Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Indian At The Burial-Place Of His Fathers

This is another poem by William Cullen Bryant, an American poet from the 1800s. He was an American of the Romanticist school and editor of the New York Evening Post. When I read a lot of his work - the most famous being "Thanatopsis" (which I also have posted earlier in this blog - I think of paintings by the Hudson River School painters. They seem imbued with a sense of the early days of our country mixed with a sense of Transcendentalism.

Unfortunately, Bryant seems to have been neglected beyond his masterpiece "Thanatopsis". That's a shame as in my opinion he's an American treasure. This poem, "An Indian At The Burial-Place Of His Fathers", is just as good as "Thanatopsis". Maybe someday Bryant will come back into vogue.

An Indian At The Burial-Place Of His Fathers

It is the spot I came to seek,--
My fathers' ancient burial-place
Ere from these vales, ashamed and weak,
Withdrew our wasted race.
It is the spot--I know it well--
Of which our old traditions tell.

For here the upland bank sends out
A ridge toward the river-side;
I know the shaggy hills about,
The meadows smooth and wide,--
The plains, that, toward the southern sky,
Fenced east and west by mountains lie.

A white man, gazing on the scene,
Would say a lovely spot was here,
And praise the lawns, so fresh and green,
Between the hills so sheer.
I like it not--I would the plain
Lay in its tall old groves again.

The sheep are on the slopes around,
The cattle in the meadows feed,
And labourers turn the crumbling ground,
Or drop the yellow seed,
And prancing steeds, in trappings gay,
Whirl the bright chariot o'er the way.

Methinks it were a nobler sight
To see these vales in woods arrayed,
Their summits in the golden light,
Their trunks in grateful shade,
And herds of deer, that bounding go
O'er hills and prostrate trees below.

And then to mark the lord of all,
The forest hero, trained to wars,
Quivered and plumed, and lithe and tall,
And seamed with glorious scars,
Walk forth, amid his reign, to dare
The wolf, and grapple with the bear.

This bank, in which the dead were laid,
Was sacred when its soil was ours;
Hither the artless Indian maid
Brought wreaths of beads and flowers,
And the gray chief and gifted seer
Worshipped the god of thunders here.

But now the wheat is green and high
On clods that hid the warrior's breast,
And scattered in the furrows lie
The weapons of his rest;
And there, in the loose sand, is thrown
Of his large arm the mouldering bone.

Ah, little thought the strong and brave
Who bore their lifeless chieftain forth--
Or the young wife, that weeping gave
Her first-born to the earth,
That the pale race, who waste us now,
Among their bones should guide the plough.

They waste us--ay--like April snow
In the warm noon, we shrink away;
And fast they follow, as we go
Towards the setting day,--
Till they shall fill the land, and we
Are driven into the western sea.

But I behold a fearful sign,
To which the white men's eyes are blind;
Their race may vanish hence, like mine,
And leave no trace behind,
Save ruins o'er the region spread,
And the white stones above the dead.

Before these fields were shorn and tilled,
Full to the brim our rivers flowed;
The melody of waters filled
The fresh and boundless wood;
And torrents dashed and rivulets played,
And fountains spouted in the shade.

Those grateful sounds are heard no more,
The springs are silent in the sun;
The rivers, by the blackened shore,
With lessening current run;
The realm our tribes are crushed to get
May be a barren desert yet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Guillaume Apollinaire: Mirabeau Bridge

Photo: Eric Rougier
This is my favorite poem by Guillame Apollinaire, a French poet, art critic, and enfant terrible from the first quarter of the 20th century. He wrote brilliantly about modern art, knew all the leading Parisian artists of the time, and is credited with coining the term 'surrealism'. He had a rich life and died young.

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
And lovers
Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

We're face to face and hand in hand
While under the bridges
Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Love elapses like the river
Love goes by
Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

The days and equally the weeks elapse
The past remains the past
Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Monday, April 9, 2012

National Poetry Month: One

Once again it is national poetry month, so I'll use this as a means to get back into blogging by posting poetry (my own and favorites by others).

I wrote 'One' nearly fourteen years ago, and it's one of those poems that came as inspiration. I was living in the city and one morning as Summer was waning, I was walking to the bus thinking about ways in which my life was changing. Words and phrases started bubbling up in my head and then I saw a leaf detach from a branch and drop down, carried on a light breeze. It caught the sun at times but slowly made it's way out of sight.

Something clicked in my head. That leaf was me. I got on the bus and wrote this poem all at once. No edits, no drafts. It just came.

when a leaf
feels the wind,
it clings
to the branch
like a child
to a mother's hand.
lets go
when it's free,
it flies
and is
the most
when it is


for the first time

uncertain of


it will


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Months Away

It's been too long since I've been away! Busy busy busy!

But then a friend on Facebook mentioned April is National Poetry Month. I will use this as a way to get back into posting.