Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A LIFETIME, by WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT

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A LIFETIME, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I sit in the early twilight
Last Line: The trees with a heavy sigh.
Subject(s): Childhood Memories; Time

I SIT in the early twilight,
And, through the gathering shade,
I look on the fields around me
Where yet a child I played.

And I peer into the shadows,
Till they seem to pass away,
And the fields and their tiny brooklet
Lie clear in the light of day.

A delicate child and slender,
With lock of light-brown hair,
From knoll to knoll is leaping
In the breezy summer air.

He stoops to gather blossoms
Where the running waters shine;
And I look on him with wonder,
His eyes are so like mine.

I look till the fields and brooklet
Swim like a vision by,
And a room in a lowly dwelling
Lies clear before my eye.

There stand, in the clean-swept fireplace,
Fresh boughs from the wood in bloom,
And the birch-tree's fragrant branches
Perfume the humble room.

And there the child is standing
By a stately lady's knee,
And reading of ancient peoples
And realms beyond the sea:

Of the cruel King of Egypt
Who made God's people slaves,
And perished, with all his army,
Drowned in the Red Sea waves;

Of Deborah who mustered
Her brethren long oppressed,
And routed the heathen army,
And gave her people rest;

And the sadder, gentler story
How Christ, the crucified,
With a prayer for those who slew him,
Forgave them as he died.

I look again, and there rises
A forest wide and wild,
And in it the boy is wandering,
No longer a little child.

He murmurs his own rude verses
As he roams the woods alone;
And again I gaze with wonder,
His eyes are so like my own.

I see him next in his chamber,
Where he sits him down to write
The rhymes he framed in his ramble,
And he cons them with delight.

A kindly figure enters,
A man of middle age,
And points to a line just written,
And 'tis blotted from the page.

And next, in a hall of justice,
Scarce grown to manly years,
Mid the hoary-headed wranglers
The slender youth appears.

With a beating heart he rises,
And with a burning cheek,
And the judges kindly listen
To hear the young man speak.

Another change, and I see him
Approach his dwelling-place,
Where a fair-haired woman meets him,
With a smile on her young face--

A smile that spreads a sunshine
On lip and cheek and brow;
So sweet a smile there is not
In all the wide earth now.

She leads by the hand their first-born,
A fair-haired little one,
And their eyes as they meet him sparkle
Like brooks in the morning sun.

Another change, and I see him
Where the city's ceaseless coil
Sends up a mighty murmur
From a thousand modes of toil.

And there, mid the clash of presses,
He plies the rapid pen
In the battles of opinion,
That divide the sons of men.

I look, and the clashing presses
And the town are seen no more,
But there is the poet wandering
A strange and foreign shore.

He has crossed the mighty ocean
To realms that lie afar,
In the region of ancient story,
Beneath the morning star.

And now he stands in wonder
On an icy Alpine height;
Now pitches his tent in the desert
Where the jackal yells at night;

Now, far on the North Sea islands,
Sees day on the midnight sky,
Now gathers the fair strange fruitage
Where the isles of the Southland lie.

I see him again at his dwelling,
Where, over the little lake,
The rose-trees droop in their beauty
To meet the image they make.

Though years have whitened his temples,
His eyes have the first look still,
Save a shade of settled sadness,
A forecast of coming ill.

For in that pleasant dwelling,
On the rack of ceaseless pain,
Lies she who smiled so sweetly,
And prays for ease in vain.

And I know that his heart is breaking,
When, over those dear eyes,
The darkness slowly gathers,
And the loved and loving dies.

A grave is scooped on the hillside
Where often, at eve or morn,
He lays the blooms of the garden--
He, and his youngest born.

And well I know that a brightness
From his life has passed away,
And a smile from the green earth's beauty
And a glory from the day.

But I behold, above him,
In the far blue deeps of air,
Dim battlements shining faintly,
And a throng of faces there;

See over crystal barrier
The airy figures bend,
Like those who are watching and waiting
The coming of a friend.

And one there is among them,
With a star upon her brow,
In her life a lovely woman,
A sinless seraph now.

I know the sweet calm features;
The peerless smile I know,
And I stretch my arms with transport
From where I stand below.

And the quick tears drown my eyelids,
But the airy figures fade,
And the shining battlements darken
And blend with the evening shade.

I am gazing into the twilight
Where the dim-seen meadows lie,
And the wind of night is swaying
The trees with a heavy sigh.

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