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William Cullen Bryant

1794–1878

William Cullen Bryant was born near Cummington, Massachusetts, on November 3, 1794. He was the second son of doctor and state legislator Peter Bryant and his wife Sarah Snell, whose ancestors were passengers on the Mayflower.

At thirteen, Bryant wrote “The Embargo,” a satirical poem calling for the resignation of President Thomas Jefferson. The poem was eventually published in a pamphlet in 1808. At sixteen, Bryant enrolled as a sophomore at WIlliams College with the intention of transferring to Yale. During his time at Williams, Bryant wrote “Thanatopsis,” which was later published in The North American Review for September, 1817.

When Bryant was unable to attend Yale, he studied law under private tuition. He was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty-one and spent nearly ten years practicing in Massachusetts. During this time, he married Frances Fairchild. They were together for nearly fifty years.

In 1821, when asked to speak at Harvard’s commencement, Bryant wrote the beginnings of what would eventually become his first published book of verse. Poems is believed to have been published first in 1821, and was later re-published with additions in two volumes by D. Appleton and Company in 1862.

In 1829, Bryant and his wife moved to New York City, where he was an editor of the New York Review. Later that year he became editor in chief of the New York Evening Post, a position he held until his death. Bryant used the newspaper as a platform to call for the abolition of slavery, and was also an advocate for Abraham Lincoln, delivering the speech that would eventually secure his nomination and eventual presidency.

Bryant is considered an American nature poet and journalist, with ties to the Hudson River School of art. He wrote poems, essays, and articles that championed the rights of workers and immigrants, and he was frequently published by the North American Review. He is the author of several books, including The White-Footed Deer and Other Poems (I. S. Platt, 1844), and The Fountain and Other Poems (Wiley and Putnam, 1842). He died on June 12, 1878, in New York City.

Bryant’s influence helped establish important New York civic institutions such as Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Medical College. In 1884, New York City's Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park in his honor. Bryant was also the nephew of Charity Bryant, whose marriage to Sylvia Drake is thought to be one of the earliest same-sex unions in American history.



Selected Bibliography

The Fountain and Other Poems (Wiley and Putnam, 1842)
The White-Footed Deer and Other Poems (I. S. Platt, 1844)
Poems (D. Appleton, 1862)

By This Poet

10

To a Waterfowl

   Whither, 'midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
   Thy solitary way?

   Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
   Thy figure floats along.

   Seek'st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
   On the chafed ocean side?

   There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,--
The desert and illimitable air,--
   Lone wandering, but not lost.

   All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
   Though the dark night is near.

   And soon that toil shall end;
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,
   Soon, o'er thy sheltered nest.

   Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
   And shall not soon depart.

   He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
   Will lead my steps aright.

A Song for New Year's Eve

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay— 
     Stay till the good old year, 
So long companion of our way, 
     Shakes hands, and leaves us here. 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One little hour, and then away.

The year, whose hopes were high and strong, 
     Has now no hopes to wake; 
Yet one hour more of jest and song 
     For his familiar sake. 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One mirthful hour, and then away.  

The kindly year, his liberal hands 
     Have lavished all his store. 
And shall we turn from where he stands, 
     Because he gives no more? 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One grateful hour, and then away.  

Days brightly came and calmly went, 
     While yet he was our guest; 
How cheerfully the week was spent! 
     How sweet the seventh day's rest! 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One golden hour, and then away.  

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep 
     Beneath the coffin-lid: 
What pleasant memories we keep 
     Of all they said and did! 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One tender hour, and then away.  

Even while we sing, he smiles his last, 
     And leaves our sphere behind. 
The good old year is with the past; 
     Oh be the new as kind! 
          Oh stay, oh stay, 
One parting strain, and then away.

The Gladness of Nature

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

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