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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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Life's Pilgrimage

Pilgrim down Life's perilous way
Let thy steps be cautious ever;
For not always is it day,
Sunlight shineth not forever.
Darkness, oftimes, shall surround thee
Unexpected night shall fall
Meteor's dazzling glare confound thee,
Lightening's keen thy soul appal.
Strange the road abrupt and broken,
Ridges, gulfs on every hand
Nought the danger to foretoken
Till upon the brink thou stand.
On the whirlwinds of the mountains
Ghastly phantoms fiercely drive,
In the spray of tortured fountains
Demons hideously live.
Has the floweret's beauty won thee
In the gleam of April-day;
Or the rainbow spread before thee;
Let them tempt thee not to stray.
Should whispering groves, or banks of moss,
Sweet, invite thee to repose;
Sleep would bring thee heavy loss,
Thou art in the midst of foes.
Wary be the Pilgrim ever,
Firm of heart; though weak of limb;
For the body conquers never,
Spirit gains the flight for him.


Though the frame through pain is wasting;
Or in health 'twould lingering stay;
Still the soul is onward hasting:
Time hath never known delay.
Healthful, sickly, buoyant, weary,
Soothed or tossed by joy or ill;
Heartless, mirthful, tearful dreary;
Downward treads the Pilgrim still.
Downward till the pathway endeth
On a shattered precipice;
Far beneath in gloom extendeth
Death's dark shadowy abyss.
Deep the gloom of that dread valley
Thought its depth can never find;
But returneth from the sally
Doleful as the winter-wind.
Off the Pilgrim wildly starteth;
He would fly but turns in vain,
From the craggy shore he parteth,
Plunges ne'er to ride again.
“Is Life's journey then so fearful?
With such perils who shall cope?
Desolate and dark and tearful
Whence shall spring the Pilgrim's hope?
“When unto the gloomy valley
He is worn and weary come
What his fainting spirits rally
If the grave must be his home?”
Pilgrim on Life's perilous way
Keep thy steadfast eye toward Heaven.
'Mid thy perils night and day,
Strength to meet them shall be given.


Peace of heart and holy gladness
From above shall oft descend;
With the deepest of thy sadness
Hope the comforter shall blend.
Angel forms shall hover round thee
And my footsteps gently lead;
Though thick darkness shall surround thee
Safely, surely, shalt thou tread.
So, when reached that valley fearful
On that precipice's brink
Not with shudderings and tearful
Shall thy heart within thee sink.
For with brightening eye uplifted
Gazing o'er the Gulf profound;
Through the clouds dispersed and drifted,
By a light that shines beyond.
Thou shalt see angelic creatures
Clad in sunny splendor stand,
Smiles on their celestial features,
Calling thee to that bright land.
January 1, 1843