The Poet

by William Cullen Bryant

Thou, who wouldst wear the name
     Of poet mid thy brethren of mankind,
  And clothe in words of flame
     Thoughts that shall live within the general mind!
  Deem not the framing of a deathless lay
  The pastime of a drowsy summer day.

But gather all thy powers,
     And wreak them on the verse that thou dost weave,
  And in thy lonely hours,
    At silent morning or at wakeful eve,
  While the warm current tingles through thy veins
  Set forth the burning words in fluent strains.

No smooth array of phrase
     Artfully sought and ordered though it be,
  Which the cold rhymer lays
     Upon his page with languid industry
  Can wake the listless pulse to livelier speed,
  Or fill with sudden tears the eyes that read.

The secret wouldst thou know
      To touch the heart or fire the blood at will?
   Let thine own eyes o'erflow;
      Let thy lips quiver with the passionate thrill;
   Seize the great thought, ere yet its power be past,
   And bind, in words, the fleet emotion fast.

Then, should thy verse appear
      Halting and harsh, and all unaptly wrought,
   Touch the crude line with fear,
      Save in the moment of impassioned thought;
   Then summon back the original glow and mend
   The strain with rapture that with fire was penned.

Yet let no empty gust
      Of passion find an utterance in thy lay,
   A blast that whirls the dust
      Along the howling street and dies away;
   But feelings of calm power and mighty sweep,
   Like currents journeying through the windless deep.

Seek'st thou, in living lays,
      To limn the beauty of the earth and sky?
   Before thine inner gaze
      Let all that beauty in clear vision lie,
   Look on it with exceeding love, and write
   The words inspired by wonder and delight.

Of tempest wouldst thou sing,
   Or tell of battles--make thyself a part
   Of the great tumult; cling
      To the tossed wreck with terror in thy heart;
   Scale, with the assault host, the rampart's height
   And strike and struggle in the thickest fight.

So shalt thou frame a lay
      That haply may endure from age to age,
And they who read shall say;
      What witchery hangs upon this poet's page!
   What art is this the written spells to find
   That sway from mood to mood the willing mind!


For comparison, see Emerson's essay on "The Poet."