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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 Two


2. Part Two

As the broad mountain where the shadows flit
Of clouds dispersing in the summer-breeze;
Or like the eye of one who high does sit
On Taormina's antique height and sees
The fiery Mount afar, the Ruin near at hand,
The flowers, the purple waves that wash the golden strand.
So changed my thought from light to shade;
At times exulting in the glow of hope, at times
In darkness cast by what my soul had said;
'Till sunk in reverie her words seemed chimes
From some far tower, that tell of mystial joy,
Or knell that fills the air as with a lingering sigh.
Again I raised my downcast eyes to look
Upon the scene so beautiful when lo!
The stream no longer from the cavern took
Its gentle way 'tween flowery banks and low
But through a landscape varied, rich and vast
Beneath a sky that dusky cloud had surely never passed.
Wide was the river; with majestic flow
And pomp and power it swept the curving banks
Like some great conqueror whose march is slow
Through tributary lands; while the abasèd ranks,
Shrinking give back on either hand o'erawed
As though they trembling felt the presence of a God.
And like some Wizard's mirror, that displays
The Macrocosm, it did reflect the sky,
Rocks, lawns and mountains with their purple haze,
And living things, the filmy butterfly,
The trembling fawn that drinks, the fluttering dove
And the triumphant eagle soaring far above.
And trees like those which spread their pleasant shade
O'er the green slopes of Eden, and the bowers
Of the once sinless pair, soft, intermingling made
Stood on each shore with branches lifted high
And caught eolian strains that wandered from the sky.


Far, far away the shining river sped
Toward the etherial mountains which did close
Fold beyond fold until they vanished
In the horizon's silver, whence uprose
A structure strangely beautiful and vast
Which every earthly fane Egyptian, Gothic, Greek, surpassed.
It seemed a gorgeous palace in the sky
Such as the glad sun builds above the deep
On summer-eve and lighteth dazzlingly,
Where towering clouds climb up the azure steep
And pinnacles on pinnacles fantastic rise
And ever-changing charm the wondering eyes.
There, rank o'er rank that climbed the crystal air
In horizontal majesty, were crossed
The multitudinous shafts, or ranged afar
Till in the blue perspective they were lost,
And arches linked with arches stretched along
Like to the mystic measures of an antique song.
An antique song whose half-discovered sense
Seems to spring forth from depths, as yet, unknown
And fills the heart with wonder and suspense
Until to thrilling rapture it is grown;
Breathless we listen to each wandering strain
And when the numbers cease, we listen still again.
Above the columned pile sublimely rose
A Dome stupendous; like the moon it shone
When first upon the orient sky she glows
And moves along the Ocean's verge alone;
And yet beyond, above, another sphere
And yet another, vaster, dimly did appear.
As though the blue supernal space were filled
With towers and temples, which the eye intent
Piercing the filmy atmosphere that veiled,
From glorious dome to dome rejoicing went,
And the deep folds of ether were unfurled
To show the splendors of a higher world.


But from the vision of the upper air
My eye descended to the lucid stream;
The wingèd Boat—the Voyagers were there;
But the fair Infant of my earlier dream
Now stood a Youth on manhood's verge, his eye
Flashing with confidence and hot expectancy.
Was lifted toward the sky-encastled scene,
His hand had grasped the helm once gently held
By that Angelic figure so serene,
And eager stretching toward the scene beheld,
His bosom heaved as if with secret powers
Possessed to tread the deep—to outstrip the flying Hours.
With face benignant yet impinged with sorrow,
As oft the sky of eve by melancholy cloud
Which though it doth forbode a stormy morrow
Is not less beautiful, the Angel stood
Upon the bank as from the Boat just freed
And waved her graceful hand and bade the Youth “God Speed.”
As one emerging from some misty vale
Meets the glad splendor of the rising sun;
Or mariner who the wintry sea doth sail
Through opening wrack beholds the harbor won,
So did I gaze upon the charming scene
And in my joy forgot the vision Infantine.
When thus the Voice in plantive accents mild:
“Ah simple mortal Earth has many a show
That passes quickly—thou a credulous child,
All men are children and they thoughtless go
Through life's strange vale lingering by every flower
Forgetful life is labor and its term an hour.
“The scene before thee beautiful and bright
Is but a phantasm of Youth's heated brain
And doomed to fade as day before the night;
Fleeting its glory, transitory, vain;
Save that it teaches the meek humble soul
Earth's grandeur ne'er should be the spirit's Goal.


“Not that the earth foundationless is laid,
An unsubstantial thing, a cloud, a mist;
But 'tis a darkling soil wherein the seed
Of Virtue planted, tended may subsist
And washed by many tears may grow
To more enduring beauty than these gauds below.
“But mark the Youth, how filled his eager eye
With the bright exaltation.—See! he aims
To reach the portal of the palace high
Above whose cloudy arch resplendant flames
The tempting semblance of a conqueror's crown
And wreath to bind the brows of him who wins renown.
“And while he gazes greater glories rise
Higher yet higher; ardent young desire
With telescopic vision fills the skies.
Gay are the banks in verdurous attire
And swift the river floweth toward his hope
The palace stands beyond, reached by a gentle slope.
“Weak and deluded one! Dost thou not know
Thy Bark is hasting down the Stream of Life
And tarries not for any golden show
In pleasure's gardens though with beauty rife!
So doth the comet pass the planets by
Nor rests; but speeds on its appointed destiny.
“Does not thine eye perceive that when yon towers
Are well nigh gained with sudden sweep the stream,
And growing swiftness, shoots away and pours
Impetuous, towards a shadowy ravine deep
Cleft in the mountain's vast and misty side
As though it eager sought its thwarted floods to hide.”
The voice had paused: “And is it thus” I cried,
“That Youth's fond hopes must ever pass away;
As empty dreams, untouched unsatisfied:
Why leaves the Angel on his dangerous way
The Voyager? That hand divine could steer
The willing Boat to where yon glittering domes uprear.


“And lingering by these fresh and verdant shores
E'en youth might live a long long life of joy
And shun perchance the torrent where it pours
Adown yon dread descent.” To which reply
Came quickly, “Shrouded as now thou art in earth
Thou canst not see the end for which came mortal birth.
“In the Almighty mind the secret cause is laid;
This must thou learn, that our brief mortal life
Nor rests nor lingers; nor is checked nor stayed
By human skill or might howe'er so rife;
Nor is it in an Angel's godlike power
To lengthen out its wasting thread one single hour.
“Through feeble Infancy is steered the Bark of Life
By Angel hands; but growing man demands
The helm in confidence and dares the strife
Of the far-sweeping waves. The lurking sands,
The rapids foaming through the channel dim,
The roaring cataract are all unknown to him.
“Wisdom is born of sorrow and of care
And from man's conflicts with the world arise
A sense of weakness and of chilling fear
And driven from earth his hopes ascend the skies.
Thus is he launched upon the stream alone
To chasten pride and give young desire a holier tone.
“He is alone; but still deserted never
The Angel yet shall watch his perilous way;
And though the clouds of earth may seem to sever,
Still through the darkness shines the Angelic ray;
And in the hour of midnight o'er the deep
The Guardian Spirit kind will constant vigil keep.”