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A Forest Hymn

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The groves were God’s first temples. Ere man learned
 To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
 And spread the roof above them,—ere he framed
 The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
 The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,
 Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
 And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
 And supplication. For his simple heart
 Might not resist the sacred influences,
 Which, from the stilly twilight of the place,
 And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven
 Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound
 Of the invisible breath that swayed at once
 All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed
 His spirit with the thought of boundless power
 And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why
 Should we, in the world’s riper years, neglect
 God’s ancient sanctuaries, and adore
 Only among the crowd, and under roofs,
 That our frail hands have raised? Let me, at least,
 Here, in the shadow of this aged wood,
 Offer one hymn—thrice happy, if it find
 Acceptance in His ear.
 Father, thy hand
 Hath reared these venerable columns, thou
 Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down
 Upon the naked earth, and, forthwith, rose
 All these fair ranks of trees. They, in thy sun,
 Budded, and shook their green leaves in the breeze,
 And shot towards heaven. The century-living crow,
 Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died
 Among their branches, till, at last, they stood,
 As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark,
 Fit shrine for humble worshipper to hold
 Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults,
 These winding aisles, of human pomp and pride
 Report not. No fantastic carvings show
 The boast of our vain race to change the form
 Of thy fair works. But thou art here—thou fill’st
 The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds
 That run along the summit of these trees
 In music; thou art in the cooler breath
 That from the inmost darkness of the place
 Comes, scarcely felt; the barky trunks, the ground,
 The fresh moist ground, are all instinct with thee.
 Here is continual worship;—Nature, here,
 In the tranquility that thou dost love,
 Enjoys thy presence. Noiselessly, around,
 From perch to perch, the solitary bird
 Passes; and yon clear spring, that, midst its herbs,
 Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots
 Of half the mighty forest, tells no tale
 Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left
 Thyself without a witness, in these shades,
 Of thy perfections. Grandeur, strength, and grace
 Are here to speak of thee. This mighty oak—
 By whose immovable stem I stand and seem
 Almost annihilated—not a prince,
 In all that proud old world beyond the deep,
 E’er wore his crown as lofty as he
 Wears the green coronal of leaves with which
 Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root
 Is beauty, such as blooms not in the glare
 Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower
 With scented breath, and look so like a smile,
 Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould,
 An emanation of the indwelling Life,
 A visible token of the upholding Love,
 That are the soul of this wide universe.
 
 (William Cullen Bryant, A Forest Hymn)

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