Winslow Homer, The Obtuse Bard

Related Poems


The following excerpts from poems demonstrate that some of those
surrounding Winslow Homer, specifically William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell, referred to seeing things
suggested by forms present in the world of forms.
The most relevant lines are marked with asterisks.

********************************************************* * H E N R Y W A D S W O R T H L O N G F E L L O W * ********************************************************* Longfellow lived in the small town of Cambridge Mass during Winslow Homer's childhood in Cambridge. Allston read his lectures to Longfellow the winter of 1842. Both Longfellow and Richard Henry Dana, Sr. were in the small group called "The Saturday Club." Homer also illustrated an edition of "The Golden Milestone." from THE GOLDEN MILESTONE * By the fireside there are old men seated, * Seeing ruined cities in the ashes, * Asking sadly * Of the Past what it can ne'er restore them.
*********************************************** * W I L L I A M C U L L E N B R Y A N T * *********************************************** In New York, Winslow Homer certainly knew Bryant, since they were both members of The Century Club. William Cullen Bryant also was a lifelong friend of Richard Henry Dana, Sr. (Allston's brother-in-law and young Winslow Homer's neighbor in Cambridge Mass.) HUNTER'S VISION Upon a rock that, high and sheer, Rose from the mountain's breast, A weary hunter of the deer Had sat him down to rest, And bared to the soft summer air His hot red brow and sweaty hair. All dim in haze the mountains lay, With dimmer vales between; And rivers glimmered on their way By forests faintly seen; While ever rose a murmuring sound From brooks below and bees around. He listened, till he seemed to hear A strain, so soft and low, That whether in the mind or ear The listener scarce might know. With such a tone, so sweet, so mild, The watching mother lulls her child. "Thou weary huntsman," thus it said, "Thou faint with toil and heat, The pleasant land of rest is spread Before thy very feet, * And those whom thou wouldst gladly see * Are waiting there to welcome thee." * He looked, and 'twixt the earth and sky, * Amid the noontide haze, * A shadowy region met his eye, * And grew beneath his gaze, * As if the vapors of the air * Had gathered into shapes so fair. Groves freshened as he looked, and flowers Showed bright on rocky bank, And fountains welled beneath the bowers, Where deer and phasant drank. He saw the glittering streams, he heard The rustling bough and twittering bird. * And friends, the dead, in boyhood dear * There lived and walked again, * And there was one who many a year * Within her grave had lain, * A fair young girl, the hamlet's pride-- * His heart was breaking when she died. Bounding, as was her wont, she came Right toward his resting-place, And stretched her hand and called his name With that sweet smiling face. Forward with fixed and eager eyes, The hunter leaned in act to rise: Forward he leaned, and headlong down Plunged from that craggy wall; He saw the rocks, steep, stern, and brown, An instant, in his fall; A frightful instant--and no more, The dream and life at once were o'er. New York Mirror, 1835.
*********************************************** * W I L L I A M C U L L E N B R Y A N T * *********************************************** CASTLES IN THE AIR "But there is yet a region of the clouds Unseen from the low earth. Beyond the veil Of these dark volumes rooling through the sky, Its mountain summits glisten in the sun,-- The realm of Castles in the Air. The foot Of man hath never trod those shining streets; * But there his spirit, leaving the dull load * Of bodily organs, wanders with delight, * And builds its structures of the impalpable mist, * Glorious beyond the dream of architect, And populous with forms of nobler mould Than ever walked the earth." So said my guide, And led me, wondering, to a headland height That overlooked a fair broad vale shut in By the great hills of Cloudland. "Now behold * The Castle-builders!" Then I looked; and, lo! * The vale was filled with shadowy forms, that bore * Each a white wand, with which they touched the banks * Of mist beside them, and at once arose, * Obedient to their wish, the walls and domes * Of stately palaces, Gothic or Greek, Or such as in the land of Mohammed Uplift the crescent, or, in forms more strange, Border the ancient Indus, or behold Their gilded friezes mirrored in the lakes Of China--yet of ampler majesty, And gorgeously adorned. Tall porticos Sprang from the ground; the eye pursued afar Their colonnades, that lessened to a point In the faint distance. Portals that swung back On musical hinges showed the eye within Vast halls with golden floors, and bright alcoves, And walls of pearl, and sapphire vault besprent With silver stars. Within the spacious rooms Were banquets spread; and menials, beautiful As wood-nymphs or as stripling Mercuries, Ran to and fro, and laid the chalices, And brought the brimming wine-jars. Enters now The happy architect, and wanders on From room to room, and glories in his work. * Not long his glorying: for a chill north wind * Breathes through the structure, and the massive walls * Are folded up; the proud domes roll away * In mist-wreaths; pinnacle and turret lean * Forward, like birds prepared for