Nox Oculis


William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

William Cullen Bryant est aujourd'hui considéré comme le père de la poésie américaine ; traducteur d'Homère, il est l'auteur de poèmes empreints de sa foi déiste, et d'une grande quiétude.

Né le 3 novembre 1794 à Cummington, Massachusetts, mort le 12 juin 1878 à New York. Fils d'un médeçin très réputé, Bryant fut introduit à la poésie grâce à la vaste bibliothèque de son père. Très jeune, il parcourut la campagne de Nouvelle-Angleterre et devint un observateur attentif de la nature. Ses plus célèbres poèmes (Thanatopsis, To a Waterfowl, Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood, tous rédigés avant l'âge de 21 ans) célèbrent d'ailleurs la majesté de la nature, à la manière des Romantiques anglais, mais qui reflète aussi un style personnel empreint de simplicité et de solennité.

Bryant fut consiédé un comme un enfant prodige, rédigeant son permier poème à l'âge de 10 ans et publiant son premier livre à 13 ans. Admis au Barreau en 1815, Bryant pratiqua le droit à Great Barrington, Mass., jusqu'à 1825, où il s'installa à New York. Déjà connu comme poète et critique, il devint éditeur associé au New York Evening Post en 1826, et de 1829 jusqu'à sa mort, il fut en partie propriétaire du journal et éditeur en chef. Il fut grand défenseur des droits de l'homme et et du libre échange, abolitionniste et partisan de plusieurs réformes.

Il tient un place particulière dan la littérature américaine comme premier théoricien américain de la poésie. Dans ses Lectures on Poetry (1825 ; publiées en 1884) ainsi que dans d'autres essais critiques, il met l'accent sur les valeurts de simplicité, d'imagination et d'originalité, de même que sur la moralité. Inspiré par le déisme, sa poésie a influencé à son tour des écrivains comme Emerson et Thoreau.


The Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus

    I would not always reason. The straight path
    Wearies us with its never-varying lines,
    And we grow melancholy. I would make
    Reason my guide, but she should sometimes sit
    Patiently by the way-side, while I traced
    The mazes of the pleasant wilderness
    Around me. She should be my counsellor,
    But not my tyrant. For the spirit needs
    Impulses from a deeper source than hers,
    And there are motions, in the mind of man,
    That she must look upon with awe. I bow
    Reverently to her dictates, but not less
    Hold to the fair illusions of old time --
    Illusions that shed brightness over life,
    And glory over nature. Look, even now,
    Where two bright planets in the twilight meet,
    Upon the saffron heaven, -- the imperial star
    Of Jove, and she that from her radiant urn
    Pours forth the light of love. Let me believe,
    Awhile, that they are met for ends of good,
    Amid the evening glory, to confer
    Of men and their affairs, and to shed down
    Kind influence. Lo! their orbs burn more bright,
    And shake out softer fires! The great earth feels
    The gladness and the quiet of the time.
    Meekly the mighty river, that infolds
    This mighty city, smooths his front, and far
    Glitters and burns even to the rocky base
    Of the dark heights that bound him to the west;
    And a deep murmur, from the many streets,
    Rises like a thanksgiving. Put we hence
    Dark and sad thoughts awhile -- there's time for them
    Hereafter--on the morrow we will meet,
    With melancholy looks, to tell our griefs,
    And make each other wretched; this calm hour,
    This balmy, blessed evening, we will give
    To cheerful hopes and dreams of happy days,
    Born of the meeting of those glorious stars.

    Enough of drought has parched the year, and scared
    The land with dread of famine. Autumn, yet,
    Shall make men glad with unexpected fruits.
    The dog-star shall shine harmless ; genial days
    Shall softly glide away into the keen
    And wholesome cold of winter; he that fears
    The pestilence, shall gaze on those pure beams,
    And breathe, with confidence, the quiet air.

    Emblems of power and beauty ! well may they
    Shine brightest on our borders, and withdraw
    Towards the great Pacific, marking out
    The path of empire. Thus, in our own land,
    Ere long, the better Genius of our race,
    Having encompassed earth, and tamed its tribes,
    Shall sit him down beneath the farthest west,
    By the shore of that calm ocean, and look back
    On realms made happy.

