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Thomas Cole's poetry

the collected poems of America's foremost painter of the Hudson River School reflecting his feelings for nature and the romantic spirit of the Nineteenth Century

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23. The Painter's Lamentation
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The Painter's Lamentation

That there should be a poison in sweet looks
Alas!—Alas that all the tameless brooks
Which murmur wildly through the vale of love
Should taste of bitterness! That those who rove
The labarynthine dell, should go astray
Bewildered, blinded, heedless of the way
Of wisdom and of peace!—Such is my fate—
And O ye mountains that I lov'd of late
My early adoration yet despite not him,
Who now though not forgetting doth neglect
Your charms—Sighing he owns the deep defect;
But destiny unkind and unexpected care,
Have torn him from you, and a fond despair
Embraces now his heart and in its core
Is rooted deep and perhaps forever more—
Thou radiant spirit! whose dear controul
Long time hath bless'd me—Sister of my soul!
And wonder of all eyes! My glorious art!
Wilt thou desert and desolate the heart
Which thou hast shielded through so many years
From various ills?—Then have I cause for tears—
For from my sweet lips I have drunk the dew
Of more than earthly happiness, and drew
From out thy taintless breath etherial joy—
An essence heavenly—alas that it should die—
And this because a mortal feeling came—
A gush as of unconquerable flame
Consumes my heart—But this is vain—
I am the guilty and why do I complain?—
Because my crime is one I cannot hate—
Because it is a shadow which my fate
Cast over me—It like a cloud arose,
Gently and beautifully—budded like a rose—


I dream'd not such a bright cloud could ere contain,
When first 'twas seen, fierce tempests dark and rain
Or that the bud, so beautiful, in its core
A blackness and a bitter poison bore—
It is no crime to love; but it is pain
To me and torture—for I ne'er shall gain
Her whom I so desire—her heart is cold
But perhaps 'twould melt beneath the touch of gold—
That talisman I have not—nor desire
To kindle ought but love's unsordid fire—
A hour's departed, have ye no return?
Have ye no spring, like flowers? Does then the urn
Of Time contain, nought but unquick'ning dust
Of the past lov'd and beautiful? And must
Our dearest sunniest pleasure pass away
And endless night succeed the swift-wing'd day?
Ah me! I little dream'd when wand'ring free
In heart and mind, in lands beyond the sea—
That 'mid the mountains of my early love,
I should unlearn their beauty,—or more true,
My heart should learn unfaithfulness—The dew
Of morning yet ascends in misty wreaths,
To bind their brows of majesty—the wind yet breathes
Through the dark forests that around them cling,
And on their crags the eagle flaps his wing—
Those were bright hours my loving mem'ry sees,
When by the convent gray I sat—beneath the trees
That shadowy wave on Mont Albana's top,
An emerald crown barbarian time did drop
Relenting that the marble-columned pile
That once stood there his rude hands did despoil.
And Rome was at my feet, but far below,
Its ruined heaps still sparkling in the glow
Of the unfading sun, which shone as bright
As in the conquering Carthaginians' sight—
Around the wide Campagna's waste of green


Lay like a shipless sea—though wrecks were seen
Of duct and tower—many a golden chain
On its breast broken—ne'er to join again—
Sracte like an island shone afar
The sabine mountains made the eastern bar
While on the west—the tideless beauteous sea
Pillowed the plain that slumb'red tranquilly—
But this is past—and my soul's freshness gone
The lyre is broken—the harp has lost its tone—
O babbling stream! That flowest careless on
In everlasting joy!—Where! where is flown
Thy beauty?—How art thou chang'd since last
I stood upon thy margin—has it pass'd
With the quick hours that stole my peace?
I never deem'd thy lovliness would cease
Over the bright rocks yet I see thee skim;
Thou art not chang'd stream!—My eyes are dim—
O pride thou yet unconqurable one,
Come to my aid—steel me and let me frown
Instead of weep—break—break the cankering chain
That binds me—let no love remain
To fester in my bosom—let my art
Again, alone, be mistress of my heart—
[July, 1834]