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A Forest Hymn

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.

Poem by William Cullen Bryant
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