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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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34. Lines occasioned by the death of Mr. Luman Reed
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Lines occasioned by the death of Mr. Luman Reed

If friendship hath the power to lift the soul
Above the common flight of worldly thought;
Or gratitude t' enkindle pure poetic fire,
This pen would flow with ever living words
By sorrow consecrated to the latest time—
And one unskill'd in verse would rev'rent pay
A tribute to thy memory O Reed,
And place a wreath embalm'd by honest tears
Upon thy tomb to bloom forever there—
For thine is not the ruthless conqueror's claim
A proud renown inscrib'd in blood and wrong
Upon men's hearts with wonder and with fear;
But dwelleth in our memory a living light
To cheer and to illumine and to guide
Us who linger mid the shades of life—
O bright example of superior worth!
Would that the world did turn to such as thee
T' admire and emulate and leave the gaud
The ostentation and the baleful glare.
Of those who mounted in Ambition's Car,
Like pestilential meteors swiftly rush
Through the applauding multitude of men
To dazzle and destroy—
Thy life of peace
Was like the summer cloud that rose at morn
To grace the earth and as the day advanced
Increas'd in beauty; 'till the setting sun
Wrapp'd it in splendour ere the night was come.
That night alas: came at the hour of noon


When least our charmed eyes expected change;
Change such as this so sudden and so dark—
Our hearts were all rejoicing in fond hope,
Full of expectant joy—not dreaming Death
Stood by with icy hand uprais'd to strike
He struck! Deep in my breast the blow was felt
And droop'd my spirit—he alas! was gone
My ever honoured friend! I look'd around
The earth was dreary and the sunshine past—
I wake at dawn of day and gaze as wont
Upon the hills uplifted to the clouds;
But a cold shadow broods upon my soul
That should enkindle at the glorious sight.
I wander in the evening's twilight calm
When woods and streams sleep 'neath the sapphire sky;
And then the heavenly spirit of the hour
Would steal into my heart, but that 'tis full
Of a deep dwelling sorrow that upheaves
Like a huge billow on some lonely shore
That swells and breaks in mournful music there.
E'en the strong charm of my all matchless art,
Whose fervent votary I claim to be,
And once did deem no earthly cause could mar
Is powerless now and yields me joy no more—
He who is ta'en away did best sustain,
Encourage in the arduous pursuit,
And truly loving it well knew to give
Essential praise and just, and pointed high
To the steep sun-crown'd hill of Excellence.
Earth is the vestibule of Heaven where
Some erring wander and some meekly wait;
Our friend dwelt with us until Death
Who hath the key, did open unto him
The golden gate and we are left without
To tears and darkness, wond'ring what time
We through that glorious portal shall be led
To see that face benign which now can never change.


Sorrow alone should not usurp the pen;
But it should teem with praise most justly due
Not such vain praise as vulgar tongues bestow
On puffed-up favourites of fortune or of fame;
But that which virtue doth from truth demand.
For the warm heart of him we now lament
Was fix'd in strong integrity and truth,
And candour generosity and taste
Grew sweetly round as may the flowers
About the firm-set oak cling not encumb'ring
But spread with beauty, fragrance and rich fruit—
Let not a Cosmo or Lorenzo fam'd
Firenze's favoured princes all engross
Our admiration; for this western land
Had one munificent as they, less proud;
Who lov'd like them to nurse the growing arts,
But with a purer love and more exalted end;
Who plotted not to tyrannise and rule;
But trod the nobler though less dazzling path
That leads up to the Altar of the public weal—
But he is dead! That thought will rise and praise
Is faltering where 'tis grief o'erwhelmed the soul—
The stream may not be stemm'd so let it flow
It hath the power to purify and Hope
Shall spring from out its waters, onward led
By bright example up to virtue's radiant fame—
Summer is past, but not my grief which chords
With the Autumnal blast through the grove
With mournful cadence, 'neath the waning moon,
Sighs fitfully; as the distracted leaves
Are hurried to and fro in wild unrest—
But the rude gale shall cease and winter drear
Again give place unto the coming spring
And the bare groves shall put their verdure on
Rejoicing that the winter winds are spent;


Which came not to destroy; but to prepare
For fresher beauty, renovated youth—
So shall our souls beneath the icy blasts
Of death and sorrow, shrink, but never die
And the dark desolation of the heart
Be but the germe of joy which shall burst forth
In the perennial sunshine of Immortal life.
Catskill 1836