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1836

CATTERSKILL FALLS

by William Cullen Bryant

Catterskill Falls

Midst greens and shades the Catterskill leaps

From cliffs where the wood-flower clings;

All summer he moistens his verdant steeps

With the sweet light spray of the mountain-springs

And he shakes the woods on the mountain-side

When they drip with the rains of autumn-tide.

But whenin the forest bare and old

The blast of December calls

He buildsin the starlight clear and cold

A palace of ice where his torrent falls

With turretand archand fretwork fair

And pillars blue as the summer air.

For whom are those glorious chambers wrought

In the cold and cloudless night?

Is there neither spirit nor motion of thought

In forms so lovelyand hues so bright?

Hear what the gray-haired woodmen tell

Of this wild stream and its rocky dell.

'Twas hither a youth of dreamy mood

A hundred winters ago

Had wandered over the mighty wood

When the panther's track was fresh on the snow

And keen were the wind's that came to stir

The long dark boughs of the hemlock-fir.

Too gentle of mien he seemed and fair

For a child of those rugged steeps;

His home lay low in the valley where

The kingly Hudson rolls to the deeps;

But he wore the hunter's frock that day

And a slender gun on his shoulder lay.

And here he pausedand against the trunk

Of a tall gray linden leant

When the broad clear orb of the sun had sunk

From his path in the frosty firmament

And over the round dark edge of the hill

A cold green light was quivering still.

And the crescent moonhigh over the green

From a sky of crimson shone

On that icy palacewhose towers were seen

To sparkle as if with stars of their own

While the water fell with a hollow sound

'Twixt the glistening pillars ranged around.

Is that a being of lifethat moves

Where the crystal battlements rise?

A maiden watching the moon she loves

At the twilight hourwith pensive eyes?

Was that a garment which seemed to gleam

Betwixt the eye and the falling stream?

'Tis only the torrent tumbling o'er

In the midst of those glassy walls

Gushingand plungingand beating the floor

Of the rocky basin in which it falls.

'Tis only the torrent- but why that start?

Why gazes the youth with a throbbing heart?

He thinks no more of his home afar

Where his sire and sister wait.

He heeds no longer how star after star

Looks forth on the night as the hour grows late.

He heeds not the snow-wreathslifted and cast

From a thousand boughsby the rising blast.

His thoughts are alone of those who dwell

In the halls of frost and snow

Who pass where the crystal domes upswell

From the alabaster floors below

Where the frost-trees shoot with leaf and spray

And frost-gems scatter a silvery day.

"And oh that those glorious haunts were mine!"

He speaksand throughout the glen

Thin shadows swim in the faint moonshine

And take a ghastly likeness of men

As if the slain by the wintry storms

Came forth to the air in their earthly forms.

There pass the chasers of seal and whale

With their weapons quaint and grim

And bands of warriors in glittering mail

And herdsmen and hunters huge of limb;

There are naked armswith bow and spear

And furry gauntlets the carbine rear.

There are mothers- and oh how sadly their eyes

On their children's white brows rest!

There are youthful lovers- the maiden lies

In a seeming sleepon the chosen breast;

There are fair wan women with moonstruck air

The snow-stars flecking their long loose hair.

They eye him not as they pass along

But his hair stands up with dread

When he feels that he moves with that phantom throng

Till those icy turrets are over his head

And the torrent's roar as they enter seems

Like a drowsy murmur heard in dreams.

The glittering threshold is scarcely passed

When there gathers and wraps him round

A thick white twilightsullen and vast

In which there is neither form nor sound;

The phantomsthe gloryvanish all

With the dying voice of the waterfall.

Slow passes the darkness of that trance

And the youth now faintly sees

Huge shadows and gushes of light that dance

On a rugged ceiling of unhewn trees

And walls where the skins of beasts are hung

And rifles glitter on antlers strung.

On a couch of shaggy skins he lies;

As he strives to raise his head

Hard-featured woodmenwith kindly eyes

Come round him and smooth his furry bed

And bid him restfor the evening star

Is scarcely set and the day is far.

They had found at eve the dreaming one

By the base of that icy steep

When over his stiffening limbs begun

The deadly slumber of frost to creep

And they cherished the pale and breathless form

Till the stagnant blood ran free and warm.

THE END




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