gush of tears

Ran from her eyes. But when the sun grew low

And the hill shadows long, she threw herself

From the steep rock and perished. There was scooped,

Upon the mountain’s southern slope, a grave;

And there they laid her, in the very garb

With which the maiden decked herself for death,

With the same withering wild-flowers in her hair.

And o’er the mould that covered her, the tribe

Built up a simple monument, a cone

Of small loose stones. Thenceforward all who passed,

Hunter, and dame, and virgin, laid a stone

In silence on the pile. It stands there yet.

And Indians from the distant West, who come

To visit where their fathers’ bones are laid,

Yet tell the sorrowful tale, and to this day

The mountain where the hapless maiden died

Is called the Mountain of the Monument.

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Chicago: William Cullen Bryant, Monument Mountain Original Sources, accessed November 22, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=A4MMLG57LG1L82X.

MLA: Bryant, William Cullen. Monument Mountain, Original Sources. 22 Nov. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=A4MMLG57LG1L82X.

Harvard: Bryant, WC, Monument Mountain. Original Sources, retrieved 22 November 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=A4MMLG57LG1L82X.