    Light the nuptial torch,
    And say the glad, yet solemn rite, that knits
    The youth and maiden. Happy days to them
    That wed this evening ! -- a long life of love,
    And blooming sons and daughters ! Happy they
    Born at this hour, -- for they shall see an age
    Whiter and holier than the past, and go
    Late to their graves. Men shall wear softer hearts,
    And shudder at the butcheries of war,
    As now at other murders.

    Hapless Greece !
    Enough of blood has wet thy rocks, and stained
    Thy rivers; deep enough thy chains have worn
    Their links into thy flesh; the sacrifice
    Of thy pure maidens, and thy innocent babes,
    And reverend priests, has expiated all
    Thy crimes of old. In yonder mingling lights
    There is an omen of good days for thee.
    Thou shalt arise from 'midst the dust and sit
    Again among the nations. Thine own arm
    Shall yet redeem thee. Not in wars like thine
    The world takes part. Be it a strife of kings, --
    Despot with despot battling for a throne, --
    And Europe shall be stirred throughout her realms,
    Nations shall put on harness, and shall fall
    Upon each other, and in all their bounds
    The wailing of the childless shall not cease,
    Thine is a war for liberty, and thou
    Must fight it single-handed. The old world
    Looks coldly on the murderers of thy race,
    And leaves thee to the struggle; and the new,--
    I fear me thou couldst tell a shameful tale
    Of fraud and lust of gain ; -- thy treasury drained,
    And Missolonghi fallen. Yet thy wrongs
    Shall put new strength into thy heart and hand,
    And God and thy good sword shall yet work out,
    For thee, a terrible deliverance.

    William Cullen Bryant


The Constellations

    O Constellations of the early night,
    That sparkled brighter as the twilight died,
    And made the darkness glorious! I have seen
    Your rays grow dim upon the horizon's edge,
    And sink behind the mountains. I have seen
    The great Orion, with his jewelled belt,
    That large-limbed warrior of the skies, go down
    Into the gloom. Beside him sank a crowd
    Of shining ones. I look in vain to find
    The group of sister-stars, which mothers love
    To show their wondering babes, the gentle Seven.
    Along the desert space mine eyes in vain
    Seek the resplendent cressets which the Twins
    Uplifted in their ever-youthful hands.
    The streaming tresses of the Egyptian Queen
    Spangle the heavens no more. The Virgin trails
    No more her glittering garments through the blue.
    Gone! all are gone! and the forsaken Night,
    With all her winds, in all her dreary wastes,
    Sighs that they shine upon her face no more.

    No only here and there a little star
    Looks forth alone. Ah me! I know them not,
    Those dim successors of the numberless host
    That filled the heavenly fields, and flung to earth
    Their guivering fires. And now the middle watch
    Betwixt the eve and morn is past, and still
    The darkness gains upon the sky, and still
    It closes round my way. Shall, then, the Night,
    Grow starless in her later hours? Have these
    No train of flaming watchers, that shall mark
    Their coming and farewell ? O Sons of Light !
    Have ye then left me ere the dawn of day
    To grope along my journey sad and faint ?

    Thus I complained, and from the darkness round
    A voice replied--was it indeed a voice,
    Or seeming accents of a waking dream
    Heard by the inner ear? But thus it said :
    O Traveller of the Night! thine eyes are dim
    With watching; and the mists, that chill the vale
    Down which thy feet are passing, hide from view
    The ever-burning stars. It is thy sight
    That is so dark, and not the heavens. Thine eyes,
    Were they but clear, would see a fiery host
    Above thee; Hercules, with flashing mace,
    The Lyre with silver cords, the Swan uppoised
    On gleaming wings, the Dolphin gliding on
    With glistening scales, and that poetic steed,
    With beamy mane, whose hoof struck out from earth
    The fount of Hippocrene, and many more,
    Fair clustered splendors, with whose rays the Night
    Shall close her march in glory, ere she yield,
    To the young Day, the great earth steeped in dew.

    So spake the monitor, and I perceived
    How vain were my repinings, and my thought
    Went backward to the vanished years and all
    The good and great who came and passed with them,
    And knew that ever would the years to come
    Bring with them, in their course, the good and great,
    Lights of the world, though, to my clouded sight,
    Their rays might seem but dim, or reach me not.