flight, and stream, * In trains of vapor, through the empty air. Meantime the astonished builder, dispossessed, Stands 'mid the drifting rack. A brief despair Seizes him; but the wand is in his hand, And soon he turns him to his task again. "Behold," said the fair being at my side, * "How one has made himself a diadem * Out of the bright skirts of a cloud that lay * Steeped in the golden sunshine, and has bound * The bauble on his forehead! See, again, * How from these vapors he calls up a host * With arms and banners! A great multitude * Gather and bow before him with bare heads. To the four winds his messengers go forth, And bring him back earth's homage. From the ground Another calls a winged image, such As poets give to Fame, who, to her mouth Putting a silver trumpet, blows abroad A loud, harmonious summons to the world, And all the listening nations shout his name. Another yet, apart from all the rest, Casting a fearful glance from side to side, Touches the ground by stealth. Beneath his wand A glittering pile grows up, ingots and bars Of massive gold, and coins on which earth's kings * Have stamped their symbols." As these words were said, * The north wind blew again across the vale, * And, lo! the beamy crown flew off in mist; * The host of armed men became a scud * Torn by the angry blast; the form of Fame * Tossed its long arms in air, and rode the wind, * A jagged cloud; the glittering pile of gold * Grew pale and flowed in a gray reek away. * Then there were sobs and tears from those whose work * The wind had scattered; some had flung themselves * Upon the ground in grief; and some stood fixed * In blank bewilderment; and some looked on * Unmoved, as at a pageant of the stage * Saddenly hidden by the curtain's fall. "Take thou this wand," my bright companion said. I took it from her hand, and with it touched The knolls of snow-white mist, and they grew green With soft, thick herbage. At another touch A brook leaped forth, and dashed and sparkled by; And shady walks through shrubberies cool and close Wandered; and where, upon the open grounds, The peaceful sunshine lay, a vineyard nursed It pointing clusters; and from boughs that dropped Beneath their load an orchard shed its fruit; And gardens, set with many a pleasant herb And many a glorious flower, made sweet the air. I looked, and I exulted; yet I longed For Nature's grander aspects, and I plied The slender rod again; and then arose Woods tall and wide, of oderous pine and fir, And every noble tree that casts the leaf In autumn. Paths that wound between their stems Led through the solemn shade to twilight glens, To thundering torrents and white waterfalls, And edge of lonely lakes, and chasms between The mountain-cliffs. Above the trees were seen Gray pinnacles and walls of splintered rock. But near the forest margin, in the vale, Nestled a dwelling half embowered by trees, Where, through the open window, shelves were seen Filled with old volumes, and a glimpse was given Of canvas, here and there along the walls, On which the hands of mighty men of art * Had flund their fancies. On the portico * Old friends, with smiling faces and frank eyes, * Talked with each other: some had passed from life * Long since, yet dearly were remembered still. * My heart yearned toward them, and the quick, warm tears * Stood in my eyes. Forward I sprang to grasp * The hands that once so kindly met my own,-- * I sprang, but met them not: the withering wind * Was there before me. Dwelling, field, and brook, * Dark wood, and flowery garden, and blue lake, * And beetling cliff, and noble human forms, * All, all had melted into that pale sea * Of billowy vapor rolling round my feet. Roslyn, 1862. Atlantic Monthly, January, 1866.
*********************************************** * W I L L I A M C U L L E N B R Y A N T * *********************************************** A TALE OF CLOUDLAND A FRAGMENT. If thou are one who in thy early years Wert wont to gaze delighted on the clouds, High-piled and floating on the silent wind,-- If then the wish arose within thy heart To sit on those white banks of down, and thence To look on the green earth and glittering streams,-- If thou didst wonder who they were that walked Those shining hills of heaven and dwelt within The palaces that flamed so gloriously With gold and crimson in the setting sun,-- To thee, and such as thou, may I not tell This tale of cloudland in our father's time. Beneath the soft rays of the westering sun A matron and a damsel sat and watched The trains of cloud that touched the neighboring steeps And slid from cliff to cliff. The elder dame Was of majestic mien, with calm, dark eyes, That seemed to read the inmost thoughts of those On whom they looked. "It should not be," she said. "I grieve that Hubert thus should leave the walks Of daily duty for these wanderings Among the mountain mists. Plead as thou wilt, Life has its cares, my daughter, graver cares, That may not be put by." Then Mary spoke-- A budding beauty, with soft hazel eyes, And glossy chestnut hair whose wandering curls The sunshine turned to gold. "Nay, blame him not, For not in vain he walks the mountain height, Where the clouds cling and linger. Pleasant 'tis To hear him, sitting in our porch at eve, When all the meadow grounds within this vale Twinkle with fire-flies, tell what he has seen From his high perch--I know not how--the march Of armies, and