Sunday, April 10, 2011

William Cullen Bryant

Asher B. Durand painted "Kindred spirits" a representation of William Cullen Bryant and his recently deceased friend, American painter, Thomas Cole, whose eulogy he had written.

I am writing about a poet and man of letters tonight William Cullen Bryant 1794-1878 rather than a painter, but I think an artist should have some cultural perspective , thus it falls within my purview ( and also it IS my blog and I have the tiller).

Written in 1813 the poem Thanatopsis was found in a drawer by his gather and submitted to an poetry review by his father. Bryant was about 19 when he wrote it. The poem was to be his best known and he went on to become an important poet.

After a short carreer as a lawyer which he disliked, Bryant became an editor of New York newspoapers and settled at the New York Evening Post for fifty years. From that position he helped Abraham Lincolns campaign and worked to get central park built. Her was also influential in the creation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bryan fell on the steps of his New York brownstone after attending a political rally and died from striking his head.

My interest in Bryant dates from my college days when I discovered his poem Thanatopsis. I have always found it haunting and beautiful. Thanatopsis means mediation on death.


To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder and grow sick at heart;--
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings, while from all around--
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air--
Comes a still voice:--

Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground
Where thy pale form was laid with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix forever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

Yet not to thine eternal resting place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world--with kings,
The powerful of the earth--the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,--the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods--rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,--
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.--Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,

Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashing--yet the dead are there;
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep--the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glides away, the sons of men--
The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the grayheaded man--
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those who in their turn shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Incidentally I am going into some isolated country tomorrow and I may have trouble getting on the internet. I will do my best, but if I go dark for a day or more, I apologize.


billspaintingmn said...

Wow! I pray for your safty, and your understanding of the exspirience!

barbara b. land of boz said...

Stapes, this has always been one of my favorite paintings. I have learned so much from these last few posts. Not to say that I don't learn sumptin' from all of them. You are on an awesome roll of giving us so many thoughts to chew on.
I'm not sure where you are going so take time to smell the roses while your there. Take care....

Deb said...

Bring the bear spray.. and the bug repellant..
and dont forget the Moxie!

this has always been a favorite painting of mine.

JonInFrance said...

I like the line "and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom"

Jim Polewchak said...

Stape, I lost my only son this year and I found this poem to be of great comfort.

Mary Bullock said...

I have always loved the phrase "Approach thy grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams"

Mary Byrom said...

Stapleton, I love this poem ! It had a huge impact on me when I first read it when I was twelve. In the summers I picked blueberries next to William Cullen Bryant's childhood home (where he wrote Thanatopsis) so of course my mother gave me his poems to read. "Go forth under the open sky..." was a favorite line and of course at age 12 I thought it so wonderful that he was only 7 years older than I when he wrote it. As a result I wrote lots of poems...

Lucy said...

It is difficult to imagine one so young writing such words.

I grew up across the street from the William Cullen Bryant estate overlooking LI sound in Roslyn Harbor. I hung out in the Bryant library, named after him. Directly on the other side of our Tiny cottage was the Frick estate. (now the Nassau county Museum) I wonder if those two fellows hung out together and talked about art. I used to wander around on both properties and once got kicked off the Bryant estate by his great grand daughter.

I wish to send condolences to Jim whoever you may be. The message of the poem is comforting in a universal way.

Plein Air Gal said...

Enjoy your trip -but don't you go mixing with the elements or losing yourself in the woods in the way the poem describes ... there are MANY who need you!
Kindred Spirits is one of my favorite paintings and Asher Durand is in my top ten list!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am safe but it is going up to 103 today!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I never know if I am on a roll or striking out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have on my snake boots!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hey there!

Stapleton Kearns said...

My condolences, as you know, my father just died too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am not ready, I have paintings to make.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You must have had a great piece of real estate there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

plein air,
I don't want to be an insensible clod!