    William Cullen Bryant


The Firmament

    Ay! gloriously thou standest there,
    Beautiful, boundless firmament !
    That, swelling wide o'er earth and air,
    And round the horizon bent,
    With thy bright vault, and sapphire wall,
    Dost overhang and circle all. --
    Far, far below thee, tall gray trees
    Arise, and piles built up of old,
    And hills, whose ancient summits freeze
    In the fierce light and cold.
    The eagle soars his utmost height,
    Yet far thou stretchest o'er his flight. --
    Thou hast thy frowns- with thee on high
    The storm has made his airy seat,
    Beyond that soft blue curtain lie
    His stores of hail and sleet.
    Thence the consuming lightnings break,
    There the strong hurricanes awake. --
    Yet art thou prodigal of smiles --
    Smiles, sweeter than thy frowns are stern,
    Earth sends, from all her thousand isles,
    A shout at their return.
    The glory that comes down from thee,
    Bathes, in deep joy, the land and sea. --
    The sun, the gorgeous sun is thine,
    The pomp that brings and shuts the day,
    The clouds that round him change and shine,
    The airs that fan his way.
    Thence look the thoughtful stars, and there
    The meek moon walks the silent air. --
    The sunny Italy may boast
    The beauteous tints that flush her skies,
    And lovely, round the Grecian coast,
    May thy blue pillars rise.
    I only know how fair they stand
    Around my own beloved land. --
    And they are fair- a charm is theirs,
    That earth, the proud green earth, has not,
    With all the forms, and hues, and airs,
    That haunt her sweetest spot.
    We gaze upon thy calm pure sphere,
    And read of Heaven's eternal year. --
    Oh, when, amid the throng of men,
    The heart grows sick of hollow mirth,
    How willingly we turn us then
    Away from this cold earth,
    And look into thy azure breast,
    For seats of innocence and rest ! --

    William Cullen Bryant, 1832


Hymn to the North Star

    The sad and solemn night
    Has yet her multitude of cheerful fires ;
    The glorious host of light
    Walk the dark hemisphere till she retires ;
    All through her silent watches, gliding slow,
    Her constellations come, and climb the heavens, and go.

    Day, too, hath many a star
    To grace his gorgeous reign, as bright as they :
    Through the blue fields afar,
    Unseen, they follow in his flaming way :
    Many a bright lingerer, as the eve grows dim,
    Tells what a radiant troop arose and set with him.

    And thou dost see them rise,
    Star of the Pole! and thou dost see them set.
    Alone, in thy cold skies,
    Thou keep'st thy old unmoving station yet,
    Nor join'st the dances of that glittering train,
    Nor dipp'st thy virgin orb in the blue western main.

    There, at morn's rosy birth,
    Thou lookest meekly through the kindling air,
    And eve, that round the earth
    Chases the day, beholds thee watching there ;
    There noontide finds thee, and the hour that calls
    The shapes of polar flame to scale heaven's azure walls.

    Alike, beneath thine eye,
    The deeds of darkness and of light are done ;
    High towards the star-lit sky
    Towns blaze -- the smoke of battle blots the sun --
    The night-storm on a thousand hills is loud --
    And the strong wind of day doth mingle sea and cloud.

    On thy unaltering blaze
    The half-wrecked mariner, his compass lost,
    Fixes his steady gaze,
    And steers, undoubting, to the friendly coast ;
    And they who stray in perilous wastes, by night,
    Are glad when thou dost shine to guide their footsteps right.

    And, therefore, bards of old,
    Sages, and hermits of the solemn wood,
    Did in thy beams behold
    A beauteous type of that unchanging good,
    That bright eternal beacon, by whose ray
    The voyager of time should shape his heedful way.

    William Cullen Bryant


The New Moon

    When, as the garish day is done,
    Heaven burns with the descended sun,
    'Tis passing sweet to mark
    Amid that flush of crimson light,
    The new moon's modest bow grow bright,
    As earth and sky grow dark. --
    Few are the hearts too cold to feel
    A thrill of gladness o'er them steal,
    When first the wandering eye
    Sees faintly, in the evening blaze
    That glimmering curve of tender rays
    Just planted in the sky. --
    The sight of that young crescent brings
    Thoughts of all fair and youthful things --
    The hopes of early years ;
    And childhood's purity and grace,
    And joys that like a rainbow chase
    The passing shower of tears. --
    The captive yields him to the dream
    Of freedom, when that virgin beam
    Comes out upon the air ;
    And painfully the sick man tries
    To fix his dim and burning eyes
    On the sweet promise there. --
    Most welcome to the lover's sight
    Glitters that pure, emerging light ;
    For prattling poets say,
    That sweetest is the lovers' walk,
    And tenderest is their murmured talk,
    Beneath its gentle ray. --
    And there do graver men behold
    A type of errors, loved of old,
    Forsaken and forgiven ;
    And thoughts and wishes not of earth
    Just opening in their early birth,
    Like that new light in heaven. --