their meeting in the shock Of battle, and the couriers posting forth To the four winds with news of victory, Won by the yeoman's arm." "Yet seest thou not," Rejoined the stately lady Isabel, "That Hubert's fitter place were in the ranks Of those brave men, that, led by Washington, Defy the hosts of Britain?" "It were well," Said Mary, "that he too should bear his part In this great war of freedom; yet, I pray, Think what he is--a dreamer from his birth. Ever, apart from the resorts of men, He roamed the pathless woods, and hearkened long To winds that brought into their silent depths The nearness of the mountain water-falls. What should he do in battle?" Then she said, Gathering fresh boldness in her brother's cause, "Think how, since he began to wander forth Among the mountain-peaks, the region round Has had the kindest seasons. Never drought Embrowns the grassy fields, nor jagged hail Tears tender leaf and flower; cloud-shadows make A screen against the burning sunshine poured Too freely from the August sky, and showers Drop gently at due times. All summer long Sleep the luxuriant meadows, and keep full The clear fresh springs and gurgling rivulets; The early and late frosts surprise not here The husbandman, but when the air grows sharp, Soft vapors rise, beneath whose friendly vail The green blood of the herbage curdles not To ice; the winds of winter toss no more The deep snow into heaps, but softly fall The flakes, a kindly covering for the earth With all its sleeping germs, till April suns Melt it to crystal for the merry brooks. Mother, the herdsmen of our vale owe thanks To Hubert for the wealth that crowns the year, * And I have seen--" The maiden checked her speech, For the calm eyes of Isabel were turned Full on her own; that grave look startled her. * "Speak on," the matron said. "What hast thou seen?" * "It was but yesterday," the maid replied, * "A white low-lying cloud swam gently in, * Touching our mountain pastures where they meet * The rocky woods above them. Hubert stepped * From its thick folds, and as they rolled away * I plainly saw a chariot cushioned deep * With sides that seemed of down, and skirt-like wings * On which they nestled. One fair form within * Was seated, flinging from the finger tips * Of her white hands a thousand kind adieus * To Hubert where he stood. It was as though * A pearly cloud had taken human shape; * I saw the round white arms; a coronet * Of twinkling points, like sparks of sunshine, bound * Her forehead, and a gauzy scarf, whose tint * Was of the spring heaven's softest, tenderest blue, * Streamed from her shoulder. As I looked, the form * Took fainter outlines, and the twinkling points * Around her brow grew paler, till at length * I only saw a cloud-wreath, floating off * On the slow wind; yet must I now believe * That Hubert hold communion in strange sort * With creatures of the upper element, * Whose dwelling is the cloud, who guide the shower * From vale to vale, and shed the snows, and fling * The lightnings? Therefore, said I, that our vale * Owes thanks to Hubert for its genial skies." Here spake the matron. "Art thou then become," She said, "a dreamer as thy brother is? Think not that he who mouled in his hand The globe, and filled the chambers of the sky With the ever-flowing air, hath need to use The ministries thou speakest of. He looks Upon these vapory curtains of the earth, And so they darken into drifts of rain Or whiten into snow. His thunders, launched From the remotest West, ere thou canst speak Are quivering at the portals of the East. The winds blow softly where he bids, or rise In fury, tearing from their hold in earth The helpless oaks and twisting the huge pines In twain, and flinging them amoung the clouds. Nay, speak more reverently, and leave to God His thunders." * "Reverently," the maid replied, * "I ever speak of him whose hand I see * In all the motions of the elements. * Yet hath he living agents, so our faith * Hath taught us: messengers that do his will * Among the unconscious nations--such as led * The Hebrew from the Cities of the Plain, * When heaven rained fire upon their guilty roofs; * And haply is there blame if we should deem * That in the middle air abides a race * Thoughtful and kind who at His bidding roll * The clouds together, measuring out to man * The rains and dews, and tempering the hot noon, * With shadow chasing shadow o'er the vale?" The matron pondered as the maiden urged Her plea, and then was silent for a while. * But Mary spoke again. "Look, mother, look! * How gloriously about the sinking sun * The flamy clouds are gathered! Lofty towers * Rise from those purple streets. Who looks abroad * From their high battlements? Behold where moves * A long procession of the shining ones, * Tall kings and stately queens with sweeping trains, * Warriors in glittering mail, and cardinals * In scarlet robes, and bearded counsellors, * Thin-haired with age, and light-limbed followers, * And mingled with the diadems I see * Helm, mitre, and tiara, while above * Rise spear, and mace, and crosses, and broad sheets * Of banner floating in the rosy air. * Oh, never was on earth a pageant seen * So gorgeous, furnished from her richest ores, * And beds of jewels, and the subtlest looms * That weave the silk-worms's thread in lustrous webs. * For all are pale beside the glory born * Of these bright vapors round the