Bryant, William Cullen (1794-1878)

  To him who in the love of Nature holds
  Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
  A various language; for his gayer hours
  She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
  And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
  Into his darker musings, with a mild
  And healing sympathy, that steals away
  Their sharpness, ere he is aware.  When thoughts
  Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
  Over thy spirit, and sad images
  Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
  And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
  Make thee to shudder and grow sick at heart;--
  Go forth, under the open sky, and list
  To Nature's teachings, while from all around--
  Earth and her waters, and the depths of the air--
  Comes a still voice:--
                                  Yet a few days, and thee
  The all-beholding sun shall see no more 
  In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
  Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
  Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
  Thy image.  Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
  Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
  And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
  Thine individual being, thou shalt go
  To mix forever with the elements,
  To be a brother to the insensible rock
  And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
  Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
  Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

      Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
  Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
  Couch more magnificent.  Thou shalt lie down
  With patriarchs of the infant world--with kings,
  The powerful of the earth--the wise, the good,
  Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
  All in one mighty sepulchre.  The hills 
  Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,--the vales
  Stretching in pensive quietness between;
  The venerable woods--rivers that move
  In majesty, and the complaining brooks
  That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
  Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,--
  Are but the solemn decorations all
  Of the great tomb of man.  The golden sun,
  The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
  Are shining on the sad abodes of death
  Through the still lapse of ages.  All that tread
  The globe are but a handful to the tribes
  That slumber in its bosom.--Take the wings
  Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
  Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
  Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
  Save his own dashings--yet the dead are there:
  And millions in those solitudes, since first
  The flight of years began, have laid them down
  In their last sleep--the dead reign there alone.
  So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
  In silence from the living, and no friend
  Take note of thy departure?  All that breathe 
  Will share thy destiny.  The gay will laugh
  When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
  Plod on, and each one as before will chase
  His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
  Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
  And make their bed with thee.  As the long train
  Of ages glides away, the sons of men--
  The youth in life's fresh spring, and he who goes
  In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
  The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man--
  Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
  By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

  So live, that when thy summons comes to join
  The innumerable caravan,which moves
  To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
  His chamber in the silent halls of death,
  Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
  Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
  By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
  Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
  About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Famous Poems and the Little-Known Stories Behind Them (Woods)

Written in the summer 1811 when he was 17, depressed over his inability to enter Yale (his father lost money). It was published in 1817 after Bryant had begun the practice of law.