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A Forest Hymn

Written by: William Cullen Bryant | Biography
 | Quotes (29) |
THE GROVES were God's first temples. Ere man learned 
To hew the shaft and lay the architrave  
And spread the roof above them¡ªere he framed 
The lofty vault to gather and roll back 
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood 5 
Amidst the cool and silence he knelt down  
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks 
And supplication. For his simple heart 
Might not resist the sacred influences 
Which from the stilly twilight of the place 10 
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven 
Mingled their mossy boughs and from the sound 
Of the invisible breath that swayed at once 
All their green tops stole over him and bowed 
His spirit with the thought of boundless power 15 
And inaccessible majesty. Ah why 
Should we in the world's riper years neglect 
God's ancient sanctuaries and adore 
Only among the crowd and under roofs 
That our frail hands have raised? Let me at least 20 
Here in the shadow of this aged wood  
Offer one hymn¡ªthrice happy if it find 
Acceptance in His ear. 

Father thy hand 
Hath reared these venerable columns thou 25 
Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down 
Upon the naked earth and forthwith rose 
All these fair ranks of trees. They in thy sun  
Budded and shook their green leaves in thy breeze  
And shot towards heaven. The century-living crow 30 
Whose birth was in their tops grew old and died 
Among their branches till at last they stood  
As now they stand massy and tall and dark  
Fit shrine for humble worshipper to hold 
Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults 35 
These winding aisles of human pomp or pride 
Report not. No fantastic carvings show 
The boast of our vain race to change the form 
Of thy fair works. But thou art here¡ªthou fill'st 
The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds 40 
That run along the summit of these trees 
In music; thou art in the cooler breath 
That from the inmost darkness of the place 
Comes scarcely felt; the barky trunks the ground  
The fresh moist ground are all instinct with thee. 45 
Here is continual worship;¡ªNature here  
In the tranquillity that thou dost love  
Enjoys thy presence. Noiselessly around  
From perch to perch the solitary bird 
Passes; and yon clear spring that midst its herbs 50 
Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots 
Of half the mighty forest tells no tale 
Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left 
Thyself without a witness in these shades  
Of thy perfections. Grandeur strength and grace 55 
Are here to speak of thee. This mighty oak ¡ª 
By whose immovable stem I stand and seem 
Almost annihilated¡ªnot a prince  
In all that proud old world beyond the deep  
E'er wore his crown as loftily as he 60 
Wears the green coronal of leaves with which 
Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root 
Is beauty such as blooms not in the glare 
Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower  
With scented breath and look so like a smile 65 
Seems as it issues from the shapeless mould  
An emanation of the indwelling Life  
A visible token of the upholding Love  
That are the soul of this great universe. 

My heart is awed within me when I think 70 
Of the great miracle that still goes on  
In silence round me¡ªthe perpetual work 
Of thy creation finished yet renewed 
Forever. Written on thy works I read 
The lesson of thy own eternity. 75 
Lo! all grow old and die¡ªbut see again  
How on the faltering footsteps of decay 
Youth presses ¡ªever-gay and beautiful youth 
In all its beautiful forms. These lofty trees 
Wave not less proudly that their ancestors 80 
Moulder beneath them. O there is not lost 
One of earth's charms: upon her bosom yet  
After the flight of untold centuries  
The freshness of her far beginning lies 
And yet shall lie. Life mocks the idle hate 85 
Of his arch-enemy Death¡ªyea seats himself 
Upon the tyrant's throne¡ªthe sepulchre  
And of the triumphs of his ghastly foe 
Makes his own nourishment. For he came forth 
From thine own bosom and shall have no end. 90 

There have been holy men who hid themselves 
Deep in the woody wilderness and gave 
Their lives to thought and prayer till they outlived 
The generation born with them nor seemed 
Less aged than the hoary trees and rocks 95 
Around them;¡ªand there have been holy men 
Who deemed it were not well to pass life thus. 
But let me often to these solitudes 
Retire and in thy presence reassure 
My feeble virtue. Here its enemies 100 
The passions at thy plainer footsteps shrink 
And tremble and are still. O God! when thou 
Dost scare the world with tempests set on fire 
The heavens with falling thunderbolts or fill  
With all the waters of the firmament 105 
The swift dark whirlwind that uproots the woods 
And drowns the villages; when at thy call  
Uprises the great deep and throws himself 
Upon the continent and overwhelms 
Its cities¡ªwho forgets not at the sight 110 
Of these tremendous tokens of thy power  
His pride and lays his strifes and follies by? 
O from these sterner aspects of thy face 
Spare me and mine nor let us need the wrath 
Of the mad unchain¨¨d elements to teach 115 
Who rules them. Be it ours to meditate  
In these calm shades thy milder majesty  
And to the beautiful order of thy works 
Learn to conform the order of our lives.