    William Cullen Bryant, 1832


The Order Of Nature

    Thou who wouldst read, with an undarkened eye,
    The laws by which the Thunderer bears sway,
    Look at the stars that keep, in yonder sky,
    Unbroken peace from Nature's earliest day.
    The great sun, as he guides his fiery car,
    Strikes not the cold moon in his rapid sweep ;
    The Bear, that sees star setting after star
    In the blue brine, descends not to the deep. --
    The star of eve still leads the hour of dews ;
    Duly the day-star ushers in the light ;
    With kindly alternations Love renews
    The eternal courses bringing day and night.
    Love drives away the brawler War, and keeps
    The realm and host of stars beyond his reach ;
    In one long calm the general concord steeps
    The elements, and tempers each to each. --
    The moist gives place benignly to the dry ;
    Heat ratifies a faithful league with cold ;
    The nimble flame springs upward to the sky ;
    Down sinks by its own weight the sluggish mould.
    Still sweet with blossoms is the year's fresh prime ;
    Her harvests stir the ripening Summer yields ;
    Fruit-laden Autumn follows in his time,
    And rainy Winter waters still the fields. --
    The elemental harmony brings forth
    And rears all life, and, when life's term is o'er,
    It sweeps the breathing myriads from the earth,
    And whelms and hides them to be seen no more :
    While the Great Founder, he who gave these laws,
    Holds the firm reins and sits amid his skies
    Monarch and Master, Origin and Cause,
    And Arbiter supremely just and wise. --
    He guides the force he gave ; his hand restrains
    And curbs it to the circle it must trace :
    Else the fair fabric which his power sustains
    Would fall to fragments in the void of space.
    Love binds the parts together, gladly still
    They court the kind restraint nor would be free ;
    Unless Love held them subject to the Will
    That gave them being, they would cease to be. --

    William Cullen Bryant, 1866


The Skies

    Ay! gloriously thou standest there,
    Beautiful, boundless firmament !
    That swelling wide o'er earth and air,
    And round the horizon bent,
    With thy bright vault, and sapphire wall,
    Dost overhang and circle all.

    Far, far below thee, tall old trees
    Arise, and piles built up of old,
    And hills, whose ancient summits freeze,
    In the fierce light and cold.
    The eagle soars his utmost height,
    Yet far thou stretchest o'er his flight.

    Thou hast thy frowns--with thee on high,
    The storm has made his airy seat,
    Beyond that soft blue curtain lie
    His stores of hail and sleet.
    Thence the consuming lightnings break.
    There the strong hurricanes awake.

    Yet art thou prodigal of smiles --
    Smiles, sweeter than thy frowns are stem :
    Earth sends, from all her thousand isles,
    A shout at thy return.
    The glory that comes down from thee,
    Bathes, in deep joy, the land and sea.

    The sun, the gorgeous sun, is thine,
    The pomp that brings and shuts the day,
    The clouds that round him change and shine,
    The airs that fan his way.
    Thence look the thoughtful stars, and there
    The meek moon walks the silent air.

    The sunny Italy may boast
    The beauteous tints that flush her skies.
    And lovely, round the Grecian coast,
    May thy blue pillars rise.
    I only know how fair they stand,
    Around my own beloved land.

    And they are fair -- a charm is theirs,
    That earth, the proud green earth, has not --
    With all the forms, and hues, and airs,
    That haunt her sweetest spot.
    We gaze upon thy calm pure sphere,
    And read of Heaven's eternal year.

    Oh, when, amid the throng of men,
    The heart grows sick of hollow mirth,
    How willingly we turn us then
    Away from this cold earth,
    And look into thy azure breast,
    For seats of innocence and rest.

