From All Around Comes a Still Voice: William Cullen Bryant

William_Cullen_Bryant_Cabinet_Card_by_Mora-cropToday marks the birthday of American poet William Cullen Bryant. Born November 3rd, 1794, Bryant was something of a child prodigy, writing his first poem at age 11 and publishing his most famous poem, “Thanatopsis”, at 17. Considered one of the giants of the American Romantic movement, Bryant is largely known for his odes to the natural world, seen in such works as the above mentioned “Thanatopsis” as well as “A Winter Piece,” and “The Evening Wind.”

Bryant was heavily influenced by Wordsworth and Coleridge, taking especially to their Lyrical Ballads. In one of four lectures on the nature of poetry, Bryant said that “poetry speaks directly to the mind,” a sentamite is certainly an echo of a Wordsworthian nature.

Perhaps the biggest similarity between Bryant and Wordsworth (and, the British Romantics at large) is the tendency to view nature not as a singularly entity, but as something to be reacted to by man. In much the way that Wordsworth reflects back to a pastoral scene to ease his mind, so Bryant goes “forth, under the open sky” to listen to what the world has to offer him. It is a mindset that was to become instrumental in the creation of one of the only American born philosophical movements, the Transcendentalists.

As we enter headlong into November, I’ll end with a fitting section from “A Winter Piece.”

                                              While I stood
In Nature’s loneliness, I was with one
With whom I early grew familiar, one
Who never had a frown for me, whose voice
Never rebuked me for the hours I stole
From cares I loved not, but of which the world
Deems highest, to converse with her. When shrieked
The bleak November winds, and smote the woods,
And the brown fields were herbless, and the shades,
That met above the merry rivulet,
Were spoiled, I sought, I loved them still; they seemed
Like old companions in adversity.
Still there was beauty in my walks; the brook,
Bordered with sparkling frost-work, was as gay
As with its fringe of summer flowers. Afar,
The village with its spires, the path of streams
And dim receding valleys, hid before
By interposing trees, lay visible
Through the bare grove, and my familiar haunts
Seemed new to me.

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