The Letters of William Cullen Bryant - Vol. 1

By William Cullen Bryant II; Thomas G. Voss et al. | Go to book overview
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Proud Old World
(LETTERS 288 TO 314)

. . . These dim vaults, These winding aisles, of human pomp or pride Report not. . . . This mighty oak-- By whose immovable stem I stand and seem Almost annihilated-not a prince, In all that proud old world beyond the deep, E'er wore his crown as loftily as he. . . .

-- "A Forest Hymn," 1825.

BRIANT'S RELIEF AT SAILING FOR EUROPE in June 1834 was evident in earlier remarks to Dana. "I am sick of the strife of politics," he wrote in April; "If I have any talents, they are talents for other things." He hoped while abroad to tackle "some literary enterprise of a kind in which I shall take some satisfaction." But it was soon apparent that the occasional poems he sent to the New- York Mirror could not alone provide such satisfaction. After six months in France and Italy he was still "occupied with nothing of importance," he told Horatio Greenough; he was simply trying "to recover what 1 nearly unlearned in the course of several years, thinking and writing on political subjects; namely, the modes of thought and mechanism of languages which belong to poetry." He missed the stimulus of his countrymen's applause, and wondered what he was doing so far from home.

Almost the only poems of note Bryant composed in Europe, such as "Seventy-Six," or "Catterskill Falls," embraced American themes or scenes. He tried, with meager success, to versify local legends, as in "The Knight's Epitapli" and "The Strange Lady." The one or two poems with a European coloring to which he managed to give some vitality concerned external nature "Earth's Children Cleave to Earth" and "Earth." Even here, his thoughts turned homeward:

. . . Oh thou, Who sittest far beyond the Atlantic deep, Among the sources of thy glorious streams, My native Land of Groves! a newer page In the great record of the world is thine, Shall it be fairer?

But if the Old World offered little poetic inspiration, it heightened Bryant's awareness of social states, and led him to examine closely the people through whose villages he passed, or in whose cities he settled down. He watched their behavior under their peculiar moral and political imperatives. He saw everywhere the persistence of old customs and the "vestiges of power and magnificence which have passed away." He noted wonders of ancient archi


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The Letters of William Cullen Bryant - Vol. 1
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