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
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.
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
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
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.
Here is continual worship;¡ªNature here
In the tranquillity that thou dost love
Enjoys thy presence.
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
Written on thy works I read
The lesson of thy own eternity.
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.
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.
William Cullen Bryant
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