THE NIGHT JOURNEY OF A RIVER
BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT
Oh River, gentle River! gliding on
In silence underneath the starless sky!
Thine is a ministry that never rests
Even while the living slumber. For a time
The meddler, man, hath left the elements
In peace; the ploughman breaks the clods no more;
The miner labors not, with steel and fire,
To rend the rock, and he that hews the stone,
And he that fells the forest, he that guides
The loaded wain, and the poor animal
That drags it, have forgotten, for a time,
Their toils, and share the quiet of the earth.
Thou pausest not in thine allotted task,
Oh darkling River! Through the night I hear
Thy wavelets rippling on the pebbly beach;
I hear thy current stir the rustling sedge,
That skirts thy bed; thou intermittest not
Thine everlasting journey, drawing on
A silvery train from many a woodland spring
And mountain-brook. The dweller by thy side,
Who moored his little boat upon thy beach,
Though all the waters that upbore it then
Have slid away o'er night, shall find, at morn,
Thy channel filled with waters freshly drawn
From distant cliffs, and hollows where the rill
Comes up amid the water-flags. All night
Thou givest moisture to the thirsty roots
Of the lithe willow and o'erhanging plane,
And cherishest the herbage of thy bank,
Spotted with little flowers, and sendest up
Perpetually the vapors from thy face,
To steep the hills with dew, or darken heaven
With drifting clouds, that trail the shadowy shower.
Oh River! darkling River! what a voice
Is that thou utterest while all else is still--
The ancient voice that, centuries ago,
Sounded between thy hills, while Rome was yet
A weedy solitude by Tiber's stream!
How many, at this hour, along thy course,
Slumber to thine eternal murmurings,
That mingle with the utterance of their dreams!
At dead of night the child awakes and hears
Thy soft, familiar dashings, and is soothed,
And sleeps again. An airy multitude
Of little echoes, all unheard by day,
Faintly repeat, till morning, after thee,
The story of thine endless goings forth.
Yet there are those who lie beside thy bed
For whom thou once didst rear the bowers that screen
Thy margin, and didst water the green fields;
And now there is no night so still that they
Can hear thy lapse; their slumbers, were thy voice
Louder than Ocean's, it could never break.
For them the early violet no more
Opens upon thy bank, nor, for their eyes,
Glitter the crimson pictures of the clouds,
Upon thy bosom, when the sun goes down.
Their memories are abroad, the memories
Of those who last were gathered to the earth,
Lingering within the homes in which they sat,
Hovering above the paths in which they walked,
Haunting them like a presence. Even now
They visit many a dreamer in the forms
They walked in, ere at last they wore the shroud.
And eyes there are which will not close to dream,
For weeping and for thinking of the grave,
The new-made grave, and the pale one within.
These memories and these sorrows all shall fade,
And pass away, and fresher memories
And newer sorrows come and dwell awhile
Beside thy borders, and, in turn, depart.
On glide thy waters, till at last they flow
Beneath the windows of the populous town,
And all night long give back the gleam of lamps,
And glimmer with the trains of light that stream
From halls where dancers whirl. A dimmer ray
Touches thy surface from the silent room
In which they tend the sick, or gather round
The dying; and a slender, steady beam
Comes from the little chamber, in the roof
Where, with a feverous crimson on her cheek,
The solitary damsel, dying, too,
Plies the quick needle till the stars grow pale.
There, close beside the haunts of revel, stand
The blank, unlighted windows, where the poor,
In hunger and in darkness, wake till morn.
There, drowsily, on the half-conscious ear
Of the dull watchman, pacing on the wharf,
Falls the soft ripple of the waves that strike
On the moored bark; but guiltier listeners
Are nigh, the prowlers of the night, who steal
From shadowy nook to shadowy nook, and start
If other sounds than thine are in the air.
Oh, glide away from those abodes, that bring
Pollution to thy channel and make foul
Thy once clear current; summon thy quick waves
And dimpling eddies; linger not, but haste,
With all thy waters, haste thee to the deep,
There to be tossed by shifting winds and rocked
By that mysterious force which lives within
The sea's immensity, and wields the weight
Of its abysses, swaying to and fro
The billowy mass, until the stain, at length,
Shall wholly pass away, and thou regain
The crystal brightness of thy mountain-springs.