    William Cullen Bryant


Song of the Stars

    When the radiant morn of creation broke,
    And the world in the smile of God awoke,
    And the empty realms of darkness and death
    Were moved through their depths by his mighty breath,
    And orbs of beauty and spheres of flame
    From the void abyss by myriads came, --
    In the joy of youth as they darted away,
    Through the widening wastes of space to play,
    Their silver voices in chorus rung,
    And this was the song the bright ones sung.

    "Away, away, through the wide, wide sky, --
    The fair blue fields that before us lie, --
    Each sun, with the worlds that round him roll,
    Each planet, poised on her turning pole;
    With her isles of green, and her clouds of white,
    And her waters that lie like fluid light.

    "For the source of glory uncovers his face,
    And the brightness o'erflows unbounded space ;
    And we drink, as we go, the luminous tides
    In our ruddy air and our blooming sides :
    Lo, yonder the living splendours play;
    Away, on our joyous path, away !

    "Look, look, through our glittering ranks afar,
    In the infinite azure, star after star,
    How they brighten and bloom as they swiftly pass !
    How the verdure runs o'er each rolling mass !
    And the path of the gentle winds is seen,
    Where the small waves dance, and the young woods lean.

    "And see, where the brighter day-beams pour,
    How the rainbows hang in the sunny shower ;
    And the morn and eve, with their pomp of hues,
    Shift o'er the bright planets and shed their dews ;
    And 'twixt them both, o'er the teeming ground,
    With her shadowy cone the night goes round !

    "Away, away! in our blossoming bowers,
    In the soft air wrapping these spheres of ours,
    In the seas and fountains that shine with morn,
    See, Love is brooding, and Life is born,
    And breathing myriads are breaking from night,
    To rejoice like us, in motion and light.

    "Glide on in your beauty, ye youthful spheres,
    To weave the dance that measures the years ;
    Glide on, in the glory and gladness sent,
    To the farthest wall of the firmament, --
    The boundless visible smile of Him,
    To the veil of whose brow your lamps are dim."

    William Cullen Bryant, 1832


The Star of Bethlehem

    As shadows cast by cloud and sun
    Flit o'er the summer grass,
    So, in thy sight, Almighty One !
    Earth's generations pass. --
    And while the years, an endless host,
    Come pressing swiftly on,
    The brightest names that earth can boast
    Just glisten, and are gone. --
    Yet doth the Star of Bethlehem shed
    A lustre pure and sweet ;
    And still it leads, as once it led,
    To the Messiah's feet. --
    And deeply, at this later day,
    Our hearts rejoice to see
    How children, guided by its ray,
    Come to the Saviour's knee. --
    O Father, may that holy Star
    Grow every year more bright,
    And send its glorious beam afar
    To fill the world with light. --

    William Cullen Bryant, 1864


The Waning Moon

    I've watched too late; the morn is near ;
    One look at God's broad silent sky !
    Oh, hopes and wishes vainly dear,
    How in your very strength ye die !
    Even while your glow is on the cheek,
    And scarce the high pursuit begun,
    The heart grows faint; the hand grows weak,
    The task of life is left undone. --
    See where, upon the horizon's brim,
    Lies the still cloud in gloomy bars ;
    The waning moon, all pale and dim,
    Goes up amid the eternal stars.
    Late, in a flood of tender light,
    She floated through the ethereal blue,
    A softer sun, that shone all night
    Upon the gathering beads of dew. --
    And still thou wanest, pallid moon !
    The encroaching shadow grows apace ;
    Heaven's everlasting watchers soon
    Shall see thee blotted from thy place.
    Oh, Night's dethroned and crownless queen !
    Well may thy sad, expiring ray
    Be shed on those whose eyes have seen
    Hope's glorious visions fade away. --
    Shine thou for forms that once were bright,
    For sages in the mind's eclipse,
    For those whose words were spells of might,
    But falter now on stammering lips !
    In thy decaying beam there lies
    Full many a grave on hill and plain,
    Of those who closed their dying eyes
    In grief that they had lived in vain. --
    Another night, and thou among
    The spheres of heaven shalt cease to shine,
    All rayless in the glittering throng
    Whose lustre late was quenched in thine.
    Yet soon a new and tender light
    From out thy darkened orb shall beam,
    And broaden till it shines all night
    On glistening dew and glimmering stream.

    William Cullen Bryant, 1864


Références :


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