University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
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

collapse section 
collapse section46. 
collapse section47. 
collapse section71. 
Part Three


3. Part Three

Those closing accents fell upon my ear
Sweetly as dew upon the drooping flower
For in my thoughts were knit suspense and fear
Which grew to hope transmuted by their power,
So the first breeze of Spring upon the hills
With sighs awakes the buds and frees the ice-bound rills.
In gentle reverie my mind reposed
When lo! The vision changed—A dismal vale—
Its sides down stooping into night were bossed
With jagged rocks—above huge crags rose pale
And quivering in thick turbulent air
Like hell-affrighted spectres starting from their lair.
It seemed the Earthquake there had oped his jaws
And fierce Convulsion rent the ribs of Earth;
Darkness and light forgot their ancient laws.
It was a den where demons had their birth
Where voices strange and many a dusky form
Smote the strained ear and did the sky deform.
And down this valley's gulphy depths profound;
Where resting place is none; nor green retreat;
Where fear and death forever hover round,
On every blast their restless pinions beat;
The river of my Vision took its way
And left far, far behind the golden light of day.
Onward it dashed and with a tyrannic force
Swept o'er the fractured rocks and foamed and fell
And reeled from side to side with thunders hoarse:
Though broken off and baffled naught could quell:—
Athwart the steep the streaming floods did pour
And rocky fragments fell, dislodged amid the roar.
On a swift curve, a verge of glossy green,
Such Niagaras where its waters leap
The dizzy precipice, the Boat was seen
Fleet as a meteor thwart the midnight deep.
Like famished wolves when the scared prey is nigh,
The pale demoniac floods roared louder as for joy.


No more youth's sunshine like a halo spread
Around the Voyager's high imperial brow;
But Care's wan shadow settled on his head
As clouds their gloom upon the mountain throw.
His now the middle age when human thought
Ascends her highest tower with rich experience fraught.
So have we seen in some dense city's way
A frantic steed dash through the affrighted crowd
With his pale rider—to and fro they sway
With headlong speed mid shrieks and clamor loud
'Till by a sudden plunge he disappears.—
In dumb suspense we stand and quake with horrid fears.
“What now can save?” I cried. O ever blind
But to the present and the mask of things
Was quick replied: “Doubter! Thou yet mayest find
That what appears the greatest evil brings
Supremest good as blackest storms and rain
Bring freshness, beauty, glory in their passing train.
“Behold the Guardian Angel sitteth yet
Benignant 'mong the stormy clouds aloft
Kindling their blackness; like a Glory set
By God in midnight space—A sun whose soft
Unbroken light illumes some lonely sphere
That travelleth through depths of trackless ether drear.
“She waits with joy the prayer which heavenward now
The Voyager uplifts—Faith's earnest cry:
For rescued by that act the floods below
With all their fury; nor the tempest nigh;
Nor ocean, seen afar have power to harm;
Nor yet yon Demon Shapes terrific cause alarm.
“This is the crisis—this the decisive hour
In life's swift fever—balance Life and Death.
Adversity's cold storm and Sorrow's power
Temptation desperate with changeful breath
Break with unmitigated fury on the Man,
And Pleasure once so fair is sicklied o'er and wan.


“And earthly hopes are wrecked and cherished joy;
And friends estranged; or turned to foes; or gone
Youth's crown of Glory faded and for aye:
O'er Earth o'er Heaven a dusky pall is thrown:
Affection's treasured things are found to fly
Sink in the silent tomb, or vanish witheringly.
“Young Love's delicious river soon ran dry
And wasted in life's wilderness of drought;
Ambition that once filled the ample sky
Was but a dazzling cloud with tempest fraught:
All, perished in the World or lost in Death
As wastes in frosty air the warm and vaporous breath.
“The heart doth suffer violence, racked and riven
By the relentless blasts of earthly ill.
Burthened with sin all vainly hath it striven
Like a huge oak upon a wind-swept hill
As tortured branches lash the Autumnal gale
And struggling yield their umbrage with a lengthened wail.
“But as the Spring, the gentle Spring, draws nigh
To warm its mighty heart and swell its buds
To lift its fragrance and to beautify;
So through the Voyager's breast, amid these floods,
A living warmth shall steal and prayer shall rise
And yon attendant Spirit waft it to the skies.
“The Guardian watches yet the weltering bark
O'er the vexed floods adown the dizzy steep
Through rock-ribbed channels hideous and dark
Safely to guide him toward yon Ocean deep
Whose darkly boundless waves eternal silence keep.”
My Teacher! Guide! Thou who hast kindly read
The meaning of these wondrous scenes to me
Still my heart trembles, like a fragile reed
By the lone shore where stamps the angry sea,
This is a fearful-over-perilous way
To lead but to yon Ocean's misty horror gray.


And must the Voyager, these perils past
Dwell ever on that vast and gloomy main,
And on its lethean bosom dull be cast,
Dreamless, eternally to sleep? Then vain
Would seem his Birth, his Youth, his Manhood prime;
Strange, useless burthens on the drooping Wings of Time.
“Yet! Yet distrustful and forgetful ever
Dull to the voice of wisdom! I have said,
Death's pallid hand the cloudy veil shall sever
And wonder Ocean widely, darkly spread,
Be as a curtain quickly drawn away
And open like the Morn for a surpassing day.”