Bayard Taylor image

Bayard Taylor

Jan. 11, 1825 - Dec 19, 1878


A Symbol

by Bayard Taylor


Heavy, and hot, and gray,
Day following unto day,
A felon gang, their blind life drag away, --

Blind, vacant, dumb, as Time,
Lapsed from his wonted prime,
Begot them basely in incestuous crime:

So little life there seems
About the woods and streams, --
Only a sleep, perplexed with nightmare-dreams.

The burden of a sigh
Stifles the weary sky,
Where smouldering clouds in ashen masses lie:

The forests fain would groan,
But, silenced into stone,
Crouch, in the dull blue vapors round them thrown.

O light, more drear than gloom!
Than death more dead such bloom:
Yet life -- yet life -- shall burst this gathering doom!


Behold! a swift and silent fire
Yon dull cloud pierces, in the west,
And blackening, as with growing ire,
He lifts his forehead from his breast.

He mutters to the ashy host
That all around him sleeping lie, --
Sole chieftain on the airy coast,
To fight the battles of the sky.

He slowly lifts his weary strength,
His shadow rises on the day,
And distant forests feel at length
A wind from landscapes far away.


How shall the cloud unload its thunder?
How shall its flashes fire the air?
Hills and valleys are dumb with wonder:
Lakes look up with a leaden stare.

Hark! the lungs of the striding giant
Bellow an angry answer back!
Hurling the hair from his brows defiant,
Crushing the laggards along his track,

Now his step, like a battling Titan's,
Scales in flame the hills of the sky;
Struck by his breath, the forest whitens;
Fluttering waters feel him nigh!

Stroke on stroke of his thunder-hammer --
Sheets of flame from his anvil hurled --
Heaven's doors are burst in the clamor:
He alone possesses the world!


Drowned woods, shudder no more:
Vexed lakes, smile as before:
Hills that vanished, appear again:
Rise for harvest, prostrate grain!

Shake thy jewels, twinkling grass:
Blossoms, tint the winds that pass
Sun, behold a world restored!
World, again thy sun is lord!

Thunder-spasms the waking be
Into Life from Apathy:
Life, not Death, is in the gale, --
Let the coming Doom prevail!

Thus far he read: at first with even tone,
Still chanting in the old, familiar key, --
That golden note, whose grand monotony
Is musical in poets' mouths alone, --
But broken, as he read, became the chime.
To speak, once more, in Grief's forgotten tongue,
And feel the hot reflex of passion flung
Back on the heart by every pulse of rhyme
Wherein it lives and burns, a soul might shake
More calm than his. With many a tender break
Of voice, a dimness of the haughty eye,
And pause of wandering memory, he read;
While I, with folded arms and downcast head,
In silence heard each blind, bewildered cry.

Thus far had Ernest read: but, closing now
The book, and lifting up a calmer brow,
Forgive me, patient God, for this! he said:
And you forgive, dear friend, and dearest wife,
If I have marred an hour of this sweet life
With noises from the valley of the Dead.

Long, long ago, the Hand whereat I railed
In blindness gave me courage to subdue
This wild revolt: I see wherein I failed:
My heart was false, when most I thought it true,
My sorrow selfish, when I thought it pure.
For those we lose, if still their love endure
Translation to that other land where Love
Breathes the immortal wisdom, ask in heaven
No greater sacrifice than we had given
On earth, our love's integrity to prove.
If we are blest to know the other blest,
Then treason lies in sorrow. Vainly said!
Alone each heart must cover up its dead;
Alone, through bitter toil, achieve its rest:
Which I have found -- but still these records keep,
Lest I, condemning others, should forget
My own rebellion. From these tares I reap,
In evil days, a fruitful harvest yet.

But 't is enough, to-night. Nay, Philip, here
A chapter closes. See! the moon is near:
Your laurels glitter: come, my darling, sing
The hymn I wrote on such a night as this!

Then Edith, stooping first to take his kiss,
Drew from its niche of woodbine her guitar,
With chords prelusive tuned a slackened string,
And sang, clear-voiced, as some melodious star
Were dropping silver sweetness from afar:

God, to whom we look up blindly,
Look Thou down upon us kindly:
We have sinned, but not designedly.

If our faith in Thee was shaken,
Pardon Thou our hearts mistaken,
Our obedience reawaken.

We are sinful, Thou art holy:
Thou art mighty, we are lowly:
Let us reach Thee, climbing slowly.

Our ingratitude confessing,
On Thy mercy still transgressing,
Thou dost punish us with blessing!


The Poet's Journal
Copyright 1863
Ticknor and Fields, Boston