Thursday, January 3, 2008

More Property Poetry

Cole_landscape_1825 While all the cool people are in New York for AALS, I'm sitting here in Tuscaloosa.  So I thought that I'd post a little more property poetry.  Like my most recent property poetry post (on John Rueben Thompson's poem about the sale of Virginia's Natural Bridge), this will be from the nineteenth century.  Actually, I think there are a couple worth using here, from William Cullen Bryant.  First, there is Bryant's poem to landscape painter Thomas Cole on Cole's departure for Europe in 1829:

Thine eyes shall see the light of distant skies;
Yet, Cole! thy heart shall bear to Europe's strand
A living image of our own bright land,
Such as upon thy glorious canvas lies;
Lone lakes--savannas where the bison roves--
Rocks rich with summer garlands--solemn streams--
Skies, where the desert eagle wheels and screams--
Spring bloom and autumn blaze of boundless groves.
Fair scenes shall greet thee where thou goest-- fair,
But different--everywhere the trace of men,
Paths, homes, graves, ruins, from the lowest glen
To where life shrinks from the fierce Alpine air.
Gaze on them, till the tears shall dim thy sight,
But keep that earlier, wilder image bright.

Then there is Bryant's Ages, delivered to the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1821, which is closely related to Thomas Cole's series of landscapes, Course of Empire.  A few stanzas below illustrate Bryant's image of changes related to property ownership and use from the Natives to the European settlers:

There stood the Indian hamlet, there the lake
Spread its blue sheet that flashed with many an oar,
Where the brown otter plunged him from the brake,
And the deer drank: as the light gale flew o'er,
The twinkling maize-field rustled on the shore;
And while that spot, so wild, and lone, and fair,
A look of glad and guiltless beauty wore,
And peace was on the earth and in the air,
The warrior lit the pile, and bound his captive there:


Not unavenged—the foeman, from the wood,
Beheld the deed, and when the midnight shade
Was stillest, gorged his battle-axe with blood;
All died—the wailing babe—the shrieking maid—
And in the flood of fire that scathed the glade,
The roofs went down; but deep the silence grew,
When on the dewy woods the day-beam played;
No more the cabin smokes rose wreathed and blue,
And ever, by their lake, lay moored the light canoe.


Look now abroad—another race has filled
These populous borders—wide the wood recedes,
And towns shoot up, and fertile realms are tilled:
The land is full of harvests and green meads;
Streams numberless, that many a fountain feeds,
Shine, disembowered, and give to sun and breeze
Their virgin waters; the full region leads
New colonies forth, that toward the western seas
Spread, like a rapid flame among the autumnal trees.


Here the free spirit of mankind, at length,
Throws its last fetters off; and who shall place
Or curb his swiftness in the forward race!
Far, like the cornet's way through infinite space
Stretches the long untravelled path of light,
Into the depths of ages: we may trace,
Distant, the brightening glory of its flight,
Till the receding rays are lost to human sight.

You may recall that Asher Durand painted a portrait of Cole and Bryant in the Catskills together, Kindred Spirits.  (Another interesting story here--it was purchased by Alice Walton recently as an anchor of her art collection.)  And as long as we're talking about Cole and Bryant, you might be interested in reading Bryant's oration on Cole's death.

Next up: Bryant's Thanatopsis.

Endnote: Cole's 1825 landscape is from wikipedia.

Alfred L. Brophy
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