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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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Part One

1. Part One

Forth through the ancient shadowy woods as one
Who hath no being but his thought I wended
Instinctively. The deep and solemn tone,
The holy gloom harmoniously blended
With musings grave and fond of Life and Death
And Immortality; which waits our parting breath.
I dreamed not; but before me rose a wall
Of rock stupendous: crag on crag was piled
In a gray mountainous heap and over all
The towering ramparts shadows fell from wild
Portentous clouds that ever restlessly
Hid the far summits from the wondering eye.
And in the bosom of that stoney pile
Which seemed the ruin of a shattered world
Heaped skyward by some Titan's mighty toil
A cavern yawned like death and changeful curled
Across its sombre arches vast and wide
Pale spectral mists; as though its awful depths to hide.
But yet the eye unwilling to be barred
Pierced far within the antre's silent womb,
Arch beyond arch with many a fissure scarred,
Perceived, until impenetrable gloom
Sealed unto human vision, human thought
The secret things with which its depths were fraught.
From the mysterious bosom of that cave
A gentle river took its winding way,
Reflecting freshly in the crystal wave
Rocks, sky and herbage which the glancing ray
Of the uprising sun made rosy light:
A wreath of glory on the dewy verge of night.


Murmuring it left the dim and shadowy gloom
And joyous as a thing of life it flowed
Where flowers in fragrant companies did bloom
Bespangled all with dew and sweetly bowed
Their beauteous faces o'er the placid stream,
Narcissus-like involved in love's delusive dream.
The song of birds uprose on every side
And mingled sweetly in the jocund air
That frolicked free across the dimpling tide
And o'er that paradise of flowers so fair;
And it did seem as though the sky and earth
Sang choral hymns at some blessed Angel's birth.
Gliding out from the deep recess there came
A wondrous Vessel, golden was its bow,
Which flashed across the waters like a flame.
Of wingèd Hours the Bark was wrought—The prow
A laughing form with such like intertwined;
But dark confused and crowded were the shapes behind.
It bore two beings; one an infant child
That laughed and sported on a flowery bed;
The other was a form of aspect mild;
Radiant it stood and o'er its glorious head
A star hung tremulous and brighter did appear
Than Venus when the morn from cloud and mist is clear.
Its azure wings were poised in buoyant rest
As though just ceased from fanning heavenly air;
One hand the Vessel's rudder graceful pressed,
The other stretched with most benignant care
O'er the child. It was a beauteous form and face
Such like doth meet at Heaven's Gate the soul that findeth grace.
“What meaneth this,” with earnest voice I cried,
“The landscape bright, the river's flow serene,
And those two Voyagers—” My soul replied:
“Life hath her pictures of each varied scene
The mortal pilgrim sees, wrought on the heart
In colors clear and strong that never can depart.


“Experience is the artist and she toils
Incessantly with ever painful care;
Whether beneath the sun the landscape smiles
Or storms obscure; the lights and shades are there;
But Reason, Passion, Prejudice and Time
Do give the after-tone discordant or sublime.
“By thee now standing midway on the height
Of contemplation not alone are seen
Pictures of the departing past; but sight
Of future scenes is opened through a screen
Of darkling clouds and mists fantastic lies
Across the tearful vision of thy longing eyes.
“By mortal man that River of dark source
Is named the ‘Stream of Life’; with constant flow
With many a winding on its downward course,
At times it lags along with motion slow,
At times impetuous o'er the rocky steep
It journeyeth onward toward The Eternal Deep.
“There in that vast Profound—that darkest Dread
That Silence—that immeasurable Gloom,
The Breathless—Shoreless—the Un-islanded
Of the great World—of mighty Time the Tomb
It sinks, it vanishes and mortal eye
Perplexed and troubled, trembling turns on high.
“But human thought, thanks be to God, can soar
Triumphant on the wings of light divine
And take its flight above the Shadow hoar;
Where Angels in a land of beauty shine
In living light which is the Light of Light,
The everlasting day, that suffereth not the night.
“Thou wert such infant Voyager, all men
Have been—the thousands yet unborn will be
Cast in such mould and of such origin
Mysterious to themselves and even he
Who bore our sorrows; for us shed his blood
Was launched in that strange Bark and sailed the mystic flood.


“Know! innocence enshrines the infant-heart
Its tears are but as dew drops freshening joy;
For withering sin, as yet, can claim no part
Nor pale remorse bedim the beaming eye.
Children are buds of Heaven 'tis earthly air
That breeds the cankers, guilt and deadening despair.
“They have their Angels. Yonder dazzling shape
That steers the richly freighted bark is one
Of those who ‘minister’ and constant keep
A watch around us, leave us not alone
From infancy to age, whether is clear the sky;
Or robed in thunder-clouds dark demons hover high.
“We see them not with our dull mortal eyes,
Yet as Zephyr bears the thistle's down;
Or summer clouds in the cerulean skies,
About us their immaculate arms are thrown,
And nought but Giant Sin can drag us thence
Who grows and conquers by our disobedience.”
“O Soul!” I cried! “Why linger not the Hours
In that blest clime of innocence? Why flowed
The stream so swiftly through the land of flowers?
Why did we leave Life's highest hill that glowed
'Mid light celestial? Where the breezes blow
Direct from Heaven, and seek these darker vales below?”
“A higher destiny is thine,” replied
My soul “through trial, sorrow, darkness, pain
The road to far sublimer joys does lead
And lasting bliss by suffering we gain
And by the gloomy vale through which we tread
We reach the bliss that makes all earthly joy seem dead.”