setting sun. * There is no sight so fair this side of heaven." * The stately matron heard, and looked, and smiled. * "Thus doth thy fancy cheat thy willing eye," * She said. "The freakish wind among the mists * Moulds them as sculptors mould the yielding clay, * Fashioning them to thousand antic shapes * Beneath the evening blaze. Thy ready thought * Couples their outline, and bestows the forms * That rise in thine own mind. Thou shouldst have lived * When, on his canvas, Paul the Veronese * Laid his magnificient throngs of goodly men * And glorious ladies in their rich attire. * Thou shouldst have been his pupil. Yet behold, * Even while we speak the sunset glory fades, * And the clouds settle into purple bars * Athwart the depths of that transparent sky * Through which the day withdraws. A chilly breath * Comes up from the moist meadows. Let us hence." Then rose the pair and took the homeward path; And from the windows of their dwelling saw The night come down upon their vale, and heard The heavy rushing of her wind among The neighboring maples, mingled with the brawl Of mountain-brooks, while from the thicket near The whippoorwill sent forth his liquid note, Piercing that steady murmur. As the shades Grew deeper, Isabel and Mary knelt To say their evening prayer, and by their side Knelt Hubert, for the simple reverence taught In childhood kept its hold upon his heart. They prayed the Merciful to guide and shield And pardon--then withdrew, with kindly words Of parting, each to rest. A rising mist Meantime had quenched the stars, and o'er the earth Shower after shower, with gentle beating, ran, As if a fairy chase were in the air, And myriads of little footsteps tapped The roof above the household. Mary slept To the soft sounds, and dreamed. The glorious throng Which her quick fancy pictured in the clouds Of sunset had laid by their bright attire-- Such was her dream--and now in trailing robes, Sad colored, and in hoods of sober gray, Went drifting through the air and beckoning up The troops of mist from lake and rivulet, And leading through mid-sky the shadowy train, And pointing where to halt in deep array Above the expectant fields and shed the rain. So wore the night away. The murmuring showers Lengthened the slumbers in that mountain lodge, Until, as morn drew near, the parting clouds Opened a field in the clear eastern sky, In which the day-star glittered, and the dawn Glowed on the horizon's edge. On either side They ranged themselves to catch the earliest beams As when within a city's crowded streets The gathered multitude divide and leave Large space to let some glorious monarch pass. Roslyn, 1862.
********************************************* * J A M E S R U S S E L L L O W E L L * ********************************************* Lowell replaced Longfellow at Harvard College in Cambridge. He too was a member of "The Saturday Club" with Richard Henry Dana, Sr. Winslow Homer did illustrations for Lowell. THE FOOT PATH It mounts athwart the windy hill, Through sallow slopes of upland bare, And Fancy climbs with footfall still It narrowing curves that end in air. By day, a warmer-hearted blue Stoops softly to that topmost swell Whence the mind drinks imagined view Of gracious climes where all is well. By night, far yonder, I surmise An ampler world than clips my ken, Where the great stars of happier skies Commingle nobler fates of men. I look and long, then haste me home, Still master of my secret rare; Once tried, the path would end in Rome, But now it leads me everywhere. Forever to the new it guides, From former good, old overmuch; What Nature for her poets hides, 'T is wiser to divine than clutch. The bird I list hath never come Within the scope of mortal ear; My prying step would make him dumb, And the fair tree, his shelter, sere. Behind the hill, behind the sky, Behind my inmost thought, he sings; No feet avail: to hear it nigh, The song itself must lend the wings. Sing on, sweet bird, close-hid, and raise Those angel-stairways in my brain, That climb from our diminished days, To spacious sunshines far from pain. Sing when thou wilt, enchantment fleet, I leave thy covers haunt untrod, * And envy Science not her feat * To make a twice-told tale of God. * They said the fairies tript no more, * And long ago that Pan was dead; * 'T was but that fools preferred to bore * Earth's rind inch-deep for truth instead. * Pan leaps and pipes all summer long, * The fairies dance each full-mooned night, * Would we but doff our lenses strong, * And trust our wiser eyes' delight. * City of Elf-land, just without * Our seeing, marvel ever new, * Glimpsed in fair weather, a sweet doubt, * Sketched-in, mirage like, on the blue, * I build thee in yon sunset cloud, * Whose edge allures to climb the height; I hear thy drowned bells, inly-loud, From still pools dusk with dreams of night. Thy gates are shut to hardiest will, Thy countersign of long-lost speech,-- Those fountained courts, those chambers still Fronting Time's far East, who shall reach? I know not and will never pry, But trust our human heart for all; * Wonders that from the seeker fly, * Into an open sense may fall. * Hide in thine own soul, and surprise * The password of the unwary elves; * Seek it, thou canst not bribe their spies; * Unsought, they whisper it themselves. Atlantic Monthly, August 1868.

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