William Cullen Bryant ( )


A Meditation on Rhode-Island Coal


Decolor, obscuris, vilis, non ille repexam
Cesariem regum, non candida virginis ornat
Colla, nec insigni splendet per cingula morsu.
Sed nova si nigri videas miracula saxi,
Tunc superat pulchros cultus et quicquid Eois
Indus litoribus rubrâ scrutatur in algâ.

                                      CLAUDIAN.


I sat beside the glowing grate, fresh heaped
    With Newport coal, and as the flame grew bright
The many-coloured flameand played and leaped,
    I thought of rainbows and the northern light,
Moore's Lalla Rookh, the Treasury Report,
And other brilliant matters of the sort.

And last I thought of that fair isle which sent
    The mineral fuel; on a summer day
I saw it once, with heat and travel spent,
    And scratched by dwarf-oaks in the hollow way;
Now dragged through sand, now jolted over stone
A rugged road through rugged Tiverton.

And hotter grew the air, and hollower grew
    The deep-worn path, and horror-struck, I thought,
Where will this dreary passage lead me to?
    This long dull road, so narrow, deep, and hot?
I looked to see it dive in earth outright;
I lookedbut saw a far more welcome sight.

Like a soft mist upon the evening shore,
    At once a lovely isle before me lay,
Smooth and with tender verdure covered o'er,
    As if just risen from its calm inland bay;
Sloped each way gently to the grassy edge,
And the small waves that dallied with the sedge.

The barley was just reapedits heavy sheaves
    Lay on the stubble fieldthe tall maize stood
Dark in its summer growth, and shook its leaves
    And bright the sunlight played on the young wood
For fifty years ago, the old men say,
The Briton hewed their ancient groves away.

I saw where fountains freshened the green land,
    And where the pleasant road, from door to door,
With rows of cherry-trees on either hand,
    Went wandering all that fertile region o'er
Rogue's Island oncebut when the rogues were dead,
Rhode Island was the name it took instead.

Beautiful island! then it only seemed
    A lovely strangerit has grown a friend.
I gazed on its smooth slopes, but never dreamed
    How soon that bright magnificent isle would send
The treasures of its womb across the sea,
To warm a poet's room and boil his tea.

Dark anthracite! that reddenest on my hearth,
    Thou in those island mines didst slumber long;
But now thou art come forth to move the earth,
    And put to shame the men that mean thee wrong.
Thou shalt be coals of fire to those that hate thee,
And warm the shins of all that underrate thee.

Yea, they did wrong thee foullythey who mocked
    Thy honest face, and said thou wouldst not burn;
Of hewing thee to chimney-pieces talked,
    And grew profaneand swore, in bitter scorn,
That men might to thy inner caves retire,
And there, unsinged, abide the day of fire.

Yet is thy greatness nigh. I pause to state,
    That I too have seen greatnesseven I
Shook hands with Adamsstared at La Fayette,
    When, barehead, in the hot noon of July,
He would not let the umbrella be held o'er him,
For which three cheers burst from the mob before him.

And I have seennot many months ago
    An eastern Governor in chapeau bras
And military coat, a glorious show!
    Ride forth to visit the reviews, and ah!
How oft he smiled and bowed to Jonathan!
How many hands were shook and votes were won!

'Twas a great Governorthou too shalt be
    Great in thy turnand wide shall spread thy fame,
And swiftly; farthest Maine shall hear of thee,
    And cold New Brunswick gladden at thy name,
And, faintly through its sleets, the weeping isle
That sends the Boston folks their cod shall smile.

For thou shalt forge vast railways, and shalt heat
    The hissing rivers into steam, and drive
Huge masses from thy mines, on iron feet,
    Walking their steady way, as if alive,
Northward, till everlasting ice besets thee,
And south as far as the grim Spaniard lets thee.

Thou shalt make mighty engines swim the sea,
    Like its own monstersboats that for a guinea
Will take a man to Havreand shalt be
    The moving soul of many a spinning-jenny,
And ply thy shuttles, till a bard can wear
As good a suit of broadcloth as the mayor.

Then we will laugh at winter when we hear
    The grim old churl about our dwellings rave:
Thou, from that "ruler of the inverted year,"
    Shalt pluck the knotty sceptre Cowper gave,
And pull him from his sledge, and drag him in,
And melt the icicles from off his chin.



William Cullen Bryant's other poems:
  1. The New Moon
  2. Innocent Child and Snow-White Flower!
  3. Song of the Greek Amazon
  4. The Murdered Traveller
  5. A Scene on the Banks of the Hudson


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